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June 26, 2010

Awl Right, Oh Yeah

750 mL is, well, just completely damn honored to share some space on one of the most pointed--popular--blogs out there: New York's The Awl, run by three Gawker veterans (magnates? magnets?) CS, AB, and DC. They were gracious enough to publish (and help edit) my newest post, "How to Face Down the Wine List and Win." A thrill in its own right, but made only better when I saw what an incredible community of readers they've got there--so don't miss the comments section.


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June 25, 2010

06 Movia, Sauvignon

"The intent of the meal is a slow event." We broke bread to that (well, head cheese). Some 50 of us gathered over two long tables, bottles of wine in tow. I'd literally towed mine, pedaling a Rube Goldberg setup of gear and chain across town, past an oddly situated UPS facility, and finally swinging through a winding country road, wine sloshing like rapids in the rear basket. Whatever it took, we were all going to get here. This farm dinner, this apotheosis of porcine proportions--a whole hog roast by one of our favorite chefs, here at one our favorite farms, the dank smell of humidity, goats, and rennet whisking across fennel fronds, redcurrants, and the saline drip of what was once my favorite shirt. Yes, this would be a slow event, just like Leslie said. Time enough to share in great food, meet others, and--as always--drink great wine. My bottles of some esoteric sparkling pinot and gelber muskateller came out. Others had brought delicious rose, shockingly good Australian whites, Bandol that somehow seemed refreshing in 90-degree heat. And, through all this--a memorable night in the least--I could think only of the futon I sat on last night. The bloat of Chinese food in my distended belly. A much quainter evening, all in all, capped with the denouement of this bottle of Movia. I could say it was majestic, moving, or metaphysical in situ. But where we were seated, who we were with, what we were or had eaten meant nothing to this wine. In a living room, on a farm. When I remember the night, I like to imagine us together at a teak, or maybe pounded copper, table, some innocuous plate of tapas or antipasti in front. But I don't need to. Because whenever this coy, nuanced--at the risk of sounding even more pretentious: "historically informed"--bottle is opened, you're no longer tied to your surroundings. The wine is where you are--as local and true as any gathering of old friends. You're never introduced to Movia. There is no awkward handshake, no learning curve. And if you're sitting there with a bottle right now, you know what it is. It's elemental in some way. You can't break down Mo. There is no tasting note. Sure, we can discuss the balance of acid and umami. Whether that musky aroma is really flint, lemon, or a stark, jarring reminder of being asked to wash the chalkboards for the last three months of kindergarten because your overachieving ass graduated early and there is no place to put a five-year-old kid on a Wednesday in the middle of a particularly frigid winter. We can discuss those things. Better if we don't. When I sat there on the farm, drinking bottle after bottle of delicious wine, eating course after course of thoughtfully raised and prepared food, I'd lost all my inhibitions. For a moment, I thought I should've brought that Movia I'd had the night before. Every glass I poured reminded me of it anyway. It's all I was really tasting. It would have wowed them. But I quickly woke to realize that's precisely the opposite of what wines like this want to do. They don't want to wow you. They don't want you to wow others. Somehow, they stay with you, revealing themselves not when you drink them, but far more viscerally when you are without, almost whispering, you will miss me when I'm gone. You taste them, you share your own little memories (when was the last time I'd thought about homeroom and Mrs. Cook?), and you go on with your day. Comforted, maybe, by the fact that, no matter where you are and what you become, everything you've done really happened. It's mattered. You will remember your days and remember them fondly. It really does get this good. And it's a secret you never have to share.


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June 11, 2010

NV Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Champagne Reims Brut

This is the review that won't matter. That won't come up in Google searches, won't be linked to from any major websites, except maybe blogs on Mark Twain. Because there are lies, damn lies, and mass-produced Champagne. And the numbers--some 10 million cases, 90 billion milliliters, or 760 million glasses a year--show that no half-truth is more persuasive than the power of Veuve Clicquot, the mystique of the Madame Widow Grande Dame. More timely, perhaps, that's 24 million gallons of this crude, gurgling liquid a year--or about as much as what BP just produced in the Gulf of Mexico. So, go on, be persuaded. But let me try to convince you otherwise, just this one time. I know, I know it's one of the first Champagnes you tried and then you went to fancy cocktail parties and still it was there. You had mimosas on the Riviera with it. You toasted your niece's wedding with it. The dockmaster christened your first yacht with a bottle, a ribbon, and some novelty scissors. And then just the other night you watched MTV Cribs and it was there, too, being brought up from the basement by an actual servant. All this wasn't just for show--it actually validated your thinking. Not "thinking" really, but your understanding. Well, no, not that. Your pedigree, your upbringing--your auspices. And I guess that's why--really to all our loss--Champagne is such a celebratory wine instead of the daily, I-love-myself and it's-Happy-Hour wine it really is. Because with wines like Veuve Clicquot's standard brut, you need a reason to open it. To expose yourself to flavors as faintly memorable as the people around you. The in-laws you only see on Easter. The hip Division Head who thinks everyone in the organization is of equal value before going to his summer home in the Andes. They taste this steely, like the aluminum wrapper of a lemon-poppyseed cupcake on your molars. As sweet and flabby as the girl who broke up with you the second week of summer camp. As bitter and zesty as quinine, as the gin tonics you guzzle at the cash bar, plunging your tongue past the ice, thinking who the hell are all these people. And though noticeably better, with enough heady, bold mushroom and raspberry aroma to, for just a moment, make you think the French were really on to something, you can drink the basic Veuve and see exactly where so many cheap sparkling producers get their influence. The Andre, the Cristalino, the Martini & Rossi. They all come from this. And they suck ass because I think the people who work there must get Veuve Clicquot at their holiday parties, on their yearly bonuses. Maybe it's the first result on Google. Here's the good stuff, boys! Guzzle up. Throw a fucking strawberry in there while you're at it. Well go ahead. Throw a strawberry in there. Make a fucking white sangria with some punch. Bitch, top off your bellini. But quit lying to me. Serve this, but quit telling me it's good. Quit telling me it goes with everything, including sushi. Quit putting it in a four-ply tri-fold cardboard box with a free etched Champagne flute. And, while you're at it, quit calling it Champagne. But keep calling it brute.


Anonymous Sandeep said...


10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:54 AM  
Blogger Steve-n-Melissa said...

After reading this post, I'm putting this blog on my favorites list.

1:05 PM  
Blogger 750 mL said...

:) You guys are awesome. With so many people seeing this post, I should say for the record--if you have the chance, do actively seek out the La Grande Dame, Veuve Clicquot's tete-de-cuvee.

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Jim C. said...

I dumped VC Yellow from the shelves at the wine store I run this year after finally getting tired of hearing "you have to have it" and "it sells itself." As far as I was concerned, it was taking thunder away from great wines.

And, I have to wonder if even La Grande Dame isn't what it used to be based on how mature the 96 tastes now.

12:50 PM  
Blogger 750 mL said...

Wow, Jim. That's definitely the first I've heard that. I used to (a few years ago) work retail and, while I proudly hand sold every grower Champagne we had with quite a lot of success and was very fortunate to be managed and mentored by a few bleeding hearts, we just left the cases of Yellow in the fridge.

People come in, ask, here you go. Especially with full cases (especially on Easter), which for most Champagne, people are reluctant to buy. End of day, it helped us support carrying the other stuff. And, if people are drinking Champagne, I'm happy.

But eventually cava and prosecco, plus some 30-and-under Champagnes got so good, that it became easier to sell those over VC, as long as you had a good associate on the floor.

All that said, really bold of you to take this leap. I compare it to the craft beer bars. A few years ago, you had to carry Miller Lite, etc., because it brought money in. But once bars started shifting to all-craft beer, it didn't take long for people to start drinking the smaller batch, local pilsners and cream ales.

Where are you based?

2:35 PM  
Blogger Samantha Dugan said...

We dumped Clicquot years ago along with Taittinger, and Moet, the stuff is crap and I cannot and will not stock it anymore. There was a bit of a "say what?" response from customers in the beginning but telling them they can find it at Food For Less and CVS kind of lets them know just how, "special" that stuff is. The result has been higher sales in our Champagne department, you know once people taste what it should taste like.

3:58 PM  
Blogger 750 mL said...

This is eye-opening. What other retailers have been so brave? Let us hear your voices.

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wine reviewers need this kind of vitriol more often. I'd love to see this on a "shelf talker." Good stuff!

5:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have NEVER sold VC in the 18 years we have been known as Los Angeles' Champagne Headquarters. We have a banner we put in the window at holidays that says "Friends don't let Friends drink Veuve Clicquot!".

Roberto @ WINE EXPO Santa Monica, CA

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Roberto Rogness said...

Here is a link to a picture of our window banner:


6:32 PM  
Anonymous Sandeep said...

So I had to make this decision not to long ago, and I decided to keep them, they do sell themselves I in fact had a shelf talker that said something to the effect of 'these are here if you must but I would recommend every other sparkler on these shleves' I have since then taken that sign down. More and more I realize people should drink what makes them happy and I shouldn't pass judgement of that, wine is intimidating as it is.

For me personally I dont drink it and I agree with every last sentence in the above article, but would I turn it down if offered a glass I highly doubt it. And I dont go chiding people for buying overpriced designers clothes when they should go to a tailor and buy bespoke, or for buying the porche panamera when they should buy an aston martin vantage, or a rolex over patek phillipe.

And by the same token, if i were to stop offering Yellow Label I would feel equally responsible to stop carrying most California wines because the Northeast and Europe just do it better in my esteem...

Lastly, I think its great to have that to compare and contrast for the customers what it means to have a sense of place and the quality of vineyard sites. And at the end of the day that yellow is as fashionable as a tiffany's box, and thats what the widow did for champagne she made it fashionable in Russia and then all over the world. And it has risen to its status in the US on the backs of some serious sales people.

And every time we geek out on Methode Ancestrale, most recently this seems to be puro, or we wax poetic about the dangers of the remueur we pay homage to yellow label...

So I feel I do my customers no disservice by offering Yellow Label, I will continue to tell the gospel of grower and coop but I wont make somebody feel bad for not knowing better, thats not their fault so much as mine...

This has turned into more of a diatribe than I expected... with all that said. Nilay you always say it with the right words that i never seem to find, keep fighting the good fight. Vive le resistance!

6:44 PM  
Anonymous Jill said...

I am an LA-based retailer and have never carried yellow label, but keep a little bit of the 98 Grande Dame on hand, and occasionally a gold label vintage Brut or Rosé.

I don't carry yellow label primarily because I don't like it; but, also, from a practical standpoint, as a small store, I can't compete on price -- my wholesale cost is $37 a bottle, and Trader Joe's (and CVS as Samantha noted) sells it for $40 a bottle.

Most customers understand these points when they are explained, and appreciate both my focus on growers as well as the price issue.

However, I know I have lost sales because I don't stock Yellow Label. For sure.

I have been told point blank by customers that "if it were just for me, I'd buy what you recommend. But I don't feel comfortable giving a gift if the recipient might not recognize the brand."

Oh well. In those cases, that's why I have the Grande Dame around.

6:59 PM  
Blogger jon said...

Well said! I'll raise my glass of Farmer's Fizz to this...

8:01 PM  
Anonymous John K said...

Thank you for writing this.

12:02 AM  
Anonymous Wine-o said...

F*** YEAH! I could not agree more. When in retail I also had the yellow around in case someone needed to have it, but only after spending at least five minutes extolling the virtues of farmer fizz wouold I allow them to pay for the Agent Orange.

I think the comments here touch on whether to have it, and not what the original meaning of the post was: If you need to sell it or even want to sell it- fine. But don't give me this "It's a wonderful and unique champagne from the very finest vineyards in the most prestigious region on earth" crap. McDonald's would never try to convince the world they are gourmet, so why do we swallow this load of bull from LVMH? Clearly there is nothing unique about 10 million cases a year, nor is there any note of prestige in the ridiculous amount of vineyard land requires for such a massive sum. Think about that the next time you spend the almost two hours driving at 70mph from Reims to the Aube where a majority of their grapes come from.

People shop at WalMart because of the prices and convenience, why do we allow ourselves to continue to think this product is any different?

My biggest beef is during the holidays when so many people just HAVE to have VC to give as a gift because they NEED the recipient of said gift to KNOW they spent $50 on them. If you truly cared about this person wouldn't you give them the greatest product available for the same amount of money? Wise up people.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Tricerapops said...

this was fun to read. bravo.

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Roberto Rogness said...

Re giving a "known label" as a gift: that is SO 20th Century. Now anyone (or their people if they are too important) can google anything they want ON THEIR PHONES and see the glowing reviews and rarity of a more interesting wine sent as a gift.

11:15 AM  
Blogger 750 mL said...

Enlightening and inspiring, Sandeep and Jill. And Wine-o, yeah exactly. I'd never say you shouldn't drink something, but it's powerful to hear these things from the retailers.

11:43 AM  
Blogger emc said...

I still lose my lunch when I see restaurants charge $20 a glass for it. Without a lap dance, that's just insanity.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

I'm sure grass fed Angus beef producers wish they had the sales and bank of MacDonalds... But at the end of the day it's grass fed Angus and an effing Big Mac.

Each has it's baggage, limited production and quality on one hand, consistently above average brand recognition on the other. Deep has the thread of it.

I'm happy to see so much flag waving for the cause, but I hope people will choose to be part of the world of wine over feeling like they are out of their depth. The more I taste after thousands of wines is more and more like I know so little.

But all my chips on the table, I will fall down on Nilay's side; 55%/45% as it were. While I wouldn't spit it out if offered, and likely I would miss it blind, Methinks the lady doth protest too much. The notes are on and the hard-sell every Veuve rep ever laid on me has left me permanently cold to the brand.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous John Grochau said...

Never liked it... sweet and uninteresting.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How old are you, must ever other word be a curse. No wonder you're doing this for free.

3:51 PM  
Blogger 750 mL said...

Only young people curse. Fucking kids these days. How's this: Flaccid, yet erudite. 86 points.

I do this for free because I love wine.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Chris Kissack said...

NV Veuve. It used to be good, y'know. I remember that time.

12:19 AM  
Blogger Wineandfootball said...

You are my new god. Seriously, I'm shaving my head, donning saffron coloured robes and heading to the nearest airport straight away. I'll be handing out copies of this post: "Excuse me Sir, would you like to some of our literature"?

1:20 PM  
Blogger 750 mL said...

I hope to set up an encampment shortly right outside of Bouzy. I'll send you the belemnite prayer beads in the next few days.

1:24 PM  
Blogger James said...

from the Cafe Matou Winelist: Jean Lallement’s wines symbolize everything I love about Champagne. With a total annual production of 1700 cases (compared to Veuve Cliquot’s annual production of nearly 833,000 cases – yeah, really) he creates stunning wine from the Grand Cru vineyards of Verzenay. It is made of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay and has a broad racy palate with aromas of brown butter and candied dates – it is powerful and intense all the way through an amazingly long finish

10:40 AM  

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