Monday, September 29, 2008

Here It Is, Your Moment of Zin …

Regardless of party affiliation, or whether you party independently, you can positively impact this world of wine simply by participating. Cast your vote on Drink Plonk ( and with your wallet at your local bottle shop to effect change with issues that really matter. Whether you are in a “Red” state, a “White” state, or somewhere in between, don’t sit idly by and let spin doctors make their version of reality into your miserable truth. Don’t let strategically placed handwritten signs over a wine rack influence you. Neither fair nor balanced, they are most likely written by the winery or its distributor. Check on-line with Drink Plonk to ensure independent evaluation of the facts by other consumers, then proceed directly to the ballot to check the right boxes for you. You may not have to live with your decision for 4 years, but it will certainly impact you in important ways.

In other election related news:

- Hawaii produces reds, whites and presidential candidates.

- Vermont stumps for its place on the ticket.

- Arizona maverick seek place at first table.

- Alaska leaves lipstick on glass.

- Palin Syrah bombs in San Francisco; a hit in Houston.

Get out the vote! Otherwise, you’ll be drinking what others are pouring for years to come.

Best, Joe Plonk

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Joe Plonk Flies Coach

Joe Plonk flies Coach, but his pallet longs for Business Class. Good luck if you’ve ever been thirsty while seated in Coach. The airline industry is working hard to ensure that you’ll wait to quench that thirst until reaching the bar at your destination airport. I really don’t mind the $4 beverage charge, since they are partly trying to help passengers from becoming unruly during flight. I do mind that they seem to serve the lowest quality wines available. With the buying power that airlines have due to the amount of wine they serve annually, they could easily contract with a quality producer to ensure their passengers aren’t sitting pucker-faced throughout the flight. Why punish the guys and gals in the back of the plane? I’ve seen the wine list for Business Class, so I know the airlines already know who to call.

Hey, airline industry, Joe Plonk is available for consulting – and will work for wine!

Best, Joe Plonk

Monday, September 22, 2008

Top US Value Producers

At Drink Plonk, the power of many trumps the opinions of an anointed few. However, if you were to peek in the wine rack at our house, you would find (red) wines from these domestic value producers. Not every wine they make is good, but these are labels that have a good track record. Please check for specific reviews.

Under $25:

Castle Rock Winery
Columbia Crest Winery
David Caffaro Vineyard and Winery
Estancia Estates Winery
Francis Coppola Presents
Gallo of Sonoma
Geyser Peak Winery
Seghesio Family Winery
Rancho Zabacco (Zinfandel but not the Cab)
Renwood Winery

$25 and above:

Ahlgren Vineyards
Frank Family Vineyards
Rombauer Vineyards
Rubicon Estate
St. Francis Winery and Vineyards
Young’s Vineyards

I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Best, Joe Plonk

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Entered this World Barefoot...

I entered this world of wine through a glass of Barefoot Chardonnay. Wine was not part of the household in which I grew up, so my early view of wine derived from typical stereotypical wine caricatures – snooty French restaurants, the Grey Poupon set, and Lucille Ball hysterically stomping around in a vat of grapes. My college roommate’s infatuation with Bartles & Jaymes certainly didn’t help. But, years later, there came a time that a glass of Barefoot Chardonnay occasionally appeared in front of me at dinner. I never had that Eureka moment, instead my enjoyment increased slowly over time. Notable stepping stones along the path for me included Mirassou Pinot Noir (through the 5th generation anyway), then Louis M. Martini Cabernet and to others. In each step my understanding and appreciation increased, with my interest in dry white wine graduating to near fanaticism over big, bold reds. [No, it is not lost on me that each of the aforementioned brands are currently owned by Gallo. I just don’t know what it all means.]

No matter what your path, savor the journey and don’t forget your important first steps along the way.

Best, Joe Plonk

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sommelier, sommelier, let down your hair…

In certain contexts, I agree that wine can be a tricky subject. The idea that a restaurant has somebody who understands both the wine and the cuisine is a great idea. Why is it that the reality is so disappointing? Sommeliers of the world, take notice:

- Stop with the arrogance. While you should know more about the wine list, don’t assume you know everything and I know nothing about wine. Get to know your customer’s level of intelligence on wine and interest in discussion. Don’t prance by like you found the fountain of eternal youth. You are not wearing an Olympic silver medal.

- Price is not all-important. If I don’t pick the most expensive bottle, that doesn’t mean you should treat me worse. If the wine is good enough to be on your wine list, you should treat it like it is important. The customer didn’t make the wine list, you or your employer did. Don’t blame me if I pick something you put on the list.

- Get to know my interests. If I like Zinfandel, help me find one that matches my pallet and my meal. I’m happy to try a different label or region, but don’t point me towards Bordeaux if that is not what I requested. If you think there is a Bordeaux that is perfect for my meal, ask me if you can make suggestions.

- Check back during the meal. Even if you don’t approve of the wine, check back later to see if it pairs well with the meal. I may have a question for you. Also, perhaps you could even learn something from your customers. Briefly checking back makes a big difference for your customers, which will likely be reflected in the tip at the end of the meal.

The strangest advice I ever got from a Sommelier was at a fancy seafood restaurant in Orlando in June. When I asked for his opinion on a bottle, he tersely replied “Doesn’t go with seafood.” A restaurant with the words “Crab House” in the name seemed like a seafood restaurant to me, so I wonder what that particular bottle was doing on the wine list in the first place. Perhaps it was a trap for weary tourists like myself. In olden days, I would have asked him to step out side for a duel. I couldn’t wait for that guy to leave the table. My guess is that the proprietors of that establishment didn’t hire this guy to alienate me, but he sure did.

The whole reason for Drink Plonk is to provide information about wine so that consumers can make informed decisions. Sommelier, sommelier, I’d love to try again – please let down your hair. Just meet me half way this time.

Best, Joe Plonk

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Stuff a Cork in it!

For those of you who lament the decline of tree-bark based corks, I say stuff a cork in it (or, perhaps, screw your top shut)! Just as black-and-white television, operator assisted telephone dialing, and automobile engine hand-cranks have given way, the future belongs to improvements and innovation. The wine industry should be no exception. Tree-bark corks represent approximately 60% of wine stoppers used today. I say it should be zero percent. There is nothing worse than opening a bottle that has been tainted (caused by the presence of the chemical Trichloroanisole or TCA) due to a problem with the cork. In my book, the best bottle of wine gets zero stars on the Drink Plonk Value Index if the wine is ruined -- by the cork or otherwise. Studies have shown that 5% to 10% of bottles (I suspect its actually less) are negatively impacted by taint. Joe Plonk is not pleased when that happens, and changes buying patterns when it does. How does the consumer benefit if the product is ruined? If you get a tainted bottle, 100% of its contents are going down the sink. Eghad.

Alternative wine closures are available (, such as synthetic corks and screw caps. I’d prefer the screw top for easy resealing, but I really don’t care which. I can’t figure out why the best wines aren’t served like box wines are today. Box wines are basically just plastic bags with air-tight dispensers. Shouldn’t we give the same protection to our high end wines as well? If I could drink a single glass from a high value $40 bottle of wine every night for a week, I would do so. What I won’t do is open a $40 bottle every night, or open a $40 bottle and hope it saves for a week. Kudos to Plumpjack ( for releasing a premium bottling a few years ago with a screw cap. I had hoped others would immediately follow suit, but only a few have.

Just make sure that the wine in the bottle is good. Isn’t that why you bought it in the first place?

Best, Joe Plonk

Monday, September 8, 2008

Hello World -- Pop that Cork!

I don't farm. I don't vint. I don't bottle. But, I do drink wine. That interest, combined with my feeling that I'm largely ignored by the wine media and wine industry, has led me to start the Drink Plonk web site and this Blog. Most wine media is focused on wine that I can’t afford or find. Yes, I’ve ordered a few highly rated wines directly from small wineries, and been abused as a consumer by the best of them. Fabulous to taste but Joe Plonk is no Joe Rockefeller, and he doesn't appreciate the abuse that many cult winemakers serve with their wine. While I’m not against occasionally buying more expensive wines, I’m more interested in maximizing the bang for my buck. And, there are many tasty wines without the "designer label" that don't require you to break the bank. As for me, I readily admit to having a “California pallet.” Serve my big bold red with fish… serve it with chicken… just make sure that it sat on the skins for a prolonged period of rest.

To me the word of Wine Spectator’s James Laube is almost sacred. If he likes a wine, odds are that I will be like Mikey eating Life cereal. For years, I would make notes and memorize vintages and vineyard designations from high scoring wineries, only to find that his recommended wines do not appear in my local wine shop or grocery. Wines from his world do exist -- I simply cannot dedicate my life to finding them. I need help. You can provide it.

The premise behind this site is that you, and others like you, help create a community where wines are rated both for taste and value. I may not care what one guy named “Bob from Boise” thinks about a particular wine, but if 20 people named Bob and Betty review that wine you can bet that there will be some consensus. That consensus is reflected in the Drink Plonk Value Index, which is the average score of the wine reviewed on a 5 star system. Was this wine a good value for the amount of money you paid? Want to know what lots of people think, instead of one discerning pallet who isn’t going to like your $10 Wednesday night quaffer anyway? If so, here is the place. Drink Plonk can help you decide between the $10 Ravenswood Zin, the $12 Rancho Zabacco Zin, and others on the shelves. Review information is collected in a survey format, based on typical varietal characteristics and other key information. The survey is easy to complete, and the results are easy to understand. We’ve also asked for scoring on a 100 point scale, for no reason other than most people are familiar with that type of review. Hopefully, that is also helpful information.

I think the world needs this site; maybe not. In the internet age, only time will tell. Thanks to Craig Newmark, Leo Laporte, and Jonathan Coulton for the inspiration to just go try. We’re starting out slow here. Please be patient. I’ll be making semi-regular postings on a variety of topics, so check back here soon.

With the help of Bill Plonk (web design, plonk consumer, auto racing guru, and granddad extraordinaire), we proudly present…

Best, Joe Plonk

Copyright 2008 Drink Plonk LLC. All rights reserved.