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A Peek Into the Exclusive World of Wine Societies
By LETTIE TEAGUE
When it came to adding new members, the most important question of all wasn't even about wine, but about compatibility.
THE FREEMASONS are said to be one of the most secretive societies in the world. They have many mysterious rituals, special symbols and words and at least 12 different handshakes (some of which can be seen on YouTube). Some wine societies are almost as secretive, although their members are less likely to employ a special handshake than they are to break into song.
Two of the most exclusive wine societies, La Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin and the Commanderie de Bordeaux, have special songs that accompany an evening of drinking and are delivered in French (naturellement). The Tastevin tune is a traditional Burgundy chanson, while the Commanderie song, "Toujours Bordeaux," is a more recent work. Created in 1998 by Eric Vogt, the music-loving maître (or head) of the Boston Commanderie chapter, the song won a prize at a competition in Bordeaux. (The prize was Mr. Vogt's "weight in Bordeaux," or 10 cases of wine, although Mr. Vogt maintained that the prize committee erred "on the generous side.")
The Commanderie ditty is a fairly rousing number and, save for a few references to the region's major varietals and great châteaux, it might well have been my college drinking song. On the other hand, the group I saw singing "Toujours" at the French ambassador's residence in Washington a few weeks ago didn't look like anyone I knew in college. The members, mostly in their 60s, were an accomplished group of women and men with careers in government, law, banking and finance-and possessed an impressive knowledge of French.
I'd been invited to attend the Commanderie dinner, aka "parlement," by its grand maître (national director), Angus Smith, and Neal Borden, the maître of the Washington chapter. They were inducting a new member to the chapter and Mr. Smith thought it would be a good time for me to see the Commanderie in action. The Washington chapter was especially open and friendly, said Mr. Smith-unlike the other two chapters he had first proposed but whose membership had turned him down.
The Commanderie de Bordeaux aux États-Unis d'Amérique, founded in 1957, is an organization of men and women who love, buy and drink the wines of Bordeaux. There are more than 30 Commanderie chapters in the country and around 1,100 members nationwide, although new chapters and members are added frequently. (A Palm Beach, Fla., Commanderie chapter opened earlier this year, and a new chapter is to open in Charleston, S.C., sometime next year.) Mr. Smith is always looking to add new members to the Commanderie, especially wine drinkers under 40 years old. Some chapters have younger members than others and some chapters are easier-or harder-to join. The New York chapter, for example, is particularly hard
The same is true of the New York chapter of La Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, an organization of Burgundy lovers founded in Burgundy in 1934. Although there are Tastevin branches all over the world-from the U.S. to Singapore-the New York branch has a great cellar and a long waiting list, according to the members who were willing to speak with me.
David Milligan, a wine importer and member of both the Tastevin and the Commanderie in New York, said a prospective candidate may have to wait up to two years to join either organization-and faces some rather daunting requirements as well.
A candidate must be recommended by a member in good standing and seconded by another. He or she must also demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the wines of the region. In New York, Tastevin candidates are given written exams and Commanderie candidates undergo oral exams, though this may not be the case in other chapters of each organization. The candidates must host a dinner or two for members of the society's nominating committee at a restaurant or club. He or she must also serve wines from his or her cellar. (Not all of the chapters require their prospects to hold these dinners, which can cost into the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the restaurant and the wine.
And not just any wine will do, of course. As Geoffrey Troy, a New York wine merchant and a member of both clubs, put it, "You need to at least bring a grand cru." Mr. Troy recalled attending a Commanderie dinner at New York's Union Club at which a prospective candidate served eight wines from his collection, including a 1970 Château Latour, a 1961 Pichon Baron and a 1995 Château d'Yquem. "This guy really reached deep into his cellar," he noted approvingly. While most members presumably have similarly impressive cellars, that's not a necessity for membership, Mr. Troy noted: "You could also go out and buy some 1982 first growths."
A successful Tastevin candidate is expected to pay an initiation fee of an undisclosed amount and as much as $1,800 in dues (as they do in New York), in addition to the price of each dinner or party. The Commanderie dinner that I attended in Washington cost $180 per member, although some dinners cost much, much more. Some chapters charge a separate cellar fee, while others incorporate it into the cost of the membership. For example, the Washington chapter of the Commanderie costs $500 annually with a $250 cellar charge. The initiation fee was also confidential "as per our insurance carrier," said Mr. Borden.
It wasn't always so costly or, for that matter, competitive, recalled Mr. Troy, who joined Tastevin and the Commanderie in the late 1970s. In the early days, there were no tests or trial dinners. "It's gotten a lot more rigorous," he said.
And much more selective. Only seven or eight members are admitted to the New York Tastevin chapter each year, according to a member who wished not to be named. The reasons are partly practical: There aren't many great restaurants that can accommodate more than 60 people (New York Tastevin dinners are often held at restaurants like Le Bernardin and Per Se). It's also a matter of wine. There's only so much grand cru Burgundy to go around.
There are plenty of other societies, of course. The Commanderie des Costes du Rhône was formed 12 years ago, in Philadelphia (there are also chapters in Montreal and New York) for lovers of Rhône wines. Brian Platton, a lawyer in New York, belongs to Tastevin and the Commanderie de Bordeaux and serves as the regent (director) of the New York Costes du Rhône chapter. Mr. Platton characterized the Rhône organization as "a little more relaxed" than the Bordeaux and Burgundy societies. It's cheaper, as well: The annual membership fee is $700, and the initiation fee is a modest $1,000 paid in cash or a case of wine that "you want to put in the cellar to share," said Mr. Platton.
The International Wine & Food Society, founded by famed gourmand André Simon in 1933, is also popular among oenophiles. It's a particularly active group, meeting as often as 15 or 20 times a year. Its annual dues are "less than many other organizations," according to past New York chapter President Ira Green (though he wouldn't name an exact amount). The Chaîne des Rotisseurs, founded in Paris in 1248 (and revived in 1950) is another large gastronomic society whose members include amateurs and professionals. In fact, there are many chefs, sommeliers and hotel managers among its ranks. The Chaîne is better known in Europe than in the U.S., noted John Vyhnanek, the bailli provincial (director) of the Chaîne's Boston chapter. Chaîne members might get a "glass of wine or a dessert on the house," if they identify themselves to a fellow Chaîne restaurateur or chef while traveling abroad, said Mr. Vyhnanek.
Although every organization has its own criteria, focus and cost, one theme proved constant. When it came to adding new members, the most important question of all wasn't even about wine, but about compatibility. Or, as Mr. Troy put it: "Do you want to sit across the table from this person for three or four hours?" Sometimes personality and character can trump even the greatest cellar of grand cru Burgundy and first-growth Bordeaux.
by Dr. Liz Thach, MW
"Women prefer white wine. Men only drink red. Women like sweet wine. Men purchase less wine." These are just a few of the common myths that arise around wine and gender, but are they really true? One statistic on which we can rely is that the make-up of US wine consumers is approximately 55% female and 45% male, according to Nielson, but there has been an increase of men adopting wine in the past decade.
So what is really happening around the topic of wine and gender in the US? In order to answer this question, a research study was developed to explore differences in wine drinking occasion and motivation between men and women. The study included in-depth interviews with 30 men and women who drink wine as well as an online survey with 305 wine consumers (155 men and 150 women) residing in California. The results show strong similarities between men and women in many categories, but also some surprising differences.
Similarities Between Male and Female Wine Consumers
In terms of preferred wine varietals, the study shows that cabernet sauvignon and merlot are the top favorites of both men and women; however, women also identify white zinfandel as a strong preference. The favored white for both genders is chardonnay (see Table 1). These data are consistent with previous research showing that American men and women both prefer red wine slightly more than white.
In terms of occasions to drink wine, the survey analyzed responses of men and women in 22 different wine drinking occasions. Of these, both genders reported they drink wine at similar frequency in 16 of these occasions. The top four highest scoring occasions on which men and women agreed are:
1) With Meals at Fine Dining Restaurants
2) Non-Meal: Special Occasions/Celebrations
3) With Meals at a Friend's House
4) Non-Meal: To Socialize with Friends
In terms of their motivations to drink wine, both California men and women concurred that their top three motivations were: 1) because wine enhances food, 2) they like the taste, and 3) it helps with relaxation.
Differences Between Male and Female Wine Consumers
For the six occasions in which there is a statistical difference in how California men and women consume wine, women reported lower frequency of consumption than men:
1) Alone at Home to Relax After Work
2) Alone While Cooking
3) Alone at a Bar
4) With Meals at Home Alone
5) With Meals at Home
6) With Meals for Business
The fact that four of these occasions are "alone" situations is most likely a primary reason for the difference. This is because women identify the social benefits of consuming wine more often than men. This could also be true for drinking wine with meals at home, if others are not in attendance, or during a business meal that may not be perceived as being a relaxed social setting.
In terms of motivation, the study shows that women identify social and relaxation reasons to drink wine in more occasions than men. Men, on the other hand, identify more pragmatic reasons to drink wine, even in social settings where they focus on technical aspects and exhibiting knowledge. Some quotes to illustrate this are:
(Women) "It is fun to be with friends and talk about the wine." "It is a social thing." "I like the whole culture around wine of conversation, friends and laughter."
(Men): "I like considering the historical nature of wine." "I like to collect wine." "I think women like to enjoy wine with friends. Men use wine as a "show off factor. They often like to brag about it. "
Regarding which purchases and pays more for wine, this study supports current statistics showing that women consume more wine, selecting it over other alcoholic beverages more than men, by at least 10%. However, men will usually spend more on a bottle of wine than women. In this study, the difference was an average of $4.04 more per bottle for men.
Implications for Wine Marketing
The results of this study suggest implications and potential opportunities for wine marketing.
Gender Neutral Wine Promotions Still Very Relevant - this research shows that, overall, there is much in common between California men and women in terms of wine-drinking occasions, motivations to drink and preferred wine style. This suggests that gender-neutral wine promotions will most likely be more successful in reaching a larger demographic and thus market-share.
Opportunity to Focus Wine Marketing on Men - this study illustrates that men are drinking wine in more new occasions and will spend more money on wine than women. This suggests an opportunity for more focus on men in wine marketing. Though there have been several successful wine brands targeted at women, such as Little Black Dress and Mad Housewife, it is not clear that any popular wine brands have specifically targeted men, except in subtle ways with masculine labels/names such as Gnarly Head and True Grit. The advantage of creating a new wine brand targeted at men, is that women will be curious about the wine and will most likely purchase a bottle to taste. However, the reverse cannot be said about men and wine brands targeted at women, because advertising research shows that most men are not willing to purchase a product that is designed for women, unless it is a gift for a woman.
About the Author: Dr. Liz Thach, MW is the Korbel Professor of Wine Business & Management at Sonoma State University (Liz@lizthach.com). This research study is based on her MW dissertation with the Institute of Masters of Wine in London. A version of the study was published in the 2012 Journal of Wine Research, Vol. 23, No. 2 under the title: Time for Wine? Identifying Differences in Wine-Drinking Occasions for Male and Female Wine Consumers. The article is available athttp://www.tandfonline.com/
According to the Project Genome, a survey conducted by Constellation wines among 10,000 wine consumers, monitored over 18 months, they have determined there are six types of buyers. These include:
Enthusiast -12% of consumers make 25% of purchases. These people like to try wines of the world.
Image Seeker - 20% of consumers make 24% of purchases. These people purchase wines in an attempt to impress their friends.
Savvy Shopper - 15% of consumers make 15% of purchases. These people purchase based on sales and critical press.
Traditionalist - 16% of consumers make 15% of purchases. These people rely on the same national brands with little variance.
Satisfied Sipper - 14% of consumers make 8% of purchases. These people are happy to drink house wines at restaurants and 1.5L wines at home.
Overwhelmed - 23% of consumers make 13% of purchases
What kind of wine buyer are you?
Many people fret over choosing the right wine for a particular meal, but Lettie Teague finds that following a few simple guidelines can lead to great matches.
By LETTIE TEAGUE
While wine may be worthy of extensive, even exhaustive study, there's one aspect that I think has received far too much scrutiny in recent years: matching wine with food. I could eat and drink quite happily for decades without hearing anyone ever again utter those four consecutive words.
It's not that I don't like putting wine and food together; I do it every day of the week. It's the ceremony that I object to-the elevation of a few common-sense principles to something approximating great art. When did wine-and-food pairing start having to be studied so carefully-as if it were postmodernist art or "Beowulf"?
Once upon a time, not so long ago, food-and-wine matching rarely rated more than a mention on the back label of a bottle: pair with chicken, pasta and fish. Its glorification is a fairly recent event-in fact, I'd date it to 2006. That's when two of the most successful books on the subject were published: "What to Eat With What you Drink," by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, and "Perfect Pairings," by Evan Goldstein, a master sommelier and wine educator.
Oenofile: Wines That Work Well With Meals
Mr. Goldstein-who has educated tens of thousands of sommeliers over the years, by his own estimation-believes that sommeliers are to blame for the overemphasis on overly exact wine-and-food pairing: "The modern-day sommelier feels very strongly about you having the right wine with the right food-they become quite draconian," he said during a phone call last week. "And it's not always done with the customer's pleasure in mind." (Presumably, those sommeliers weren't educated by him.)
The book by Ms. Page and Mr. Dornenburg is quite comprehensive-every wine in the world seems to have been examined for its suitability to food-while Mr. Goldstein looks at just 12 grapes and pairs them with appropriate recipes (created by his mother, Joyce Goldstein, the San Francisco restaurateur and chef). Mr. Goldstein's advice is sound and the recipes are appealing, but what if someone didn't want to think about pairing? Could he recommend wines that would work with most types of food?
He could. And they all shared the same attributes, said Mr. Goldstein, who offered a list: moderate alcohol, moderate to high acidity, soft tannins and little or no oak. There were lots of wines with these qualities-made from all kinds of grapes from all over the world-but a few examples that came to his mind first were red grapes like Barbera, Gamay and Pinot Noir, which Mr. Goldstein called "the silver bullet."
Was there a sommelier who could simplify things as well? Alpana Singh, a Chicago-based sommelier, author and almost-restaurateur (her Boarding House restaurant is opening soon), had a useful rule of thumb: Look for red wines "that you can see through," she said. These included the same three grapes that Mr. Goldstein mentioned but a few others as well, namely Cabernet Franc, from the Loire, and Frappato, a red grape native to Sicily. "I'm drinking a lot of Frappato lately," said Ms. Singh.
What about white grapes? Were there any that she considered just as versatile? "Pinot Gris," Ms. Singh replied decisively. "It's my Velcro of wines. It has acidity but also roundness and a little residual sugar-that's the magic fairy dust of wine pairing." There are only a few Pinot Gris on her list right now, although there are several Chenin Blancs-my personal all-around favorite white grape with food.
I liked the idea of wines that were so flexible it wasn't necessary to think about how to match them with food. But was it simply too good to be true? I decided to stage a little food-and-wine-matching experiment. I assembled a few of the basic foods cited on those back labels of bottles (meat, chicken, pork, fish and pasta) and made them simultaneously to taste with the wine (no small feat on a four-burner stove). I made a pan-fried steak, a piece of sautéed salmon, a link of grilled pork sausage, a braised chicken breast and a pot of cheese tortellini and paired them with some of the food-friendly grapes suggested by the experts: Pinot Noir, Gamay, Barbera, Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc. While the cooking wasn't completely successful (see: four-burner stove), the wine pairings all worked-almost
The Gamays (the grape of Beaujolais) were definitely the most food-flexible of all, with just the right measure of acidity, earthiness and fruit. Of the three I tried, the 2010 Julien Sunier Régnié, a cru Beaujolais, was particularly good-substantial yet lithe. The two Barberas were almost as versatile, especially the bright and juicy wine from Elio Perrone. The Pinot Noirs ran a close third. The lighter examples from Oregon and Burgundy were a touch too delicate for the steak, but the velvety-textured 2010 Arista Ferrington Vineyard Pinot Noir, from California's cool Anderson Valley, overperformed, with a bright bolt of acidity balancing all its rich, ripe fruit.
The two white grapes, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris, went well with almost everything-the pork, the chicken, the pasta and the salmon all fit, and the wines were rich and viscous but also minerally and clean. (I tasted both domestic and imported examples of each grape.) The only sticking point was, unsurprisingly, the steak. While the wines' voluptuous texture matched the steak's richness, their minerality proved a bit of a jarring contrast, particularly in the case of the 2011 Chidaine Vouvray Les Argiles. (A minerally white just isn't as versatile as a minerally red.) But they both came admirably close to universal usefulness, and I was quite pleased with my food-and-wine-matching experiment, not to mention the advice of my experts.
Then I had a chat with Thomas Pastuszak, wine director at New York's Nomad restaurant, who said the best match wasn't between wine and food at all but between wine and diner. "I would rather pair the right wine with the right person rather than the dish," he said. How did how that work? Did he ask diners to fill out a questionnaire, submit to a brief interview? It was far more practical than that, said Mr. Pastuszak. He simply gave them a taste of the wines he poured by the glass and waited to see which wines they liked best. More often than not, they cared less about choosing the right match with their food than choosing a wine that came with a good story attached.
Winemakers clearly know this to be true. After all, their back labels feature stories about the winery, the winemaker and the winery dog-and only a few words about food: "Pair with pork, chicken and fish."