ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Vinny,

Does one need a degree to succeed in the wine industry? If so, what type and where are the best places to go?

—Student of Wine

Dear Stu,

It all depends on what you want to do. If you want to make wine, it helps to have a degree in enology. UC Davis has one of the best programs in the U.S. for that. If you want to sell wine, you need a high degree of knowledge and drive. The school of hard knocks is the best place to develop those abilities. But no matter what route you take, remember that in California, vintners have a saying that the best way to make a small fortune in the wine industry is to start with a large one.

—Vinny

Dear Vinny,

I have a chance to buy a case of 1982 Renaissance Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for $500. Do you think that is a good buy? I cannot find any ratings for this wine and I have never had it. Please help!

—Renaissance Man

Dear Ren,

Renaissance is an ambitious but obscure winery located in the Sierra Foothills of California. The earliest vintage tasted by our California expert James Laube was the 1985 (in 1992); he called it "a Barolo style of Cabernet" and suggested aging it until 1998. That's not too promising for your 1982 (a weaker vintage), but the wine might still be drinkable if it were perfectly stored.

But hey—why pay $500 for a wine you've never tasted? It might be "great"—and you still might not like it. My advice is: taste before you buy. Then decide for yourself if the price is right.

—Vinny

Dear Vinny,

When I bring wine into a restaurant that charges a corkage fee, I follow two rules: 1) Never bring anything that's already on their list and 2) Bring something worth at least $10 more than the corkage fee. Anything else I should consider?

—Corky

Dear Corky,

Your rules are spot-on. Might I suggest two more?

3) Buy another bottle from the restaurant. Even if it's the most inexpensive wine on the list, this gesture shows that you aren't dissing their wine selection.

4) Offer the sommelier a taste. To bring in a bottle of '89 Pétrus, ask the sommelier to carefully uncork it, decant it, serve it and dote over it as your trophy-bearing table bask in its splender, and then not offer him or her a sip is a cruel joke. Pour an extra glass: You'll be his or her new favorite customer.

—Vinny

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