August 12, 2019
by Brian Mahoney
Wine Tasting – In wine tasting, atmosphere is everything. Where are you? Who are you with? Are you using good glassware? What are you wearing? Some silly questions, yes. Yet all have an affect on your palette. Examine the bottle particularly around the foil. Feel around the bottom of the foil. Is it sticky? If wine gets out, air gets in and it could be spoiled. Hold the bottle up to a light source. Is the color continuous? Does the color fade at the top or bottom? This could mean the juice is separating and starting to turn. Pull the cork or unscrew the cap (I don’t like screw caps either but they serve a purpose and I digress). Pour a few ounces into a good wine glass. A good wine glass has no lip around the rim. A lip around the rim would prevent the wine from touching the front of your tongue. Now swirl the wine. Swirl by holding the stem and not the bowl of the glass. It’s easier to swirl that way and won’t heat the juice. Look for the legs. The fatter the legs the higher in alcohol. This also means more sugars. Fat legged wine will be fruitier and almost sweeter. Take a whiff with your nose in the glass. What do you smell? Try to describe it. There are no wrong answers here as your sense of smell is just that, yours. And yet there are common scents that may indicate the wine has gone bad. The smell of green pepper could indicate it was bottled too soon. Rotten egg or vinegary odors could mean its turned. Now take a sip. What is the first flavor that comes to mind? Is it blueberry, cinnamon, ash tray, shoe leather, cat pee? All these adjectives have been used to describe wine and many more. You won’t be wrong here. What do you taste? How sweet or sour is it? Can you taste the acids, the tannins? Tasting for tannins is akin to licking a piece of chalk. If possible leave a bit of juice in your mouth and suck air over it. This will impact your sense of smell and enhance the flavors. Now swallow. What flavors can you describe? How long the flavors last on your palette is commonly referred to as the finish. Take note of what you liked and/or didn’t like. This will guide your in purchasing wine and pairing with food.
October 4, 2019
By Brian Mahoney
The Wine Business – There are many great books and articles on the history of the wine business and in the US in particular. “The far side of eden” by James Conaway being one of my favorites. For a century the wine/alcohol business in the US has been controlled by the three-tiered system. Those familiar with the three-tiered system understand it stems from Prohibition. Underhanded characters that controlled the flow of booze wanted a piece of the pie when the booze began to flow again. The system is antiquated and is ever so slowly evolving. Depending on regional law some wineries are allowed to ship directly to customers. Few wineries can ship direct to retailers. Retailers can’t ship a bottle anywhere and yet some retailers are allowed to deliver. I can certainly understand keeping alcohol out of the hands of the underaged but to bring wine to the masses the three-tiered system needs an overhaul. Logistics aside the growth of the US wine industry exploded after wine coolers subsided. It was the mid to late 80’s and younger generations began to try something new. Merlot had taken off due to being served on airplanes. And people switched from E & G’s Hearty Burgundy to actual 750ml bottles. Around the new century wine sales in the US creeped up and then surpassed that of beer. Although wine has slipped back a bit due to new and different types of alcoholic beverages that appeal to the younger generations, it remains a hearty industry.
Something that always irked me when I was running my wine bar was the people who came in and exclaimed, “you have the best job in the world.” Really? They fail to see the stress of running a small business and only see you tasting copious amounts of wine with sales reps. A wine business is just that, a business. Many have entered the business thinking, oh, I love wine, I can do this. But they’ve never tended bar, created a business plan, waited tables, managed a crew, figured out how to pay sales tax, or even tried their hands at sales. The wine bar/retail business is way more about a business than it is about wine. Loving wine helps. It does. But business savvy, time management and ability to handle stress will prove more successful than loving wine. I’ve seen people open wine bars serving only wine from one region. Why limit your scope? I’ve seen many open wine bars because they’re semi-wealthy wine geeks and therefore appear as snobs to the masses. The wine business is tough. When a wine bar opens up 10 miles down the road from my location people would ask if I was concerned. No was my answer. There are 215 other establishments with liquor licenses within the same ten miles. A wine bar doesn’t necessarily compete against other wine bars (although they are compared to them), they compete against any other place to hang out and get a drink. Including the customers own homes! A wine bar or any bar must own its 5-mile radius. These people will be your bread and butter, your regulars. And you must design your bar around what they want. Not what you want. Many don’t understand that and fail.
November 16, 2019
By Brian Mahoney
Wine Copy Writing – Copy writing is predominately about solving problems. Have a new release or having trouble keeping up with regular website content? Time to hire a copywriter. Blogs, social media and newsletters provide content that activates marketing plans. Copy writing is on-going and keeps your brands, philosophies, and marketing in the forefront of your clients and customers. Good copy is a call to action and has measurable results leading to increased traffic online at the very least. It can also convert prospects into customers and customers into repeat buyers. Many business don’t have the resources or time to effectively manage these key tools and need to outsource it or fall behind. Using psychology through words on website copy, ad copy, ebooks, sales pages etc. will effectively sell more bottles.
How to buy a bottle – How much money do you have? What are your favorite varietals? What’s for dinner? What’s the occasion? These are the common questions. And the answers are varied. There are many places to purchase wine. From 7/11 to the big box stores but I like to recommend the smaller locally owned bottle shops. In those shops its safer to assume every wine has been tasted by the person behind the counter. This is not to say that their palette is the same as your’s, its not. But over time and with good communication, with good feedback that person can be a guide to your palette. Don’t be the person that picks predominantly on label. Select the varietal you want from the region you want within your price range. Try the wine with a meal or on its own. Give an honest assessment the next time you drop.
Significance of labels– Animals and more animals. Deer, bears, horses, kangaroos, dogs, koalas, cows, pigs, I’ve seen ‘em all. The animal label trend appeared to me about 15 years ago. It’s now waning. Labeling is critical. Some say its everything. I do not. I’ve tasted too many bad wines with good labels and great wines with crappy labels. I tend to see more of the later. Wine labels not only catch the eye by standing out, they relay and capture a sense of value. Bright colored labels pop and you rarely see all black labels. What I like about labels is how vastly different they are. Some are purely informative, with the varietal standing out and tasting notes on the back. Some are mysterious with only a single name on the front. Some are old school and haven’t changed much over 80 years. I like that too. There is no real consensus on the perfect wine label but there is a lot of research on the topic. It has always been interesting to me how men and women react to labels differently. It has been my experience and research indicates that label appearances are more important to women than men when selecting a bottle. Men are more dictated by price. Most Americans want to know what’s in the bottle, like what varietal. Nonetheless I love the art of the label.
December 5, 2019
By Brian Mahoney
Confessions of a wine bartender – Forgive me reader for I have seen sin. As a wine bartender serving what I call truth serum, I’ve witnessed the best and worst of the wine drinker. Alcohol can do strange things to people and beyond lowered inhibitions it can lead to downright abhorrent behavior. Even in the sublime, mature confines of a wine bar. This atmosphere isn’t that of a biker bar, nightclub, or even a sports bar. These are supposed to be houses of the gentile, the educated, the sophisticates. Nope. Alcohol becomes the great equalizer. Behavior I’ve seen in all those other bars are akin to what you may witness in a wine bar. And sometimes worse, due to the audacity of the bourgeoisie. In a couple decades of the wine bar business I’ve seen fist fights between women, married men hustle college girls, flashes of nudity, and grotesque attempts to stave bodily fluids. We’ve called the police countless times. It’s the alcohol business not merely the wine business. An encounter with what appeared to be a homeless women who refused to pay her bill because she claimed our manager was trying to kill her led to paramedics eventually having to strap her onto a gurney. We’ve had drug addicts, alcoholics, gamblers and guns. One mom left the bar and drove to her kid’s school to pick them up. The teachers refused to let her own children get in the car. Her breathe and behavior were that far gone. She is a lawyer and considered suing because she was so embarrassed and really only had 3 or 4 Chardonnays. Who know what she had for breakfast. For years the bar has hosted a ‘swinger night’. A chapter in it of itself. Years ago our former and much maligned Sheriff Joe had shut down a bar in central Phoenix due to evidence of live sex acts. It was a swinger club. They now had nowhere to go. One member of that club was also in the wine business. He told me that the folks in ‘the lifestyle’ were seeking a new destination. I was newly opened for business and needed a boost. I really don’t care what people do with their sex lives as long as they don’t hurt anyone. So they began to show up once a month. In droves. Many nights we were over capacity and it was difficult to control. After a while they realized they were in a public bar and the behavior matured. That monthly evening turned profitable for the bar and continues today. But not without repercussions. Many regulars and others were disgusted with us for letting ‘those people’ in the door. We got letters, emails, phone calls. It wasn’t pretty. You just can’t please everyone and its always been a profitable evening. So owning a wine bar isn’t trips to France or hiking in the Mayacamas seeking mountain Cabernet. Still want to open a wine bar? Sometimes its just plain dirty. And I loved it.
January 11, 2020
By Brian Mahoney
Do No Be Intimidated By Wine – The are many misconceptions regarding wine and some truisms that have become less important over time. First, the misconceptions. Wine is the nectar of the elite. Good wine is expensive. More expensive wines are better. Wine must be consumed with food. White wine with chicken or fish and red wine with meat. Pink wine is sweet. Riesling is sweet. You have to know a lot about wine to ready enjoy it. All wine gets better with age. All falsehoods. Wine is no longer the drink of kings and is almost consumed as much as beer worldwide. Good wines can be found in almost every price point but rarely below $7. I’ve tasted many many $75 bottles that if tasted blind I thought sold for $15. Wine is just as enjoyable alone, on the patio with no food and a good sunset. A nice Bien Nacito Pinot Noir pairs great with chicken Marsala. One of my favorite pairings is Champagne and a Caesar salad. Good pink wine is dry, bone dry. Same with Riesling. You don’t have to know a lot about wine to enjoy it, but it helps if you can figure out what you like and don’t like. And lastly, most wine made today (about 90%) is meant to be consumed within the first year.
Old customs that have become less important are notions based on how wine was made and consumed in the past. Enclosures like screw caps are more prominent and do not indicate a cheap wine. Wines under a screw cap will not necessarily improve over time because they are air tight. Wine used to be hyper tannic and needed to be aged slowly at 58 degrees in a cave to calm the tannins. Wine made now can be just as expressive after six months on a store shelf as a 1978 Bordeaux that sat in a cellar for 25 years.
And ask an Australian, Shiraz is pronounced ‘Shir-AZ’. As an Aussie told me, “its like you bet ShirAZ”..
February 6, 2020
By Brian Mahoney
Wine Stories – As proprietor of a popular Scottsdale wine bar for 17 years I was begrudgingly convinced to begin taking 20-30 people to wine country for four-day tours, once per year. It was decided that many customers would like to purchase a ton of wine and to keep the price down we rented a bus for these adventures. The nearest decent wine region (Arizona wine country hadn’t taken off yet) was Paso Robles, CA. The beautiful Central Coast. I had friends there. I had sold Paso wines for a few years and the brands were relatively new to the Arizona market. The Paso winemakers would come visit from time to time. After several years of these trips I was asked to vacation at many of these properties and once I did! As a sign of gratitude to a manager of mine I decided to take him with me. We stayed at one of the founding fathers of the region’s winery. He shall remain nameless for fear of retribution. The first night there was an evening on the town. Downtown Paso has a town square with quite a few bars and restaurants that are worth patronage. We had fun. The second night we were graciously asked to join this winery owner and his wife for a home cooked meal. Believe it was pork ribs, vegetables and yummy syrah(s). As time went by and empty bottles began to stack up there was a knock at the door. A man came in, a friend. My manager and I assumed he was in the business. Everyone in town seemed to be in the business. They began to tell stories of the old days. As the time passed the owners‘ younger wife decides its getting late and wants to put on pajamas. A few moments go by and she re-enters the room in what can only be described as a very short sleeping outfit. Being a bit stunned my younger manager and I had difficulty averting our drunken eyes. It was in fact getting late and the owner’s friend wanted to go home. He, along with the rest of us were quite inebriated. We all attempted to convince this guy not to drive to no avail. He drove. After he left, the wife says, “why don’t you tell the boys who he is?” The owner goes on to tell us he is the town sheriff! Again, stunned.
Upon our return home my manager and I wanted to send them a thank you gift for the hospitality. So I sent this manager to the mall with $100. He returned with the gift and showed me, silk pajama bottoms and a card. We sent it off and they loved it.