Which wine regions, grapes and styles are under-valued and worth trying? Should you be skeptical about celebrity-endorsed wines? How do you choose a good wine club? What simple strategy can you use to improve your tasting vocabulary?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Paul K, host of the podcast Wine Talks with Paul K.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
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One of you is going to win a personally signed copy of Rex Pickett’s novel, Sideways, which was also made into a hit movie, as well as a bottle of Sideways Pinot Noir.
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All you need to do is comment on one of these posts before 7 pm EDT on April 21st:
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- How did an encounter with sulphur dioxide trigger the worst moment of Paul’s career?
- What’s the most exciting part of being in the wine business?
- Why is your local wine shop your best bet for getting out of a wine rut?
- How has Paul been able to blend his creative side with his wine business?
- Which bottles of wine did Paul recently sell for a whopping $13,000?
- Why does Paul mostly focus on affordable wines?
- What’s Paul’s system for tasting and scoring wines?
- How do you choose a good wine club?
- What might surprise you about wineries and estate bottling?
- Which simple tips does Paul have for developing your tasting vocabulary?
- Why should the Canary Islands be on your radar?
- How does volcanic soil impact wine?
- How has COVID dramatically changed the wine business?
- What has changed over the years about celebrity wines?
- Why was Paul disappointed by an SNL-branded wine?
- Which undervalued regions should you check out next?
- How do Georgian and Armenian wines differ?
- What’s Paul’s take on organic and biodynamic wines?
- Paul offered some great tips on how to choose a wine club, as well as a good local wine retailer. Both can help you with the curation process and get to know your palate.
- I agree with Paul on how to develop your wine vocabulary – smell and taste everything, well almost everything.
- It’s interesting to hear how COVID has dramatically changed the wine business, from the volume of business done online now to the popular styles, regions and price points. I also liked his suggestions for undervalued regions and vintages.
Start The Conversation: Click Below to Share These Wine Tips
What I like about our business is how we can help people understand the value of great wine and a great bottle and a great glass and a great moment. - Paul K Click to tweet
It’s hard to say, go to Groupon and buy something for $3 and see if you like it because you really don’t know if it’s any good in the first place and that’s a problem. - Paul K Click to tweet
I’m the guy that’s going into the wine shop with you or into the supermarket. - Paul K Click to tweet
Most wineries are really just farmers. They’re just growing grapes, they sell the grapes to somebody else. - Paul K Click to tweet
You can’t make good wine from bad grapes. You can make bad wine from good grapes. - Paul K Click to tweet
The first sale might be based on the label but the second sale is always based on what’s inside. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
About Paul Kalemkiarian
Paul Kalemkiarian is the host of the podcast Wine Talks with Paul K on which he interviews wine industry royalty as well as Michelin starred chefs. He’s also the owner of America’s oldest wine club, the Original Wine of the Month Club. His expertise in the wine industry spans over 30 years. His father invented the idea of wine in the mail in 1972 and they have been serving wine enthusiasts ever since.
- Connect with Paul K
- UC Davis Wine Aroma Wheel
- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 122: Wine, the White House & Presidential Pours with Washington Post Publisher, Fred Ryan Part 1
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Paul K 0:00
My specialty is $15 to $25. That’s where most wine is, particularly now during COVID; there’s so many wines coming in at that price range. The way we taste is not like the Spectator or the way wine enthusiasts might taste. I’m the guy that’s going into the wine shop with you or into the supermarket. I see 20 $20 Cabernets, but I’ve tasted them all. And I can tell you that this one’s really worth 40 bucks based on the other things that are $40. And the one over here is really like 10. There’s a lot of those and our job is to weed those out.
Natalie MacLean 0:30
Yeah, so you kiss a lot of Venus frogs to find the prince of the bottles. So what would you say is your sort of ratio for tasting like, rejects like I taste 10 and I pick one or whatever. I know it’ll vary, but on average, how many are you tasting versus how many do you offer to your wine club members?
Paul K 0:48
If I taste 300 wines at a month, I will probably reject 250 of them.
Natalie MacLean 0:53
Natalie MacLean 1:01
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places and amusingly awkward social situations? Well that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie MacLean and each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please and let’s get started!
Welcome to Episode 124. Which regions grapes and styles are undervalued and worth trying? Should you be sceptical of celebrity endorsed wines? How can you choose a good wine club? What simple strategy can you use to improve your tasting vocabulary? Our guest this week has answers for you plus lots of great wine tips and stories. And I’ve got a bonus for you in addition to this podcast. I’d love for you to join me for the première watch party of the video of this conversation that I’ll be live streaming for the very first time on Zoom, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube tonight at 7pm. Eastern. I’ll include a link where you can sign up for this Zoom tasting, and future Zoom tastings and chats for free in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/124. The video will show you the pictures and other visual elements that we discuss in the podcast. I’ll also be jumping into the comments on all four platforms as we watch it together so I can answer your questions in real time. It’s like the Netflix version of the podcast plus, you can talk to me and ask me questions as we watch together. You can also see what other people thought of this conversation and get the answers to their questions. Plus, you can win a personally signed copy of Rex Picketts’ novel Sideways, which was made into the hit movie, as well as a bottle of Sideways Pinot Noir. All you need to do is comment on the social media post that I create about the contest. Just pick your favourite platform, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, and comment on the post I created before 7pm on April 21.
In the shownotes, you’ll find a link to these posts, a full transcript of our conversation, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class, and where you can find me on Zoom, Insta, Facebook and YouTube live on video every Wednesday at 7pm. That’s all in the show notes at NataliemacLean.com/124.
Now, on a personal note, before we dive into the show, Mom shared a story with me from when I was about a year and a half old. She used to take me for walks in my stroller every day. And we followed the same route often that passed by a small toy store. In the window was a little plastic dog on wheels. And I’d point to it every time and we’d stop and we’d look at it. And so for Christmas that year she got me that little dog, but apparently I didn’t play with it much; I wasn’t even interested in it. However, on our next walk as we were approaching the store, I started pointing at the window and looking at her. She says, puzzled, disappointed, apparently I wanted that doggy in the window to stay right where he was. You know this really reminds me now of the difference between wanting and getting. Whether it’s a vacation, shoes or wine, sometimes the wanting or the anticipation is better than the getting and having it. What do you think? Let me know. Okay, on with the show.
Natalie MacLean 5:10
Paul K is the host of Wine Talks with Paul K, which he interviews wine industry, royalty and Michelin starred chefs. He also is the owner of the original Wine of the Month Club, which sends wines directly to consumers all over the United States. His expertise spans 30 years, and it was actually his father, who came up with the idea of sending wine through the mail back in 1972. And I’m so pleased you’re here with us this evening, Paul, welcome.
Paul K 5:43
Well, thank you, it’s an honour to be on the show.
Natalie MacLean 5:45
All right. Great. Great background. I was just commenting on that before we got going. Is this your studio? Or is this your home? Where are you joining us from?
Paul K 5:53
Well, we a studio here at the office. We’re in Southern California, and we’re working with this lighted sign; it’s not lit right now. But technical difficulties, of course, but we’re actually going to do something kind of cool. We’re going to paint back here in black and white what was my father’s store?
Natalie MacLean 6:09
Oh, really? Oh, wow, that’s a storefront.
Paul K 6:12
Yes. And it’ll be like, kind of new with colour. It’ll be a colour but the store will be black and white like it’s vintage.
Natalie MacLean 6:19
Oh, I love that. What’s old is new again. All right. So Paul, let’s just kick it off before we get into Wine of the Month and different wines to try that we should be looking for, tell us a little bit from your wine career, maybe take us kind of to the lowest moment of your career, and then we’ll go to happy endings, the highest point so far. So can you recall a situation? Anything that’s happened in your career wine wise, that was kind of a bit of a low point, or maybe something you learned from?
Paul K 6:46
Well, gee, that’s a wine business. There can’t be that many low points, right. I mean, this is really, this is a pretty fun business to be in. I had a conversation with Eric Asimov, The New York Times wine critic. He’s like anyone that tells you you’re in a bad business when do you do what we do every day is lying. So there are a couple of interesting events that occurred in my business. We’re such a monthly cycle; and every month we’re doing the same thing over and over again, we’re trying to find good wines and make sure they get delivered on time and I got a wine from Italy, a Montepulciano. And it landed here, a pretty reputable guy,s a Frenchman who brings wines from all over the world, and I let him just land the wine and they took it off the truck and I brought it in and they stuck a corkscrew in it and it released gas. Now you and I know that a red wine should not release gas.
Natalie MacLean 7:36
Nope, that’s not a good thing.
Paul K 7:38
Yeah, particularly if it smells like eggs. So that was a huge problem. I have 400 cases, you have almost 5000 bottles of this completely horrible wine. And I don’t know why, I’ve never had it since, I’ve never had a problem like that, I’ve never tasted a wine with the same problem.
Natalie MacLean 7:53
Was it sulphur dioxide?
Paul K 7:55
Must have been sulphur dioxide. But you know, I don’t know; it was you remember that time in wine? There was this whole rumour that the Italians were putting antifreeze in their wines and sending it to America?
Natalie MacLean 8:04
I thought that was the Austrians no? Was it the Italians too?
Paul K 8:08
Well I don’t know
Natalie MacLean 8:10
Mixing the batch or enlarging the batch, if you will, yes,
Paul K 8:12
It was bad. So you know, my problem is with a monthly cycle, I can’t be late a day or two or else I’m in big trouble. So I had to call that rep and it’s happened twice over the years, once with an American wine too. That was a low, could do without that low.
Natalie MacLean 8:29
You’re right, though, there aren’t a lot of low points in this business. So take us a highlight for you; something that has stood out so far your mind wine related,
Paul K 8:38
What I like about our business and how we can help people understand the value of great wine and a great bottle and a great glass and a great moment. So our governor is famous for heading to the French Laundry and Napa during COVID right? And oddly, we had just been there. It is really expensive, a really expensive restaurant.
Natalie MacLean 8:58
It is one of the most expensive in the whole states, but also like it’s also been named the best restaurant in the States. So I guess you get what you pay for.
Paul K 9:06
Well, if you can’t afford it, and you want to splurge and you’re in Napa, it’s a must thing to do. Used to be impossible to get a reservation. But anyway, during COVID is a little easier. All of our seats are outside, though, the governor decided to get the room inside, which my wife wanted to do, which was $800 a seat. So those rumours are true. It’s very expensive and particularly during COVID to get an interior room. But anyway, the point was, we’re with two other couples, good friends of ours, who’d just built themselves nice wine cellars. And they just had nothing else but Napa Cabernet, which is a gorgeous wine, and they’re wonderful to experiment and to taste, but that’s all they could bring out. They couldn’t break out of this scenario. So I asked the Somm for a Burgundy, a Côte de Nuits, something Grand Cru, something around $400 a bottle; I know it’s really expensive. And he brought this gorgeous Chambolle-Musigny and our friends flipped over it. And the reason I call it a great moment is, because from that moment on, as we’ve been getting together over the last months, we’ve been able to try new things, particularly Burgundys, now that they experienced them, but super Tuscans and wines from the south of Italy and wines from other parts of France. It’s been a great experience for me to take it to the next level for them. That’s what’s good for me.
Natalie MacLean 10:19
That’s great. So you got them out of their rut? And so how do you advise those of us who are here with us tonight or on the podcast? How do they get out of their rut when they’re going back to the same old wine all the time? What are your tips; other than just get out of it?
Paul K 10:34
Yeah, well, that is a good question. It’s not easy, because if you did what I do, which is around 300 wines a month, that would be very expensive, and you would taste a lot of really bad stuff along the way; you really want to try avoid that. So you want to taste things that are considered by some people, whether you know, a rating, which we can talk about that too, in a minute but that’s respected. As let’s say, we’re talking about new Nero d’Avola from Sicily; we want to make sure that it’s considered a decent one, so that when we taste it, we can determine whether we like it, or whether our palate is suited for it. So you need a good quality curator, your local wine shop, you know, who learns your palate, as you go in and out, can help guide you because there’s so many varieties and so many different grapes and parts of the world to experience wine from that it’s hard to say, go to Groupon and buy something for $3 and see if you like it, because you really don’t know if it’s any good in the first place. And that’s a problem,
Natalie MacLean 11:30
Right; yeah. In Canada, we don’t have Groupon available to us. But there’s still lots of options. There’s wine clubs, and there’s buying directly from the winery, and so on. But definitely, we have lots of American listeners. I guess that’s one way to get out of your rut. But before we move on to some other tips, what do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t running this wine club and making the podcast? Is there something else you’d do?
Paul K 11:55
I’m still stuck on you don’t have Groupon in Canada. That’s incredible
Natalie MacLean 11:59
We get discounts but we don’t get wine offers because the provinces legislate so much. Because it’s only the LCBO, which is the biggest purchaser of wine in the world, that can basically sell wine (in Ontario). There’s a few exceptions, but we don’t get the sort of Groupon deals like you might, but we do have wine clubs. So
Paul K 12:17
It’s funny. In Pennsylvania, the state of Pennsylvania was the largest retailer of wine in America. Now that they’ve opened their doors or channels to allow wineries to ship there, it’s changed a little bit. But you know, the government intervention is a problem. I’d actually tried to ship something to Ontario, I think, or was it Montreal? I can’t remember. But it got stuck at the LCBO, and they had 100% tariff so we had it picked up right away.
Natalie MacLean 12:42
Yep. Yep. A lot of tax and a lot of regulation. So I know a lot of wine lovers are hoping for that to privatised
Paul K 12:49
Oh, yes. You asked me what I would be doing.
Natalie MacLean 12:51
Paul K 12:52
I don’t know. What has happened now, particularly in this industry, and in most industries, is that media has become quite an important part of any marketing effort, anything to do with social networking, or internet marketing or SEO (search engine optimization) is media and I’ve always wanted to create, I get fascinated by it. I’m a frustrated cinema student from USC, I got in but I never went. I went to business school and sort of regretted that; just because I would’ve love the creation part of it. But I’m enjoying thinking through ideas to get people to try wine, to be interested in wine’ to be inspired by wine and using media to do that. I think it’s, I don’t maybe I’ll just do this permanently. I’ve got a big enough studio anyway.
Natalie MacLean 13:36
It’s a serious studio.
Paul K 13:38
Yeah, that’s right.
Natalie MacLean 13:39
We share that Paul, I did an MBA, but I didn’t have the confidence to write, but now it’s the joy in my life, creating and master whatever. So in terms of the wines you’ve sold, just some highlights. What’s been the most expensive wine you ever sold through the club?
Paul K 13:55
I sold a DRC Romanée-Conti; it was a Richebourg 2007, I think I charged them $2500
Natalie Maclean 14:05
$2500, that’s a deal.
Paul K 14:06
Yeah, well, yeah, it was a few years ago. We have four more bottles. I have some La Tache, those are around $5,000. Well, I had a customer buy $13,000 worth of Burgundy a few weeks ago for 28 bottles.
Natalie Maclean 14:17
Paul K 14:18
That’s pretty good order. But you know that took some more, he was looking to round out his cellar, he had a beautiful cellar. He invited me to go see; it had a biometric entrance, you put your thumb against that pad there. And mostly Napa Cabs and first growth Bordeaux; it was like I don’t know where I can help you. You have things I probably can’t even get. I said but you don’t have good Burgundy and let me help you with that. So I did a lot of research and he’s very happy with that part of his cellar now. You know, my specialty is $15 to $25. And that’s where most wine is, particularly now during COVID there’s so many wines coming in at that price range. The way we taste is not like the way The Spectator or James Suckling or wine enthusiasts tastes. I’m the guy that’s going into like the wine shop with you, or into the supermarket. I see 20 $20 Cabernets, but I’ve tasted them all. And I can tell you that this one’s really worth 40 bucks based on the other things that are $40. And the one over here is really like $10. And there’s a lot of those. And our job is to weed those out.
Natalie MacLean 15:24
Yeah. So you kiss a lot of Venus frogs to find the prince; the prince of bottles. So what would you say is your sort of ratio for tasting like, rejects, like, I taste 10? And I pick one or whatever? I know, it’ll vary. But on average, how many are you tasting versus how many do you offer to your wine club members?
Paul K 15:42
Well, I don’t even remember what I buy now. I think I buy about 20 different wines because I have a Napa club, a Bordeaux club, I have a sweet Rosé, etc. Okay, but if I taste 300 wines in a month, I will probably reject 270 of them, no, 250 of them. And I reject them for a variety of reasons. And this is kind of colloquial because my father had a three point system when he started tasting wine in the 70s. And that was; One: can’t use it. So my vendors think, when they see a one on my computer, because I log everything; that they got a one, that’s like a good score. So it’s actually the worst thing. Two: means I think I can use it the way it is for the price, and what it is, and what is it’s trying to be; that’s a good one. And three: the wine is very good, but just overpriced for what it is. If the price came down to where I think it’s more valuable, then it becomes a good wine. So that’s what we do. It’s very interesting because any way you can buy wine in America, I’ve done it. I’ve bought grapes, we’ve crushed them, we’ve brought 20,000 litre tetra kegs in from Argentina and bottled at Napa, all those kinds of things. If a vendor is a legitimate distributor of wine, who actually curates their own book, the rejection rate is much lower, because they’ve already been through the process. But I have a lot of bottom fishing brokers that go around the country and the world, and find odd lots of odd things, and they find some really good values once in a while, but the rejection rate is much higher. Because they just don’t care. There’s maybe Paul will like it; it’s like the Life cereal commercial; Paul probably likes it.
Natalie MacLean 17:19
Because sometimes I think wine clubs get a reputation, other wine clubs, of course, as a dumping ground for bad wines. It’s like in the Caribbean, I think all the bad vintages go there to die in Caribbean vintages restaurants.
Paul K 17:30
Natalie MacLean 17:31
If you’re a consumer looking for a good wine club, how do you know that you’re not getting offloaded some stuff that was just the buyer happened to get a great deal;it’s not a great wine.
Paul K 17:41
You don’t, you don’t
Natalie MacLean 17:42
Paul K 17:44
Like I said it goes back to like trusting the wine buyer. Well if you go to the supermarket to buy wine, which I’m not sure in Canada, you can do that. I got yelled at Montreal when I was a teenager trying to buy beer on a Sunday
Natalie MacLean 17:58
We can now, in limited amounts, we can go to the grocery store.
Paul K 17:59
I think she yelled at me in French too. The way wine works is sort of disillusioning for a lot of people because so much of wine is just farmers. Most wineries are really just farmers, they’re just growing grapes, they sell the grapes to somebody else, a very small percentage of wine is actually bottled by the grower, you know, estate bottling. So our vision as a consumer of a winery like Napa, there’s a big Château and the French Château is the smallest percentage of the real thing of wine. And if you make a wine, and it’s not very good, you can make a mistake, can’t make good wine from bad grapes, you can make bad wine from good grapes. It goes somewhere, it ends up somewhere, somebody’s going to bottle it, someone’s going to sell it to another winery to blend with something else that’s maybe better and try to just move through it. It’s just the way the business is. And so you need to trust the purveyor of the wines. It doesn’t really matter if you get the end of a vintage. It may be even better. In fact, years ago, Napa had a great year. 1990 was like a great year. I mean, Bordeaux had a great year. ‘89 was a little tough. Well, I’m sorry, back to Napa, ‘90 was great. ‘89’s were tough. So the 90s came out before the ‘89s. And so now the winery can’t bring back the 89, because the 90s are already on the shelf. But they’ve got pallets of these wines sitting in their warehouse. So the ‘89s started to come around. I mean, after a few years, they’re really good. And there were some great deals to be had. So you might call that a bin end or close out or something; it probably was, but wine was really good. So I don’t have a problem with the timing of certain things. It’s that the wind has been properly curated and determined to be a good example of what it’s supposed to be; that’s really the key.
Natalie MacLean 19:42
Right. And when you’re tasting; like what are tasting tips you can pass on to those who are listening or watching right now. I mean, you’ve developed a palate, you know what you’re looking for in that one, two or three scale, but what else are you looking for when you taste?
Paul K 19:55
Well, you know the primary is, you know, the three pieces of a taste is the beginning, the middle and the end. How about that? Sounds a great story, isn’t it?
Natalie MacLean 20:03
Yes, it does
Paul K 20:04
I wrote a book, a beginning, a middle and an end. I look for varietally correct exposure to those three pieces.
Natalie MacLean 20:11
So what does that mean? Varietally correct? Right?
Paul K 20:13
Correct means if it’s Cabernet, do we have the cassis? Do we have the spice? Do we have the firm acids in the back. Because Merlot is a more approachable, they’re a little bit more black cherry, those kinds of characters. And I think the question that you’re asking me is more like, Well, how do I know what black cherry tastes like? Or how do I know you when somebody says it smells like herbs? That’s what you do. If you’re cooking, and you’re squishing rosemary in your hands, smell your fingers. If you take a bite of an apple, smell the apple; if you’re working with eggs, take a moment to savour that egg, because the memory of smell is like one of the most memorable things you have. It’s that sense is very time insensitive. In fact, we were in Paris a few years ago. And then we went to the local view of the Eiffel Tower, the little local tourist restaurant and they serve the quiche and it took me back, like 45 or 50 years, my mom made the same quiche. And it had the same ingredients. And I told my wife I said, I can’t believe what the smell; how far it’s taking me back,
Natalie MacLean 21:14
Like Proust’s Madeleine (The expression “Proust’s madeleine” is still used today to refer to a sensory cue that triggers a memory) or even Ratatouille? It goes right back.
Paul K 21:20
Yeah, so that’s exactly right, the Ratatouille moment. So it’s all about just experiencing and taking a minute to use your senses during everyday things; mowing the lawn, if you’d if you do that kind of thing; pruning the bushes. Like I said, when you’re cooking for particular, fruit senses, bite the apple and say Gee, what am I tasting? Do the the green apples taste different than Fuji apples? And that’s how you start to develop a vocabulary for this.
Natalie MacLean 21:43
Absolutely. I also tell my online course students like, do exactly what you’re suggesting, because you’ll develop that vocabulary. And now that I’m writing my third book, which is a memoir, the way I access my memories is to remember first, what did it smell like? And then everything else comes back. Just close my eyes. I’m not trying to remember what it looked like. What did it smell like first? And not even just wine? But the whole situation
Paul K 22:07
Yeah, there’s aroma. Have you heard of the aroma wheel?
Natalie MacLean 22:10
Yes. by Ann Noble UC Davis Professor. Yeah
Paul K 22:12
Right. So she sold it to Isabelle Lesschaeve. And she’s back doing it. And she’s refining it. And she’s creating courses around it. And I had forgotten about it. I remember, I was going to try and copy it like 10 years ago. I’ve told this this to Isabelle, obviously, just copying it, just copyright infringement. But it’s a great tool. It’s a great tool, because it sort of allows the basic component to come out. And then oh, yeah, I really sense this and then the last most granular ring.
Natalie MacLean 22:45
Exactly. Because for those not familiar, it starts with broad categories, like flowers, or wood or whatever. And then it’ll go deeper and deeper, like violets and you know, what stems of those violets or whatever? Yeah, that’s great idea. Not the copyright infringement. But let’s not do that. What’s the weirdest or most obscure wine you’ve ever sold?
Paul K 23:07
You know, it’s funny, you asked that question. And I’ve been talking about this for the last week. It was recently; it was two weeks ago, tasting something somebody brought me and I brought it in for myself. It’s not on my website yet. It’s from the Canary Islands. And when I log on my computer, what I’m tasting I do that every Tuesday, I put in the vintage, the date, you know, I put everything in there, the grapes, and if the grapes have already been tasted, which you can’t imagine after 30 years, that there is not a grape in there I haven’t tasted but I start typing in Listán Negro and it didn’t come up, which means that I’ve never tasted a wine from that grape. And of course, Canary Islands have never come up before. And because of its volcanic soil, it’s fabulous wine and I really kind of love volcanic soil wines anyway
Natalie MacLean 23:54
Why? What does volcanic soil do for wine
Paul K 23:56
You know, you’ve really got to understand the minerality; you get a little bit, it’s not smoke, but it’s a little bit of ash in there. And they’re, they’re a little leaner. You know, they don’t get so voluptuous because the water flows through them. It doesn’t accumulate and clog
Natalie MacLean 24:09
Great drainage so they don’t suffer
Paul K 24:11
And so wines from Boulia, around the base of the mountain down there, have that same character with the Canary Islands. Who would have known?
Natalie MacLean 24:21
Wait, where’s Canary Islands roughly? Geographically? We’ll ask the Canary Islands wine council? Do you know anything more about their wine? Like how much wine they make? Or like, I guess that’s probably the leak. Right?
Paul K 24:36
That’s a good question. Usually when I taste a wine like that, I usually go right to Google Earth or something. And I’ll start looking at it just to understand it. I didn’t have time that day from the vendor. And the wine just just came in yesterday; I mean on Friday, so I’m going to probably have to do my homework now.
Natalie MacLean 24:51
Dig into it. Yeah, you’ve made me curious now. So is there anything that stands out for you like a kind of a strange or unusual situation when you’ve been out either researching or trying to buy wines or anything related to the wine club or just wine generally?
Paul K 25:08
Well, you know, it’s kind of fun. And things have changed a lot in the wine business through COVID. I mean a lot. We used to go to big trade tastings. And you know when I do 300 a month, that used to be 100 or 200 off premise, at some other venue,
Natalie MacLean 25:25
Off premise, meaning sorry,
Paul K 25:26
Let’s say the local distributor wine warehouse was having their annual tasting; they do it twice a year. And there’s a whole bunch of retailers, I mean, a whole bunch of distributors in Los Angeles. This seems to be going on all the time. But at least twice a month, I’d be out of the office, tasting somewhere else. COVID stopped all that, of course. And so now those 300 wines a month and more are coming through the door here. So it’s a lot of work. But back in the old days, and I always found this fascinating, back in the old days; hey, the day myself is not that old, but I’m talking about the late 80s, when you would go to a big tasting and there’ll be 1000 wines, to 200 tables, 10 wines each, never do ‘em all, right? But people like Fess Parker would be pouring his wine; you know Daniel Boone,
Natalie MacLean 26:12
California winemaker, yep,
Paul K 26:14
Pat Paulson, the great comedian, would be pouring his own wines. Dick Sanford, who’s a became an icon in the world of Santa Barbara wines, pouring his own wines. Dickie Smothers, the great comedian, part of the half the team with the Smothers Brothers, pouring his own wine. The point of that is they weren’t celebrities then. I mean, they were celebrities in their public persona. But in the wine world, they were winemakers and winery owners, and completely approachable without any pretence. We’re talking wine here, we’re not talking about my celebrity status. And that was always really fun, just talking about wine and you know what, like Pat Paulson had a wine called Refrigerator White. Like, what is this? Because the IRS took his winery, whatever.
Natalie MacLean 26:57
Okay, well, too bad for that. Emptied the fridge. So you met all of these folks back in the day, when they’re pouring. How is it changed with today’s celebrity endorsed or named wines?
Paul K 27:08
That’s a really good segue. Those guys were winery owners. Like I said, you know, Pat Paulson’s was absorbed by the IRS. I mean, he had to own it, to take it, right. Fess Parker became a huge enterprise. In Santa Barbara; Dickies, the Smothers Brothers, I believe they’re still around. I’m not sure about their wines, but I haven’t seen him lately. Dick Sanford, of course, he sold the winery. Those were real people making real wine, a real investment in the wine. I haven’t seen that except for Greg Norman’s wines in the celebrity world. So typically, a client said they don’t typically work, because you’re just paying a percentage off the top for the celebrity status. What is the value of that? Well, I think the most obscure example; Big Ang, the sort of verbose woman that was in one of the Housewives of Atlanta, she had a whole line of sparkling Moscato, they’re horrible, and nobody really cared.
Natalie MacLean 28:03
They just wanted the name on the bottle just for, whatever a gag gift or whatever bottle.
Paul K 28:07
Years ago, I won the right to be the Professional Golf Association Wine Club. Long story: Why did it never came to fruition? At that time, there were 16 golfers, professional golfers, had wines. Fred Couples, Ernie Els; they all had one. And but you know, Arnold Palmer had nothing to do with it. Right. It’s just his name. Greg Norman has something to do with it. None of those brands exists anymore. And so, seems the only ones that have worked is Mirabelle, you know, which is Brad Pitt.
Natalie MacLean 28:37
Angelina Jolie? Did one or the other of them take custody of the wine? Because didn’t they split?
Paul K 28:42
That’s a good question. I haven’t heard about what happened to the wine.
Natalie MacLean 28:46
But you know, I think to your point, that is a great wine, but it’s made by the people who do Château Beaucastel in the Rhône Valley; serious winemakers behind the label. And they don’t have their names on label. Brangelina is not on the label anywhere. Yeah
Paul K 29:03
That is one difference. Snoop Dogg’s in the wine business now. And we were at the market here locally. And the first time I saw it, it’s called Cali Red. I think it’s made by the guys who do the 19 Criminals. But it was right at eye level, in the middle of the middle shelf of the wine at the supermarket. Okay, so best spot you can have, and that means it’s been paid for. It’s like toothpaste for Procter and Gamble, right. It’s not free. So I guess old Snoop wasn’t doing so well, because the next time we went in about a month later, it was on the bottom shelf.
Unknown Speaker 29:37
He’s in the dog house, he’s heading down. That’s funny.
Paul K 29:44
That shows you that I personally think, I’ve brought this example up before. If I’m spending $50 on a bottle of wine or $40 or $20 or $10 and I know what I like, why would I buy that version of it because Fred Couple’s name is on it? I don’t understand. If I’m a real wine drinker, and I really enjoy what I do, what value does that bring to the bottle?
Natalie MacLean 30:05
Absolutely, you know, and as I tell my students, the first sale might be based on the label, but the second sale is always based on what’s inside.
Paul K 30:10
Natalie MacLean 30:12
So fool me once or whatever.
Paul K 30:17
Did you read the article, I had in Punch Drink, which is a great online blog for anything alcohol, and she sat with me for three hours and watched me taste. And during the tasting, there was a break in the action. So I had a bunch of samples that were sent to me, oddly, and weirdly, as a competitor sent some of their wires for me to buy. And one was a Beaujolais 2016. This is about two years ago. So it was current vintage. I said, Let’s taste this; it’ll be fun. So we open it up. It’s really quite bad. You know, we drink it. And she goes, this is really horrible. I said, Yeah, and I roll the label over and the wine was from Saturday Night Live, a TV show.
Natalie MacLean 30:55
Paul K 30:56
I think myself, some poor person who loves Santa live who saw this bottle somewhere or saw an ad for it thought,oh, I can Saturday Night Live Beaujolais while I’m watching the show. And there’s just no way you could have gone this is really good. You just couldn’t do it.
Natalie MacLean 31:12
So yeah, well, those gag names and endorsements only go so far. So sort of conversely, what do you think are the most undervalued regions and grapes and styles that we all should be trying right now?
Paul K 31:25
Well, the Canary Islands,
Natalie MacLean 31:27
If you can get it or find it; if we know where the heck it is in the world. But yes, Canary Islands? Sure.
Paul K 31:33
You know,it’s funny, right now, the industry is in a weird position. There’s a lot of great wines, and they’re very inexpensive. So you can find good values just about anywhere. Because what COVID did, was if you and I started a winery tomorrow, we would want to go to a restaurant for the sales. Because we get our name on a list and they just keep buying, we don’t have to go there again, because it’s printed on the list. So it’s like a permanent salesman. All that got dried up for nine months, no restaurants were buying anything. So there’s a lot of great wines coming out of the woodwork, so some of the value, some of the ones that you like, typically are going to be less money. And if you have somebody you trust, to point you in the right direction, they’ll be a lot of really good values. Regionally, though, still, the Chilean, Argentinian things are really good values. There’s some really fun things come out of there. You know, Australia’s back in the game a little bit. They’ve come to our shores again, they sort of ebb and flow through over the years, sometimes their prices go up, and then they don’t come back for a little while, but they’re kind of coming back into the fray. There’s some Caucus wines that are very interesting. I’m Armenian descent, I have a little bit of a bent toward them. But you know, when they became free, that technology showed up at their doorstep, and there were some pretty bright winemakers. Michel Rolland has been out there. Paul Hobbs has been out there
Natalie MacLean 32:50
Famous flying winemakers. Yeah,
Paul K 32:52
Yeah. Right. So they’ve been around doing their stuff, so they’re hard to find. They’re reasonable though. I just, unfortunately, during the war, the Artsakh war, a friend of mine, his winery was commandeered by the soldiers. And he had a great wine called Apris. It was made from a grape called Sireni which we don’t grow here. It was like $15. But it was Class A wine made from you know, a real winemaker with quality equipment. So but you know, Chile and Argentina, it’s just the go to value. There’s some great values, really good values,
Natalie MacLean 33:25
Is that because the cost of production is lower, natural conditions are better? All of those contributing factors?
Paul K 33:30
All of those things together. Yeah. And just less money to do. Well, I had this conversation with an Armenian winemaker, for instance. I think Cabernet grapes, for your premium Cabernet grapes in 2018 were $8,000 a tonne. Okay, so that puts like $125 worth of juice in each bottle, just for the juice, not the glass, not the cork. And you can buy grapes in most countries like that for like $500 a tonne. So you can see this is a considerably less, less money, just with costs
Natalie MacLean 34:01
And with Armenian wines; do they share any similarities with Georgian wines, which are really in vogue now with the qvevri and the orange wines and the ancient winemaking methods?
Paul K 34:12
Actually, they’re not as tuned to that. I think part of it because when the Soviets were running the show, they had told the Armenians you’re making the brandy and that’s why Winston Churchill loved Armenian brandy. And the Georgians were told to make the wine. That’s basically what the rules were. So the Armenians didn’t have a chance to cultivate, to see the age of their vines grow, to get the benefit of old grapes, old vine grapes, so they didn’t have these interesting techniques like the Georgians do. There’s no quality difference, but they’re totally different. Areni Noir, one of the main red grapes. They make a more, I can’t even, this is what’s cool about wine. I can’t even reference another grape that I taste. Maybe Sangiovese eats a little like a Sangiovese- Syrah blend, which is kind of weird right to equate the regular indigenous red wines from Romania. The Georgian wines are heavy and robust and they’ve used that micro oxidation going through the amphorae underground. So totally different. Totally different process.
Natalie MacLean 35:09
Yeah. What is your opinion, just segueing into that on Georgian wines and orange wines and I don’t know those that are in amphorae and Pet Nat and all the rest of it.
Paul K 35:21
We just did my first Georgian wines since I’ve been here. it’s called Lost Eden. It’s got a little residual sugar, natural residual sugar. It’s done very well, people really like it. It’s a really cool bottle. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether these things are trends. Certainly Georgian wines not a trend because it’s been around for 1000s of years, but things like Pet Nat, which is you know, is naturally pétillant wines. Some of them even have like beer cap closures,
Natalie MacLean 35:48
Pétillant naturel or something, the ancestral method, lightly fizzy or whatever; not as fully sparkling. Yeah,
Paul K 35:56
Biodynamic wines are becoming popular, organic wines are popular, but here’s my opinion of them. I don’t want to suffer through a glass of wine because I think I’m doing myself a favour because it’s biodynamic. There’s no reason in the world. And biodynamic means that organic farming, but it also includes the cycles of the sun and the moon, for planting and picking and storage, and other things. But I don’t want to have it taste like hay because it’s so natural. I want it to taste good. And there’s no reason why it shouldn’t taste good. I personally have not read any anything about it being more valuable health wise, necessarily, except that maybe it aligns our bodies with you know, the molecules of the earth. I mean, that’s kind of what the attitude is. And the one defence of that thing, of biodynamic that I’ve ever heard, is from Piero Incisa in Patagonia from Bodega Chacra. And he said this once, he goes, you know, if the moon can move the bodies of the ocean, which man can never do, and your body is 90% water, imagine what that gravitational pull is doing to your health. I thought that was thought provoking. His wines are great, they’re biodynamic, they have a wonderful liveliness about them. And I will say organic, true organic wines, not wines just made from organic grapes. But they’re organic throughout the process. Have a liveliness about them. I just I want them to taste good, though. I mean, I don’t want to.
Natalie MacLean 37:25
Why do so many don’t? They’re freaky or funky or whatever. And, like even natural and raw wines. I mean, they’re hot and trendy and on restaurant lists, but often they’re just so not good. Why are they? Is it because of lack of preservatives like sulfites or what’s going on with these wines?
Paul K 37:47
No, you know, organic wines in America, you can add sulphites, you can’t in Europe, but you can add them here; sulphites are natural too. I don’t buy that argument. Most conventional winemakers,
Natalie MacLean 37:56
They exist even if you don’t add them,
Paul K 37:57
Right. And so one of the things you typically hear too, when winemakers used to come to America before COVID, one of the most poignant things told me, it was by Valentino Valentini. Imagine that name; should be in the movies, right? Valentino Valentini. He was the mayor of Montefalco and he grows Sagrantino. And he says, you know, my kids are playing in that vineyard, I don’t want them dusted with pesticides. And that was a very poignant thing. And I think that’s pretty normal actually, in most parts of the world. We just didn’t take time to worry about certifying them as organic. Many wines I get in here, are organic by trade, but not certified. They don’t go through the legal bureaucratic process to call it organic. But they only do it because they want to do it. And I don’t know, the reason, you know, takes three years to certify your winery is organic, or biodynamic. And then I think you start over, learning what that soil is going to do and produce in grapes and it takes time. And to highlight that; Michel Rolland, a friend of mine in Armenia, he goes, Okay, I agree with you. You can grow grapes here, you can make wonderful wine, but it’s going to take you a hundred years to figure it out. A hundred years, I’m only 35 years old.
Natalie MacLean 39:07
I’m optimistic in the long term, the really long term
Paul K 39:09
But the point of that is to learn how all the different seasons and all the different things that impact how a grape grows and, and how deep the roots are going to go. And all the rest of the things that go into making a glass of wine are unknown.
Natalie MacLean 39:22
Yeah, well, and you only get one chance every year to accumulate all that learning. With beer, you know, you’re making a batch every six weeks or whatever. But with wine, it’s like once a year, and then you document and you learn, but it is a slow process.
Paul K 39:34
Natalie MacLean 39:40
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Paul. Okay, here are my takeaways.
Number one, Paul offered some great tips on how to choose a wine club, as well as a good local wine retailer. Both of these can help you with the curation process and choosing great wines and getting to know your palate.
Two, I agree with Paul in how to develop your wine vocabulary, smell and taste everything. Well, almost everything.
And three, it’s interesting to see how COVID has dramatically changed the wine business, from the volume of business done online these days, to what’s changing in terms of popular styles, regions and price points. I also like his suggestions for undervalued regions and vintages. You can win a personally signed copy of Rex Picketts’ novel Sideways that was made into the head movie as well as a bottle of Sideways Pinot Noir if you comment on the social media post I created about the contest. Just pick your favourite platform, Insta, Facebook or Twitter and comment on the post I created before 7pm on April 21. I’ll select the winner randomly from those of you who participate; you get a bonus entry if you tag a wine loving friend, or reshare it in your stories. In the show notes, you’ll find a link to these posts the full transcript of our conversation, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class, where you can find me on Zoom, Insta, Facebook and YouTube, live on video every Wednesday at seven including this evening and next week. That’s all in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/124.
You won’t want to miss next week when I continue this fascinating conversation with Paul K. In the meantime, if you missed the last two episodes about wine in the White House, go back and take a listen to them. There’s lots of wine tips in there as I talk with Fred Ryan, publisher of The Washington Post. He’s got some great stories on the intersection between wine and politics. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Fred Ryan 41:50
It was in 1987. And the Prime Minister of France, Jacques Chirac and his wife had come to the White House; Chirac and Reagan had been friends for many years. Chirac had been the mayor of Paris, and Reagan was governor of California, so they knew each other well, and they had shared wine together. And now here they are, the respective leaders of their two countries and Chirac is coming to the White House. Here is France, the world’s wine superpower coming; so you had to do something that balanced that, with the desire of American Presidents to showcase the best in American wine. So Ronald Reagan came up with a very diplomatic solution; he served Opus One, the joint venture between Phillippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild and Robert Mondavi; the joint Franco American venture, and it was a perfect wine and it was very well received that evening.
Natalie MacLean 42:40
Perfect blend, blended diplomacy; very nice.
If you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the tips that Paul shared. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week.
Natalie MacLean 43:09
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full bodied bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Nataliemaclean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers!