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Fear factor in wine

  • Article by: BILL WARD
  • Star Tribune
  • October 30, 2013 - 4:10 PM

What better day to talk about the issues that scare serious wine drinkers?

If I ever were to dress up for Halloween again, it probably would be as Elmer Fudd. Not because of the whole large-bald-head resemblance but because he so deftly encapsulated fear:

“Those who don’t understand me should fear me,” he once said. “Those who do understand me should fear themselves.”

So on this All Hallow’s Eve, here’s what scares me, at least a little bit, in the wine world:

• I’m scared that the arrival of the Total Wines chain will wreak havoc on locally owned operations. Nothing against big-box stores in general or this one in particular; I just prefer having consumers’ money stay in the community.

We have a wonderful range of wine outlets in the Twin Cities, from boutique-y stores to chains, and it’s likely that the latter (and nearby munis) will be more susceptible as Total Wines opens a handful of megastores in the metro’s second-ring suburbs during the coming months. These towns might not be big enough for all of these stores, since it’s unlikely that Twin Citians will start buying a lot more wine overall.

That said, anything that is good for consumers wins my vote, and Total Wines will come in with margins that force rivals to reduce their prices. I’m also fairly confident that Minnesotans’ wonderful predilection for buying local will help the good stores keep on keepin’ on.

• I’m scared that the Twin Cities will continue to have a paucity of good wine bars, especially compared with cities such as Denver, Seattle and Atlanta. St. Paul and the southern suburbs seem particularly underserved.

• I’m scared that millennials will devolve in their wine-buying habits. It’s wise to avoid overgeneralizing on the demographic front, but there’s no question that the younger generation’s curiosity and adventurousness have helped widen the wine world, with “lesser” grapes (furmint, agiorgitiko) and regions (Savoie, Uruguay) on their ever-shifting drink cards.

Of course some of them will become more like boomers as they age, but they seem less likely to be monolithic in their buying habits, and they show no signs of becoming ratings-chasing “score whores” like their forbears. Stay young (in heart and mind), folks!

• I’m scared that too many Twin Cities consumers will continue to label-shop, instead of establishing a relationship with at least one wine-monger. Sometimes — maybe as a host gift — buying by label is OK. But for those who shed that Midwestern reserve and open up about their palate preferences with a retailer, untold treasures await.

• I’m scared that the whole grocery-store-sales issue will rear its homely head again. It seems like we have achieved a nice rapprochement in this realm, since most grocers can have an adjacent space in which to sell wine, beer and booze. Byerly’s/Lunds, Kowalski’s, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Rainbow have showed it can work with minimal inconvenience for customers.

• I’m scared that too many people who actually like wine will still try to cook with three-day-old wine remnants or something they don’t like. And I’m terrified that the abomination dubbed “cooking wine” can still be found on grocery shelves. Using subpar wine in preparing a dish is like adding dried basil that has been in the spice rack for three years.

• Most of all, I’m scared that at some point today (Halloween), someone will offer me pumpkin wine — and try to claim that it pairs beautifully with candy corn.

Follow Bill Ward on Twitter: @billward4

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