Hot Topics: A Wine Debate


Hot Topics – there’s plenty of controversial wine-related issues to talk about — corkage, wine list prices, screw caps vs. corks, fat bottles, and so on. Today, we banter between ourselves about “…a few of our favorite things.”

Sponsor: Blicker-Pierce Wine Merchants:

Click Below to Play the Show:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show #110
(38:04 min 17 MB)

25 Responses to “Hot Topics: A Wine Debate”

  1. 1 Chris Sep 18th, 2006 at 9:52 am

    You guys should do a piece with Randall Graham. I’m sure he would be an excellent, provocative guest.

  2. 2 Henry Johnston Sep 18th, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    I think screw caps suck, I want to pull a piece of wood out of my bottle – Red or White.

  3. 3 GrapeRadio Bunch Sep 18th, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    I like my wood where it belongs…in my wine! 🙂


  4. 4 Donald Gund Sep 18th, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    I think what Jay is saying is that he likes oaky wines.


  5. 5 GrapeRadio Bunch Sep 18th, 2006 at 2:27 pm

    Donald, what could be better than inhaling the aromas rising out of your wine glass that remind you of freshly cut lumber? 🙂

  6. 6 GrapeRadio Bunch Sep 18th, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    Now Jay, remember what the poet said: “you can’t over oak a wine, but you can under wine the oak.”


  7. 7 mel Hill Sep 19th, 2006 at 5:19 am

    IMHO the best commet on oak is…

    “It’s not over-oaked, it’s under-fruited!”

  8. 8 Doug Smith Sep 19th, 2006 at 6:14 am

    Great show, guys. I really liked the format of having you all chew on some interesting wine topics.

    One thing you should probably watch out for is stepping on each others’ comments … I know you all want to get your two cents in, but crosstalk is the only drawback.

    Really hope you’ll consider doing these every so often.

    On screwcaps, seems to me the only important thing is what ends up in the glass. In ten years or so we should be able to do blind tasting comparisons of the same wine under cork and under screwcap. We’ll be able to tell which is better. But as you point out, we already know that for younger wines the screwcap has no adverse effects at all. So why not go for it now for the 95%+ of wine that is intended to be drunk young?

  9. 9 Chris Sep 19th, 2006 at 6:36 pm

    I think that there’s no point in being dogmatic about cork. I only care about the juice inside the bottle. Whatever keeps it fresh and tasting good is the way to go. The arguments for screw caps make a lot of sense to me. The arguments for cork are mostly based on “that’s the way we’ve always done it” reasoning. Personally, I couldn’t care less about ageability arguments because I find life to be too short to cellar wine for 10-20 years. I’m drinkin’ it within a year or two of buyin’ it! (The long end of the range if I’ve bought a case to last a while.)

    Wine tipping is something I haven’t had much experience at. I can’t afford to spend $$$ on wine in a restaurant, and in the smaller $$ range the issue is less meaningful. If I did spend the big bucks in a restaurant, I don’t think I could handle tipping a standard 15%-20% on an abusively-priced bottle of wine. Is the service really any different between a $30 bottle and a $200 bottle?

    Yes, I think a 300% markup over retail is abusive. Are restaurants paying retail? I doubt it. They could charge twice retail and do very well. I work in a business where we design and manufacture things, adding value to the end product, and we can’t dream of that kind of margin. Wine is a buy-and-resell product to a restaurant, with no effort or value added. It’s not the same as with the food.

    I’d buy wine with a lot more meals out if I could get it at a fair price. Instead, it’s a special occasion item and I usually feel ripped off. Why?

  10. 10 Ryan P Sep 19th, 2006 at 6:46 pm

    I’ll have to say that I’m very conflicted about this show. While I liked the topics discussed, I was very dissapointed to hear how you went about the discussion. You consistently interrupted each other and it was very hard to follow. There were many times where three people were talking at once. I think it would have been much more interesting, informative and effective if you would state the main points of view and allow people to lay out their arguments for and against and then have a more organized discussion on the topic, then have one or two people give another viewpoint. Much of the show was muttled in confusing cross talk that never really helped explain the various points of view.

    For example, here are three of the many possible tipping theories:
    * Tip 20% of wine all the time
    * Tip some lesser amount on wine (10%)
    * Don’t tip on wine unless service was exceptional.

    I would really have liked to hear some consise discussion on the three (or more) theories and the pros/cons of each rather than going on tangents for each one.

    Also, on tipping on corkage, I would have liked to hear the pros/cons of the following:
    * Tip on what restaurant would have charged for wine (300% of retail)
    * Tip on retail price of wine brought in
    * Tip on corkage fees
    * Tip on some other flat rate per bottle based on wine service

    Lastly, I would have loved to hear the arguements for why should we tip a waiter more doing a great job of pouring an expensive bottle of wine versus doing a great job of pouring a less expensive bottle of wine. Aren’t they providing the same value either way? (I know this may open up to a big topic of why tip more for more expensive food, etc but it seems to be amplified more with wines)

    Even though I would have liked to see this show more organized, I’m still am consistently pleased with the quality and topics in the shows. Keep up the great work!

  11. 11 Steve Sep 20th, 2006 at 11:41 am

    If I bring a bottle of wine with a screw top to a restaurant am I exempt from the corkage fee?

  12. 12 GrapeRadio Bunch Sep 20th, 2006 at 2:13 pm

    Yes, but you have to pay screwage. Sorry Steve, I couldn’t resist.


  13. 13 Michael Rasmussen Sep 21st, 2006 at 10:21 am

    I think I agree with Ryan P about how the show turned out. I enjoyed the attempt to tackle the topics, but I think you guys were all over the place and didn’t really settle anything.

    I know you can’t really settle the cork vs. screwcap debate amongst yourselves, but you had an excellent opportunity to address the tipping. After all you had a professional wine server in the room. I think Marlene got pushed out of the conversation despite the fact that she was the most qualified to address the topic. I never heard what she felt was fair or expected across the industry.

    Thanks for sparking some discussion on these topics, hopefully next time you can try to referee it a little more.


  14. 14 GrapeRadio Bunch Sep 21st, 2006 at 10:51 am

    Michael, I agree that we could have “balanced” the conversation more. We will do better next time. Not sure if I agree about your other point. She is the most qualified to address what is expected across the industry. However, what is expected is not always what people are willing to do.

    Again, we are pushing ourselves in new directions so we are going to stumble a few times. Thanks for understanding.


  15. 15 Mike K Sep 21st, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    I loved the discussion, because it was very converstional and nuanced, rather than trying to force a solution for everyone when there clearly is no agreement. Structure works great for making business decisions, but this is passion!

    For me, I prefer cork on anything that will be aged for more than a couple of years, but screw tops are just fine for wines to be consumed young, and are especially handy for catering gigs). I will be following the studies on aging screwtop wines closely, but the jury’s still out. If it turns out that they age just as well (but without the TCA problems), then I may be able to let go of my love for the cork-pulling ceremony. And since 30+ year old bottles closed with cork often need to be topped off and recorked, I wonder what other benefits we may find down the road…

    For tipping, I generally tip 20% on the whole price assuming service was appropriate to the price range. Bringing out the proper crystal stemware, which is delicate and has to be hand washed, earns a lot of points, whether you’re buying wine there or bringing in your own.

  16. 16 Charles Smith Sep 22nd, 2006 at 10:53 am

    I think you did a poor job in your BYO segment in discussing how a customer should approach BYO- instead, you acted as if it was necessary for every restaurant to allow corkage and not charge a lot for it. The restaurant has the right to set its corkage policy however it sees fit- an attitude like the one expressed on the show is a good reason why restaurants are setting higher fees and disallowing BYO altogether. Some thoughts on how the customer should treat BYO:

    1. Bring good wine. This may be a bit self explanatory, but the point is not to bring a cheap bottle of wine in order to save money. The point is to bring a wine you’ll enjoy drinking with the food and the other dinner guests. If you bring crap, the chances of the restaurant reacting well are definitely reduced.
    2. Confirm, confirm, confirm. Ask about the corkage policy when making the reservation and confirm it when you conifrm the reservation. Inicate that you’ll be bringing wine on both of these calls. Confirm again when you check in with the front desk. Major issues oftern occur at the table with BYO and you’re better off when you have a number of confirmations of the policy, as well as having made it very clear that you intend to bring wine in advance.
    3. Be generous with tastes. offer your server, the wine director, the chef, the busboy, etc. tastes of the wines you brought. Definitely the second best way to make friends with the staff.
    4. Tip well. The main reason BYO customers are treated poorly is the perception of the server that they’re only interested in reducing the overall cost of the meal. BYO is often more work for the server/wine director and they should be tipped accordingly. My rule is to tip as if the wines were purchased from the list.
    5. Don’t bring wine to the bar. This should be self explanatory, but if you’re going to eat at the bar, or just drink, then use the wine list.
    6. If they have it on the list, buy it off the list. If you inadvertantly bring a wine that the restaurant has on the list, you shouldn’t expect them to open yours- it just doesn’t make financial sense. Buy something else off the list and open your bottle another time.
    7. Order a bottle off the list. This often smooths out a lot of the potential trouble when brining your own, especially in a large party.

  17. 17 GrapeRadio Bunch Sep 22nd, 2006 at 11:12 am

    Charles, we did not really do a segment on BYO, it was just brought up in the context of corkage. I do not disagee with your statement that “The restaurant has the right to set its corkage policy however it sees fit”

    I also feel a restaurant has neither a moral or ethical obligation to have a low corkage policy. They do have an obligation to run their restaurant in a way that ensures that the business thrives and at the same time the customer is well served.

    I also have the right to feel that from a business perspective, there are corkage policies that work against the principles I mentioned above. I am willing to conceed that I may be biased and also have faulty reasoning.

    If that attitude is wrong, well I have no idea what to say.

    I agree with most of the excellent points you mentioned above. Thanks for posting them.


  18. 18 Erica Sep 22nd, 2006 at 12:21 pm

    I’m not sure which heading this should go under, but hot topics seemed like the closest fit. You guys have been asking for feedback on the show, so…

    I am a graduate student at UC Davis working on polyphenolic compounds (the molecules that polymerize to form tannins) in wine. I’ve noticed that you guys rarely venture into the chemistry side of wine, and with all the talk in the news about flavonoids and tannins and their possible health benefits (or detriments), this is getting to be, well, a hot topic. I would like to see you all do a show on the chemical compounds found in wines- what makes them taste bitter or astringent, what compounds are volatile enough to smell, what compounds are responsible for some of the more subtle tastes in wine. I understand that it targets a relatively small audience, but to really understand wine, you need to understand its chemistry.

  19. 19 GrapeRadio Bunch Sep 22nd, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    So when can you come on the show?


  20. 20 Don Davis Sep 29th, 2006 at 8:48 am

    You guys are right–
    First, I have had great wines with screwcaps, plastic corks, etc., but I am only buying “cork” to lay down in my cellar until the screwcap people can prove the aging ability of their product. Corks have been proven since the Greeks first bottled wine. Screwcaps and plastic will have to prove themselves first– then I will have a 15/20-year old cab in my cellar.

    Second, I borrowed an idea from a chef and restaurant owner I know and I used to have business cards printed that on the front said, “You received $______ as your tip. The reason you received this was because of –check one –(excellent), (good), (average), (poor), (horrid) service. I based this on—-” and then there were a series of checkboxes with adverbs like “attentive” “informative” “good suggestions” “food knowledge” “wine knowledge” “chatty” “cold food” “wrong order” “inattentive” etc. and it worked! It was easy to fill out and it also made me think about the service more objectively. I have been a waiter and have worked at a $50 check average restaurant and a $10 check average restaurant and of course I made more at the higher dollar amount, but that is the name of the game in the wait business and you know it when you choose your restaurant. I have left everywhere from 100%+ tip (at the diner where the atmosphere and food were great) to a arguing about the gratuity added at a Michelin 2-star (and the maitre d’ agreed with me). Recently, I had no problem with a 20% added to a recent $500 meal for two where the service by the entire staff was outstanding and I even added a bit more because it was worth it!

    And finally–
    Show topic suggestion: The chemical nature of winemaking. It may be too technical, but I am always facinated by how a winemaker determines with those little “tools” in the lab room when to crush, what to add, when to barrel, when to bottle, etc. I know it is an “art”, but obviously it is an art that is augmented with science.

  21. 21 Gretchen K Oct 1st, 2006 at 2:09 pm

    Corks v. twisters: Sure, many consumers (most who are newish to wine) percieve screwcaps as ‘low rent.’ That will change as the benefits (and they are strong and many)become clearer and stand the test of time. Remember when Japanese autos were seen as inferior and chancey compared to the mighty US brands? Performance superiority over time has a way of teaching the most arrogant of us, no? When or if, a pricey wine I love from a winery I respect is offered with a Stelvin closure, I’ll roll those dice in the name of supporting the advancement of wine.

    Then again, I’m a Californian… and that’s how we roll.

  22. 22 Heather Oct 6th, 2006 at 7:30 am

    I’d just like to post a prop for Marlene. I wasn’t crazy about her when she debuted, I think because her painfully precise enunciation — she lovingly punctuates every consonant, including in this show the p, f, t, and d of “piece of turd” — made me think she was affected. But I was wrong. She’s genial, almost totally accessible, and best of all she’s really funny.

  23. 23 Neal Clark Aug 7th, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    I would love to see some more shows on Oregon and Washington, especially on Riesling. I love the Riesling Shootout episode and hope that the crew can go every year it’s held. But some more on Oregon and Washington (Chateau St. Michelle maybe) would be great. Maybe even a show on the Finger Lakes region, I know Jay has talked about it.

    My thoughts, sorry they’re two years late. What can I say, I’m trying to catch up.


  24. 24 M Messner Oct 31st, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    Dear Grape Radio:
    I listen to your past episodes at least twice a week and for the most part they are great.

    1) I read the book on to cork or not to cork and nobody ever talks about the problems with screw-caps. It is clearly outlined in the book. corks are maybe 2% corkage, but screw caps are at least 1%.
    I will say I travel a lot by car and the screw-cap is perfect for taking to a hotel room and I buy them for that. But I don not agree with the Australians that say they are basically infallible.

    2) I have left many positive comments and one negative. On th positive no comment on the negative I got an e-mail that was totally defensive. I was disappointed.
    Men in general do not like constructive criticism including moi. However if you get one try to think about it. Mine was what wine clubs are a value like the James Gang and Bonny Doon one of you mentioned that James Gang was a good club but totally backed off after I mentioned it like you had amnesia.
    I get allocations from Harlan Estate, Shafer Hillside Select among 20 others but there are a few that are just overpriced. And we would like to know your opinion.
    Doing a show like that will be a politically bad move if you want to interview people that are from that vineyard but it would help us!
    Also In Oceanside,CA a little wine outlet opened up they sell $20-$50 bottles of wine from $3.99 to $14.99.
    I can tell you that I bought an assorted case of Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough NZ that cost me $45 and would have cost me $300 anywhere else.
    In addition, keep the receipt and if you just do not like the wine bring the wine bottle back empty and they will give you a full refund.
    The Only disadvantage is that they only get 6 cases of one label in at a time it is always changing, so if you like it buy it.

    I hope you will take these comments to be positive and with a little constructive Criticism.
    MLM Enterprises, Inc.

  25. 25 GrapeRadio Bunch Nov 5th, 2010 at 7:20 am

    The most important aspect of your comments are that you cared enough to comment. For that, I do wish to express my appreciation. No excuse about bot responding more often to comments (good or bad). We all have regular jobs so time gets very scarce. In terms of your negative comment, I can say that we disagree. However, that does not mean I do not respect your opinion. Hell, I have much harsher criticism on other of our shows,


Leave a Reply

Recent Posts

Monthly Archives



GrapeRadio is a wine talk show. Show topics cover issues such as the enjoyment of wine, wine news and industry trends - the hallmark of the show is interviews with world class guest (winemakers, vineyards owners, wine retail / wholesale leaders, restaurateurs and sommeliers). The scope of the show is international so expect to hear many guests from around the world.

GrapeRadio has received numerous awards and honors including the 2008 James Beard Award for excellence in Journalism.

GrapeRadio has been the subject of numerous news reports by: The New York Times, Business Week, CNN, The Financial Times of London, and Wired Magazine.