Tuesday, March 2

The Stupidest Thing Anyone Other Than Jonah Goldberg Has Ever Written

Rod Dreher, "Why I hate buying wine in PA". February 28

M. BOUFFANT points at this thing and laughs from the comments section of World O'Crap, which leaves me no choice but to read it. Dreher:
So here's what happened. A friend was coming over to for a drink last evening, and he said he'd like to drink some dry Riesling. I don't drink much Riesling, so I wasn't confident in my ability to find a particularly dry one. At least I know that Alsace makes some nice dry Rieslings. I stood over in the small German wine section, looking at the whites. I've had Trimbach before, which is pleasant and dry, but I wanted to ask the manager for guidance.

Okay, so it's probably easier if we just keep track of the idiocies as they occur. So, one, we're agnostic on the question of whether guests should name their poison, or accept what is offered with grace, though we personally tend to the latter. We believe, further, that the duty of a decent host is to have a reasonable selection on hand which covers the basic needs of guests known and unknown: vodka, gin, whiskey, all of mixing quality unless one is flush, or particular; rum, tequila, entry-level Highland malt, depending on whether one expects knowledgeable bibblers or late adolescents. We like the tradition of a House Drink: in summer here the casual drinker will be offered a vodka and pink lemonade, in winter tawny Port, or the specialities of applejack and gingerale or a Café Gates, respectively.

Not wine, generally, aside from that fortified warmer-upper. Chilled white (or Beaujolais) is a fine cocktail substitute in warm weather, but in cold, in the abominable blast-furnace heat of the standard American home it's counter-indicated unless you're in the habit of adding ice cubes. Have a Pepsi. For those who think young.

Or have what you like; I don't really give a shit. It's just that the propensity to treat wine like a low-alcohol cocktail blurs its enjoyment. Wine is food, not liquor, and even the simplest and most quaffable will improve from some reasonable food pairings. I am as unlikely to say to you, my evening's host, that I'd like some dry Riesling as I am to say I'll have Rouen duck, and I'll be listening to the Prague Symphony. If I want it too badly to go without I'll bring it. I'll bring two.

And wine is an agricultural product. There's no such thing as drinking "dry Riesling"; there's only drinking bottles of Riesling, some of which have been fermented dry or near-dry by winemaker's choice, most of which are sweet for the same reason. And the perception of dryness will be influenced by accompaniments, if any, the temperature of the wine, your mood, the (shudder) company, any number of things. In short, the first error belongs to Rod's guest, who should have brought his own, or, failing that, should not have sent Rod Dreher off with such scanty instructions, it being Rod Dreher an' all.

Second, faced with this dilemma, whether victimized by cruel fate, importuned by thoughtless guest, or hoist on your own petard, there's a little-known resource called The Internet, which sources tell me has already reached Philadelphia. Look it th' fuck up. There are three ways to buy Rieslings with damn near absolute assurance it will be, or come across as, "dry": buy Alsatian (it's part of France, Rod, not Germany, though the wine shop clerks might not realize it either); buy German wines marked "trocken" or "halbtrocken" (the latter will contain some sugar, but in small enough amounts the average palate won't detect it); or find a West Coast wine which you are certain is made dry, like Bonny Doon's. The problem there is, there being so many Californias to choose from, the odds of you finding the precise wine you're looking for are reduced. And the Germans might be a little problematic, too, since dry wines are a small proportion, and small market-share, of their production. You were right the first time. Th' fuck were you trying to accomplish asking "expert" advice?

And th' fuck did you assume that some guy in a liquor store was a wine expert?
The polite and eager to please man led me out of the German section and over to the American wine section, then pointed out two domestic Rieslings. Huh? Boy, that's uncharted territory for me. I told him I wanted a rather dry one. I made that crystal clear. He said that the Columbia Winery Cellarmaster's Riesling was the drier of the two. OK, I guess I'll take a chance on that.

Lessee, a guy you don't know ushered you away from the one area where you knew you could find what you wanted, took you someplace where you had no idea, where there were two selections, and he told you the one was "drier" than the other. You're in like Flynn, far as I can tell.
Opened it last night with my friend and took a sip. It was the sweetest white wine I've tasted since the last time I had dessert wine, and the sweetest white non-dessert wine I've had since my last bottle of Blue Nun my freshman year of college. I really don't like sweet wine at all, and this was undrinkable to me. My friend agreed, comparing it to Welch's grape juice. What does this wine store manager (!) drink if he thinks this is dry? Benadryl? I went to the vineyard's website to look up this wine, on the chance that as Rieslings go, this might count as dry, or at least semi-dry. What do you think the first two words used by the winery to describe this product are? "Sweet wine."

Okay, I don't drink wine like I usta. I don't go to tastings or hunt down new releases, and I never bought whites except as a specific match for a specific dish. So it's been a good decade since I had Columbia Cellarmaster's Riesling, and I've no idea what's happened to it in the interim, or what vintage Mr. Dreher and guest spat out. Back then, at least, it was a fairly notable bargain: apricot, honey, and floral notes with reasonable acidity, not something found in every North American riesling. I honestly don't remember how sweet it was, because I don't go into an OhmiGod, OhmiGod Blue Nun! freakout every time I taste some sugar; it was well within the range of Acceptable Winemaker Decision for the wine, or I'd've remembered that. Yes, if you were (foolishly or no) expecting dry a gulp of sugar would be even worse, but so far as I know that wine deserves high praise, not the opprobrium of idiots having a Class Panic attack.

Blue Nun! I drank that in college, when I wasn't nearly the connoisseur I've grown to be, or demand to speak to in wine shops. Don't confuse me with someone who doesn't know what he's doing! I mean, make no mistake: the reason for the bias against sweetness in wine is status-driven illiteracy; because cheap wine is made more palatable by sweetening, types like Dreher "learn" that dry is the "correct" choice, thereby consigning 95% of the great German wines, which stand with the best whites on the planet, the noble Sauternes and the voluptuous vin santo, bright muscat and demi-sec Champagne, to the dumpster behind Manny's Cork and Brew.

And, okay, the clerk shouldn't have pretended expertise where he obviously had none. If he'd've been honest about it you'd have written the same damn column, except about what an outrage it was that he couldn't help, but he'd have the satisfaction of knowing you couldn't bring it back and demand a refund.

And I've no idea whether you spoke the the manager or someone else, but I'm guessing even the manager of a Pennsylvania liquor store isn't planning early retirement. Do you imagine the state allows him to open any bottle of wine at will and "inform" himself about it? What did that bottle go for? Twelve bucks? If he buys at cost, how much would it set him back to sample every wine in the store, and how long would it take him? Do you imagine people with that sort of knowledge are lined up three deep hoping for clerks' jobs? Fuck that. I come from a teetotaling Midwestern family. Took me three years and several thousand 1970s dollars, plus some hard work, to begin to learn about wine. Why would someone do that for a subsistence-wage job? Just so their one meeting with you will be everything you expect it to be? A wild stab has it that the guy you foolishly relied on steered you to the most popular Riesling in the joint. And that the practice works for him 98.7% of the time. It's the obligation of the owner--here, the state--to make that info available to the people it hires and cannot expect to bring that knowledge to the job, or carry it around with them. Turning even store managers--it's not a lifetime appointment, is it?--into wine experts would be prohibitively expensive, and you'd be writing about how unfairly expensive the stuff is. It's reasonable to expect that a clerk won't pretend to know something he doesn't (but if you believe he's free to tell you the truth, rather than what his boss--state, corporation, or blessed entrepreneur--wants him to tell you I've got no idea how you made it to forty). And it's not reasonable to expect him to be a walking encyclopedia of wine knowledge--a subject worth a lifetime's study--any more than it's reasonable to expect a gas station owner to diagnose your engine problem over the phone, or, apparently, the Dallas Morning News to hire opinion writers who have opinions worth a bottle of dry spit.

But I didn't take this on just to air out my inner Andy Rooney. I can do that with much less provocation. It's this:
But there's a serious point here about economics and the law. The state's legal monopoly over the sale of wine creates a situation in which sales clerks don't have to know jack-squat about the products they sell. There is no competition to make them give better service to the customer. I had a bad experience yesterday that's going to result in me going back there today to ask for a refund; I'm still steamed over a ruined social event because the manager, whom I'd asked for advice, sold me the wrong wine.

Jesus H. Vishnu, what fucking idiocy. I knew Pennsylvania had state-run stores. I didn't know working in one was a Civil Service gig. There's always competition for jobs, especially all the ones where you don't have to give a shit, or know anything, or where you get to spit in Rod Dreher's food.

Just for the record: the reason Pennsylvania has state-controlled stores is that it has that right under the 21st Amendment. The reason there's a 21st Amendment is that there was an 18th Amendment. The reason there was an 18th Amendment--one of 'em, anyway--is the Methodist Church. Try to think back two or three cults ago, Rod.

But this is a lesson in Randian economic juvenetics? Because no one's ever gotten bad service or bad advice at a privately-owned concern, right?

Lemme tell you a little story. I do know a little about wine. Enough so that I generally get assigned "wine selection" for my Poor Wife's family gatherings, mostly because they think that'll shut me up and I won't sneer at their own choices, which is simply not so. Anyway, the Christmas gathering last year was in the second week of December, and I decided I wanted a Cru Beaujolais for the red, since it's easy to like. There are five wine/liquor stores within a mile-and-a-half of my house; Indiana is a licensed premises/ licensed distributor state. You can add three or four grocery stores selling wine to that list, but asking anyone in them for "a dry Riesling" would be like asking them for a quizzid forticulamen, preferably gray, size 72. The first place I went to was the little wine-only specialty store up the block. I looked around without seeing any, then asked the woman--she and her husband are the owners--if they had any Beaujolais crus. "No, they didn't bring me any samples this year." This meant she hadn't understood my question, had focused on "Beaujolais", and thought I was asking for that Nouveau crap they rush out three days after the harvest every year, even though I don't think I looked any more demented that usual. "No, no, cru Beaujolais," I said. "I'm not familiar with that," she replied.

That's the owner of a wine business, and so far as I know neither Stalin nor Obama sentenced her to work there. I went across the street to the newly-opened outlet of the biggest chain in Central Indiana. There I interrupted the radio listening of a young man with nothing to do. "Do you have any cru Beaujolais," I asked, feeling satirical. "If we did it'd be on the floor," he said. Philosopher.

I then went to Indiana's biggest wine seller, now located in a glorified dirigible hanger a mile from my house. Poked around the French wing, found nothing whatsoever, was finally approached by a guy with "Manager" on his nametag. Cru Beaujolais? "We're sold out." Excuse me, but how can you be sold out of cru Beaujolias? "There was a big run on it this year." Oh, you mean Beaujolais Nouveau. "Oh, yeah. I'm sorry. You wanted…?" Cru Beaujolais, just as I said twice before. I was feeling a mite peevish by now. How 'bout telling me what you usually carry? "I'll have to look that up."

I know, Rod, that meant nothing whatsoever to you, but a basic recognition of the ten Beaujolais crus is something which ought to be expected of anyone who knows enough about wine to own a store dedicated to it, or to manage one where that's the main part of the business. Somehow, though, I managed to walk out without ever once thinking of Ayn Rand.

But you wanna make it about politics, fine. How come the poor schnook punching a time clock merits your ire, but not the wineries who game the system before you walk in the joint? You coulda bought "champagne" that had never left North America, "burgundy" that had never seen a pinot noir grape, or "chablis" as sweet as that dry Riesling, and with more in common with table grapes than Chardonnay. You could go to the grocery--I assume those are corporately owned in PA--and walked down the meat aisle filled with items whose safety inspection and grading are largely controlled by meat packers and cattlemen, and whose names--"Flatiron steak", "English roast", or the ever-popular "Chuck filet" are designed precisely to confuse you. You could pass them by and head for the fish, where "cod", by law, means "anything underwater", and "Dover sole" means "anything you can sell for $18.99/lb." Not to mention that back in the Crunchy Era anything claiming to be "organic" was certified morally superior, in your book.

But you're gonna show the State of Pennsylvania what's what, huh? Faker.


charles pierce said...

I was never happier to be a beer drinker in my life.
Jeebus, what a tool young Rod is.

heydave said...

His umbrage!
Give it back, you dastardly... you!

The Tired Hack said...

I'm with Pierce. To this day I can sing the entire jingle "My beer is Rheingold the dry beer...'' May be that's what wine needs -- a nice jingle so Rod can tell his choice is not bitter, not sweet, it's the dry flavor treat instead of relying on the hired help.

Sator Arepo said...

Ah, I love it when you get all wine-geeky, Doghouse.

First, (as you know) cru Beaujolais is *relatively* hard to track down, but it shouldn't be go-to-three-stores-unsuccessfully hard. Shit, Duboeuf makes all ten of 'em, as does Jadot I think. (I'm a Regnie or Moulin-a-Vent man myself as far as that goes.) Any actual self-respecting wine shop should have one or two token crus around.

Second, as a noted local wineguy famously noted, "All great palates eventually turn to Riesling". (Far as I'm concerned, if there's enough acidity to balance, it can bring all the sweetness it wants.)

Anonymous said...

I drink Welch's grape juice. In fact, when I was driving through upstate New York late last summer, I hoped there would be grape juice stands.

drip said...

I drink Mad Dog 20-20 when I can get it. Trouble is, the polite and eager to please men lead me to the wine section. Confused, I buy something less fortified and I end up steamed over a ruined social event.

From what I recall, the Rheingold Girls were way better than the jingle.

beejeez said...

If the liquor store dude served Rod the sweet piss on purpose, I would pay for the bottle myself.

Harl Delos said...

As you point out, the internet has reached Pennsylvania. The state stores have their price list online.

"What did that bottle go for? Twelve bucks?" Google "Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Columbia Riesling" and you'll find that it goes for $6.99 per 750 ml bottle (2007 vintage.)

I once was threatened with expulsion from the Wine Forum on CompuServe by telling of the Catawba grape that was stepped on. It didn't exactly cry, but it gave out a little wine. Of course, they were already mad at me for commenting that when it came to Robert Parker's writing, I liked Hawk better than Susan Silverman.

John said...

I'm still steamed over a ruined social event...
Isn't a "social event" that includes Rod Dreher, by definition, "ruined?"

Sator Arepo said...

Also, you can't return a bottle of wine because YOU DIDN'T LIKE IT.

Blisterão said...

So what's the word on Portuguese wine? Here in the Estefânia neighborhood they pour the house red out of barrels branded "vinho regional", I mean branded like a steer, and it seems to taste more like wine than apricots and flowers. Am I doing this wrong?

Nellcote said...

Awesome rant. My only question is what the heck kind of liquor store only has a choice of 2 California reislings?

Porlock Junior said...

I think it's ok to quibble here: If they had two Rieslings from the U.S.A. and one of them was Columbia Vineyards, then they had at most one California Riesling. An even greater achievement!

(My liver having taken me out of the serious wine-drinking crowd some years ago, I did have to look it up: it's from the nothern of the two possible states, Washington.)

And what the heck is this about making a long case for hating to buy wine in PA? What's worse than buying wine in PA? How about buying wine when it's $&%*(& Saturday night? Welcome Mr Barmecide, we have a great selection here, but th cat drank it. You can have PA and NJ along with it.

M. Bouffant said...

Sorry. Didn't know you were a wine weasel & would therefore be choiceless in reading & reacting.

Good reaction though.

scott said...

One of these days, Andy Rooney's gotta die, he's older than Larry King and that man's a zombie.

You're his replacement. Send your head shots to 60 Minutes.

Anonymous said...

a) Hah! If they charge anything in the neighborhood of even $10 (let alone $19) for a pound of Dover sole, you guys back east get took pretty easily. Petrale sole only costs $14 in the most expensive store in town, and is a damn sight better.

b) I live in a town with a widely acknowledged wine expert and my family has known his for most of my life. I may not know 1/3 about wine as you, but then I don't have to.

jp said...

Douchehat is sinking fast...in a short time he's sunk to John Derbyshire-level whining about the incompetent lower orders and their interference with his enjoyment of the high life.

I CANNOT BELIEVE this adolescent, pig-ignorant and utterly trivial rant passed muster as a NYT editorial.

Because nothing is more important than letting the world know that a lowly shop clerk "ruined" a social occasion for 2 pretentious assholes.

What's next, a description of the dirty look he got from a clerk at Barnes & Nobles? Someone at Starbucks gave him latte when he asked for cappucino?

cleter said...

I like Welch's grape juice. If I bought a cheap-o bottle of wine and it tasted like delicious Welch's grape juice instead of crappy-ass wine, I'd be thrilled. But then, I'm the kind of boorish dumbass who thinks Barack Obama is eleigible to be President, so what do I know?

Julia Grey said...

So this tiny moment of miniscule embarrassment "ruined" Dreher's social occasion?

Only because he probably stomped around like a thundercloud for the rest of the evening, muttering imprecations and vowing revenge.

Sheezus. Grownups laugh these things off, Rod. Some of them even make them into amusing Moments to Remember, recalled in self-deprecating song and story for years to come.

But you choose to consider your evening "ruined."

How old are you? Twelve?

Anonymous said...

Being a beer and bourbon guy, I've had mostly casual encounters with wine. But I associate the label "Riesling" with some degree of sweetness. Dry Riesling sounds like Pregnant Virgin to me.


Anonymous said...

Do you imagine the state allows him to open any bottle of wine at will and "inform" himself about it? What did that bottle go for? Twelve bucks? If he buys at cost, how much would it set him back to sample every wine in the store, and how long would it take him?

there you go. "why can't the help here know everything about every brand of industrial wine that i've 'heard of?' "

not to mention the fact that if you line up ten people, have them try the same riesling and ask them 'was it sweet or dry'? four will say sweet, four will say dry, and two will have slammed it down without a molecule having ever engaged a taste bud.

nice rant... i'll be coming back around here.
/stoat, the wine guy.

Anonymous said...

Wine is food, not liquor

oh, yeah... that's the other thing i wanted to see again.

the use of wine-as-cocktail is the reason so much of what is on shelves is of the characterless, low acidity, "fluffy white bunny" variety. i'd rather have a glass of san pellegrino, personally.

/stoat, the wine guy

(is there a way to get gravatar i.d. to display, amoung your blogger options?)

Anonymous said...

It's funny you mention it, because I can only get the grey quizzid forticulamen around here in the ODD sizes...which of course, I NEVER need. We should set up an exchange, like those shoe swaps for people whose feet are different sizes.

Just sayin, is all.

D. Sidhe said...

I have no views on the wine issue, but would like to point out that Ross would probably *not* be outraged to discover that certain state-abetted monopolies are permitted not only to lie to their choiceless customers, but in fact are protected by actual laws if they decide they just fucking don't feel like handing over the goods or even allowing you to take your shopping list elsewhere.

But, you know, that's just birth control pills, so who gives a fuck about that, some stupid chick fuss. This is Ross' Social Event. (Dude, it's at best an occasion. An event requires press, fireworks, and engraved invitations. They pay this man to write? Fuck me.)

g said...

So his social occasion was "ruined" because he was too stupid to find a wine that he liked?

How can someone be so picky about wine that an evening with friends is "ruined" by the wrong choice, and at the same time so fucking clueless about wine that he doesn't know how to choose one?

Perhaps that's the Rightwing mind working here - HCR will "ruin" America, but they're too stupid to understand what's actually in the bill.

KWillow said...

I did not know there was a dry Riesling! No idea at all! If I had known I still would not have wanted any. Riesling is for people who hate wine. You mix it with 7-Up or fruit juice; add a cherry or chunk of pineapple. I'm told it mixes well with Gatoraid.

Which Reminds me of 'White Zinfandel': "One-of-those things-that-were-never-meant-to-be". Except Glen Ellen semi-sparkling white Zin. That was always a big hit at partys. Oh, were are the GlenEllens of Yesteryear?

I checked Wikipedia (all bow down) for info on Cru Beaujolais.

Seven of the Crus relate to actual villages while Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly refer to the vineyards areas around Mont Brouilly and Moulin-à-Vent is named for a local windmill.[8] These wines do not usually show the word "Beaujolais" on the label, in an attempt to separate themselves from mass-produced Nouveau; in fact vineyards in the cru villages are not allowed to produce Nouveau.

Sounds yummy. Definitely wouldn't need 7-Up or Gatoraid to be drinkable.

Edward_Blum said...

Cause I'm not smart as you are, I put "quizzid forticulamen" into the Google and the only thing that comes up is a link to your Wine Rant.