Ever wonder what the wine, spirits and beer industries would look like if consumers had more say? Your thirst for change is clear from my inbox. From rising alcohol levels to excessive restaurant booze markups to plastic corks so snug that they have to be extracted with the jaws of life, you're tired of the nuisance practices standing between you and a satisfying sip.
I have my own pet peeves, some echoed in letters and some not. They're too numerous to list in a single column, but here's a start.
Passé pinks: The world is gaga for dry rosé. So why are producers lacing their pink wines with a not-so-subtle dollop of sugar? The wines generally lack freshness, and freshness is the hallmark of satisfying rosé. Canadian wineries are among the worst culprits, often championing the cloying practice by pompously citing as their inspiration the classic, sweet rosés d'Anjou from the Loire Valley, which few people outside France would consider buying. If I wanted sweet rosé, I'd buy white zinfandel, the pink American pop wine made from the red zinfandel grape, which at least has the advantage of almost always being inexpensive.
Scotch the cork: The wine industry has been embracing screw caps to battle cork taint. That's a fungal defect responsible for a foul, musty flavour and which, by some estimates, ruins one in 12 bottles. Note to whisky producers: The same problem befouls super-premium spirits sealed with cork stoppers. One reader this month wrote to commiserate about "yet another" corked Scotch he had just opened. "Pissed and heading to bed, without a glass of Scotch," he wrote. I recently opened a $250 bottle of Bruichladdich with the same problem. It tasted as though the precious scotch had been filtered through my dirty-laundry hamper. What's wrong with screw caps? Makers of affordable whisky such as Johnnie Walker use them. Plus, unlike wine, whisky doesn't mature once bottled, so there's no justification for cork - other than snob appeal.
Wine-list shenanigans: Upscale restaurants like to steer clear of familiar wine brands. They justify this customer-unfriendly custom by saying it offers guests a sense of discovery. Blarney. Wine importers tell me that tony restaurants generally prefer to shun popular brands because they want to keep consumers in the dark about the stunning markups they apply to retail prices. Here's a fact: Many consumers prefer to order familiar wines when splurging on a restaurant bottle rather than trying their luck on an $80 "discovery" that might disappoint. The moral: A satisfied customer might even come back for a second visit.
Curb kitschy beer names: Santa's Butt, Moose Drool, Dead Elephant Ale - they're all real brands. Sometimes it seems as if brewers spend too much time watching the Comedy Channel under the influence of one too many pints. That said, bad names can happen to good beers, such as Yellow Snow IPA from Oregon.
Lighten up: The heavy glass bottles designed to telegraph the fiction that the juice inside must be of high quality are pretentious. It takes just 300 grams of glass to make a reasonably safe 750-millilitre bottle, yet I've weighed many that tipped the scale at three times that number and one that weighed 1.23 kilograms - much more than the contents. Give our biceps and the planet a break. It's a greenhouse-gas violation that should come with a fine, considering that the carbon footprint associated with many wines can be traced to shipping.
Chill that vodka: Ever been to one of those trendy "vodka bars" that serve shots warm from a bottle that has been sitting on the counter? Vodka almost always tastes better chilled, with a thick, oily texture and less volatile alcohol. Get with the program. Store that Stoli where it belongs: in the freezer.
Enough with the cheap pinot: It's called the Sideways effect. Pinot noir sales boomed in the wake of the Hollywood road movie about a wine snob and his Neanderthal best friend. Producers rushed to tap the craze with $12 pinot noirs that taste like … anything but pinot. It's a high-maintenance grape in the vineyard, virtually impossible to transform into a drinkable wine for less than $20 a bottle. Much as I disdain high prices, I loathe bad pinot even more.
Hold the plastic: Synthetic corks, those colourful cylinders designed to mimic the real thing, don't work. They're harder to extract and even harder, if not impossible, to jam back into a half-finished bottle. And because plastic is not as elastic as natural cork, they actually let in more air over time - through the sides that come in contact with the bottleneck. Rapid air ingress is far worse for a wine than no air at all, rendering synthetics unfit for wines designed to be kept longer than about three years.
Pedantic wine lesson with dinner? No, thanks. It's nice that so many waiters today are taking wine courses. But they should learn to size up a customer's degree of knowledge before launching into an unsolicited treatise on grape varieties. "I think you'll like our featured red. It's made from malbec. That's a full-bodied red wine from Argentina. It's very popular." To many of us who know something about wine, it's like announcing that pork is the meat of a mammal that walks on land. Thanks for the condescension.
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