Thursday, June 21, 2007

Darrell Corti Gives Himself an Out

Mike Dunne, Food Editor for the Sacramento Bee, has written on the terrible things being said in cyberspace about Sacramento grocer Darrell Corti. However it’s the last part of the article that is the most telling.

For the most part, once table wines with more than 14.5 percent alcohol are off his shelves, they won't be replaced.

But he isn't necessarily bolting the cellar door to all table wines over 14.5 percent alcohol, even aside from traditional exceptions. He acknowledges that a table wine with more than 14.5 percent alcohol can be balanced and graceful.

"If I'm served one and I like it, I might buy it, but I won't go looking for one. I'm always open to anything," Corti says.

Isn't he being a bit contradictory? "Life is a contradiction," Corti says. "I made the rule, I can break it."

Darrell Corti seems to like having things both ways. His stance truly does have the appearance of a storm in a very, very small cup. And if he keeps contradicting himself, it will blow itself out very quickly. Could all this contradiction be explained by the voting in the poll on Dave Chambers blog that has revealed that greater than 50% of respondents don’t pay much attention to alcohol levels when they buy wine?

Mr Corti’s store claims to "specialize in rare and unique gourmet foods and fine wines", so here is a suggestion for Mr Corti. Why not begin a program of educating the buying public by showing how the wines you sell match with the foods you sell? The fate of high alcohol wines in that context would be a more useful contribution to this topic than making rules so that they can be broken.


Anonymous said...

I understand your need to weigh in on this issue, as most wine writers, do. but there are a few things that are rarely talked about in this discussion. You say that 50 % of consumers don't look at the percentage of alcohol on the bottle. this may be true, and I feel that 50 percent is a significant number. You seem to tI am willing to bet that 100 percent of wine buyers taste the wines that they buy, and there is no denying that an increase in alcohol changes the flavor and nature of wine. That being said, the "parkerization" of wines has convinced a larger percentage of the wine buying public that these wines which show well in tastings, where hundreds of other wines are present, are what they should be buying. And that is just fine. Wine is a subjective and personal, just as music food and art is. I don't think that the buying public should be made to feel as if their tastes are inferior because they like sweet wines. Americans often talk dry, but drink sweet. But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There are a growing number of wine drinkers who agree with Mr. Corti's comments, and they are not just old timers who remember when California Cabernets rarely were above 13 percent alcohol. The Slow Food movement, Localism, coupled with new enthusiasm for culinary tradition, as well as sustainable agriculture, is driving an a resurgence of interest in food, wine and cooking. These people contend that old is the new "new", and that wine is a beverage meant to be consumed with food. They are not interested in drinking wines that overpower instead of compliment food. There will always be a place for ripe, jammy wines,like people will always drink Coke, but there is a movement to bring back wines that are elegant and quaff-able in California. I applaud Mr. Corti for saying what many of us feel.

Michael Pollard said...

I'm never happy allowing posts from Mr/Ms Anonymous because they are, well, anonymous. If I can put my name to my words then I really can't see why my critics have to hide; there must be a reason. In this case its pretty obvious that Mr/Ms Anonymous has not read all of my comments on this subject, so lets recap.

Mr/Ms Anonymous thinks that I believe that 100 percent of people taste the wines they buy! Well sure they do. After you have bought it, its yours. You can now drink it! Do most wine drinkers taste before they buy? That would be a no, and that goes for me as well. Do I recommend that they taste before they buy? You bet.

The argument that greater than 50% of respondents don’t pay much attention to alcohol levels came from respondents to a poll on Dave Chambers blog. Mr/Ms Anonymous could have addressed that comment by simply noting that the survey on Dave’s blog is likely to be worth less than the cyberspace it occupies, and that would be true. Its actually worse than the numbers Dave obtained as I posted a month later here. The number, at least in the UK, is more like 70%. In addition UK wine drinkers consider seven other factors more important than alcohol level when choosing a wine including grape variety, promotional offer, brand, country of origin, recommendation by friend or family and region of origin. ‘Nuff said.

The other faulty argument is that richer, riper wines are simply not food friendly. The proponents of this erroneous opinion argue that because wine reviewers/critics don’t taste the wines they review with food they tend to favor the more obvious, richer, riper styles, leading to food unfriendly wines. I guess it never occurs to these folks to organize a wine tasting together with food to prove their point. And let’s be fair such a competition would have to be open to all wines. As I have noted before on this blog there is a (unique) wine competition that does judge wine is association with appropriate food, and has done so since 1982. It’s the Sydney International Wine Competition which is open to wines from anywhere in the world. Its more than just a little instructive to read the judges comments on how the wines go with the individual dishes prepared for the different styles of wine. Anyone think that the judges voice quite obvious differences with individual wines? Anyone think that the wines that reach the final judging stage and that have alcohol below 13% always go with food?

Now to the blind allegiance to Mr Corti. I don’t know Mr Corti. Many speak highly of him. The only avenue open to me to assess Mr Corti are through his statements. And let’s be honest, if Mr Corti voiced the opinion that he is concerned about the prevalence of wines above 14.5% and that the consumer should really be looking at wine as an accompaniment to food and not as a cocktail, I wouldn’t have any problem. The problem with Mr Corti is that his knee-jerk reaction was to ban wines of greater than 14.5% from his store, thereby reducing the choices of his customers. That is not the sort of example that educates wine consumers. “There will be no exceptions” he was quoted saying. Problem is that he came up with more and more exceptions, including the "I made the rule, I can break it."

Fortunately Darrell Corti does not speak for all wine drinkers. What is needed are more reasonable voices, ones that champion the diversity of wine. We need wine professionals that are willing to educate the consumer, not attempt to deprive them.