Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Blog - An explanation and user's guide

I have a wine-buying problem. When I walk into a wine store, I feel like a Dallas socialite at Neiman Marcus. I want to buy way more wine than I can consumer. Red, white, rose, sparkling, orange. Jura, Loire, Rioja, Sicilian, Lebanese. Sales and bargain bins are especially dangerous, as are cheap wiens with bottle age. Case discounts were invented for suckers like me. Wines with cool labels, which seem like most of them. Chablis. Wines a trusted bartender recommends. Wines flogged in store emails. Wine producers whose wares I've previously enjoyed. Nerello mascalese. Muscadet. Mourvedre. Mencia. I like the unconventional, the underpriced, the downright odd. But when an odd wine bakes for months in a third-floor walk-up with no air conditioning, it will not be underpriced upon opening no matter how cheap it was at the store. It will be bad.

Last August I stumbled on a solution. I wanted to buy a few bottles on a slow Wednesday afternoon. I emailed a few friends to see if they needed wine, and then a hit up some co-workers to assemble a buying consortium for a case, got on the subway, picked up the product at the store, and distributed it at the office. I had my two bottles at case discount, didn't need to go to a cash machine for the next week, had put a few miles on my Amtrak card, and had driven a little business at the wine store, thereby earning a dash of goodwill. I started going to the wine store every Friday. A few months later, I picked up an Eric Texier Côtes du Rhône for one of my editors. No piece of writing I'd done for him in twelve years had inspired such an enthusiastic response as the one I got the next Monday morning. This was born the Marcus Friday Wine Club and its first promotion, the "Drink what the boss is drinking for under $20 a bottle" special, later abbreviated to the "Boss-man special."  

Being the office wine buyer had what the economists call network effects. I could recommend bottles favored by more discerning drinkers, including the Rhone-o-phile and a coffee connoisseur. If a co-worker liked a bottle, I could get him a similar one next week. I developed a modest knowledge of producers. I got better information from salespeople because I bought more wine. I accomplished this without buying more than I can drink even as buying became more enjoyable. The editor likes Loire reds - what do you have that's good? He loved the '05 Olga Raffault Les Picasses - what would contrast with that? The coffee connoisseur loved the Broadside cab but wants to branch out. What kind of mommy juice stays fresh in the fridge for several days?

This is the blog version of the Marcus Friday Wine Club. The blog's focus will be the wines I buy for co-workers form week to week. These are journalists, so the wines are affordable, between $10 and $25 a bottle. They range from the unremarkable to the outre. Some of my co-workers care about food pairings; others just want something that goes well with Curb Your Enthusiasm. I'll also write about the wines I drink, since those influence what I recommend.

I do most of my shopping at Chamber Street Wines, a highly praised store that happens to be about 50 yards from the 2/3 train, a key advantage when you're carrying a case back to a Wall Street office. Now that I'm doing the blog, I'll try to branch out, though I'll still probably do most of my buying at Chamber St. Finally, I'll keep my coworkers anonymous but will provide pseudonyms. The boss-man, as you've learned, is capable of extending focus on a single region. The coffee connoisseur likes robust reds and loves complexity. In time we'll meet Vino Guarino, the baker, the Portugal lover, the New England editor, Johnny Bronx, and the rest of the club. Happy drinking.

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