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Wine Enthusiast Names "Wine Persons Of The Year"


DonRocks
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OMFG

Stephanie and I snuck out of my parent's house a Christmas or two ago, looking for a bar near a mall (we were in the deepest 'burbs) where we could ditch the kids for half an hour, as well. Olive Garden. It was hard not to live up to the expectations we had going in, but they didn't. And the bartender...no wine ambassador, he. The kind of guy who would mispronounce "Chianti."

I guess add revenues were down this year.

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They certainly have it over anyone else by the numbers:

Olive Garden serves more than 25 million glasses of wine each year, promoting wine to consumers as an integral part of the dining experience in America. Certainly, the numbers tell part of the story: this remarkable group purchases 500,000 cases of wine a year, and serves complimentary wine samples to 5 million people a year.
That's what counts, right? :P
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Wow, 30,000 wine ambassadors. I wonder what the testing is like to get to the ambassador level, what kind of training they go through and what their continuing education program is like. How many training centers do they have and how many instructors staff each center?
I hear Mark Slater failed the entrance exam three times, and that's why he's still at Citronelle.
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And these enthusiastic, knowledgeable servers are on a mission. In some cases, people who eat at the restaurants already enjoy wine with their meals. But in many other cases, Olive Garden presents casual diners with its first exposure to wines. Servers actively encourage everyone to sample a wide range of wine—around 30 different brands. And these introductory pours are all complimentary. As a result of this low-key but persuasive introduction, there is a much larger number of people who are now enjoying wine with their dinner on a regular basis, not just on special occasions.

I've never set foot in an Olive Garden and have no intention to anytime soon. But, if the above is taken at face value, then color me impressed.

Ok, maybe wine persons of the year is a little inappropriate, but I can set aside my snobbiness for a moment and actually appreciate what they are, or are claiming to, trying to do. Consider that the average OG customer probably doesn't know a pinot gris from a sauvignon blanc and judges the quality of a bottle of chianti by the weaving of the basket it comes in. OG's (claimed) program is trying to educate these folks and we should all appreciate this (claimed) attempt.

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I've never set foot in an Olive Garden and have no intention to anytime soon. But, if the above is taken at face value, then color me impressed.

Ok, maybe wine persons of the year is a little inappropriate, but I can set aside my snobbiness for a moment and actually appreciate what they are, or are claiming to, trying to do. Consider that the average OG customer probably doesn't know a pinot gris from a sauvignon blanc and judges the quality of a bottle of chianti by the weaving of the basket it comes in. OG's (claimed) program is trying to educate these folks and we should all appreciate this (claimed) attempt.

Um.... More than a few years back I was a wine ambassador myself for 3 months in Vegas. Just thought I would throw that out there.

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I've never set foot in an Olive Garden and have no intention to anytime soon. But, if the above is taken at face value, then color me impressed.

Ok, maybe wine persons of the year is a little inappropriate, but I can set aside my snobbiness for a moment and actually appreciate what they are, or are claiming to, trying to do. Consider that the average OG customer probably doesn't know a pinot gris from a sauvignon blanc and judges the quality of a bottle of chianti by the weaving of the basket it comes in. OG's (claimed) program is trying to educate these folks and we should all appreciate this (claimed) attempt.

Thank you. I agree entirely. (Except that I actually have set foot in an Olive Garden. More than once.)

I was going to post something about the tendency of exclusionary communities to reject efforts to make them more inclusive and instead to deride such efforts as "selling out," or "profit-motivated," or "soulless," or "disingenuous," or "inauthentic," but then I chickened out. (Oops! I did it!)

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Thank you. I agree entirely. (Except that I actually have set foot in an Olive Garden. More than once.)

I was going to post something about the tendency of exclusionary communities to reject efforts to make them more inclusive and instead to deride such efforts as "selling out," or "profit-motivated," or "soulless," or "disingenuous," or "inauthentic," but then I chickened out. (Oops! I did it!)

Were they doing more than pushing soulless, mass-produced, buy low-sell high crap, I might be more inclined to be sympathetic. A quick look at a sample wine list, however, persuades me that they're far more interested in raising per person spending (not that there's anything wrong with that) than "educating." This is the oenophilic (take that, MK! :P ) equivalent of upselling tequila at a Chili's.

Why don't they use their powers for good?

That being said, I'd love to hear Blake's take on it.

(I have had most of the wines on that list by the way. I cringe from experience.)

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That being said, I'd love to hear Blake's take on it.

(I have had most of the wines on that list by the way. I cringe from experience.)

You know those almost too outlandish to be believable escapades you piece together with your friends the next morning after a night out? That was the whole summer. My Las Vegas chronicles, including all Olive Garden related chapters are best told together and are probably better served over a dogfish head at the bar at RTC sometime than this board.

A few thoughts about OG's wine program though, they do try pretty hard to teach servers about wine, even the different server sections were named after different wines. They require servers (at least when i worked there) to offer wine or make a suggestion 3 times during the meal. (And we were secret-shopped on that one) Always fun in a town where there are a lot of Mormons and recovering alcoholics who told you specifically they don't drink. We did do a lot of wine tasting as servers and were very good about giving samples to customers. Most of our customers (and servers for that matter) did not know a lot about wine and might have picked something up from these efforts.

I think we all lose perspective because we live in DC. In most of the country outside of the big Metros, restaurants like olive gardens and ruby tuesdays and applebees might be the only sit down restaurants a family goes to in a year. And when I go home I am hard pressed to find anything more than boones farm at a liquor store within a ten mile radius from my house. You can decry the quality of the wines they have all you want but wouldn't a sublime bottle of vino kind of be wasted on someone who hadn't had exposure to anything but Sutter Home? Everyone has to start somewhere. I started drinking Busch Lite, and thought Guinness was disgusting. I started drinking boones pinot g. and I thought zinfadel was gross. Drank screwdrivers and thought bourbon was HORRID. As I drank more and more though my tastes developed into what they are now.

OG does have some decent bottles that they can buy in MASS quantities and distribute nationwide that I think are just fine for people starting out in wine or who normally never drink wine but want a bottle just once to celebrate or something. I think most of you said it yourself, you have never, would never, step foot in an OG, so they are not writing that wine list for the likes of the people on DR who debate the qualities between different vintages of grapes from a specific vineyard. I think it is perfectly written for someone in a small town whomay only dine out once a month at one of the 3 restaurant options in town, and would like to try some wine other than Boones.

The article said that "they serve complimentary wine samples to 5 million people a year". Despite the quality* (all in the eyes of the beholder!!) of those wines I still think they deserve the award. Who does more for wine knowledge in this country, a restaurant chain that GIVES 5 MILLION tastes of serviceable wines a year, many to people who rarely or never drink wine, or a place like Charlie Palmers who may have 10 gajillion small production gems in their cellar but only serve those to a select few stuffed shirt guests who already consider themselves wine experts and probably memorize the tasting notes from Wine Spect. every month. I agree with you that in DC olive garden's wine program is not doing much to further wine knowledge, but in Monee, IL or Independence MO they are actually doing a lot to introduce people who normally wouldn't drink wine to one of our favorite activities on this board so I say KUDOS.

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Were they doing more than pushing soulless, mass-produced, buy low-sell high crap, I might be more inclined to be sympathetic. A quick look at a sample wine list, however, persuades me that they're far more interested in raising per person spending (not that there's anything wrong with that) than "educating." This is the oenophilic (take that, MK! :P ) equivalent of upselling tequila at a Chili's.

Why don't they use their powers for good?

That being said, I'd love to hear Blake's take on it.

(I have had most of the wines on that list by the way. I cringe from experience.)

Certainly the bottom line is the bottom line here. But, I think that they should be commended for offering up at least some sort of variety, even if it's mass-produced and, well, cheap. But, again, consider the audience. The most impressive thing, to me, is that they have at least a minimal education program in place and that they have a very liberal policy of allowing people to sample what they have. This is the first step in getting folks to think about the differences in different types of wines and figuring out what characteristics they like and should look for. Of course in this case, the characteristic they might like best is the added sugar to their yellow tail, but it's a start.

Having said all that, it seems like a stretch to call these guys the wine persons of the year.

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Thanks for your take on this, Blake. As someone who had to face the OG (and Applebee's and Outback and Chilis :P ) in just such a flyover town, what you have written is quite true. We really are very privileged to have so many knowledgeable and varied wine purveyors and restaurateurs here. And, in this group, to have so many people on hand who know much more than I do about wine (jparrott??? Is that YOU?) and are ever-willing to share that knowledge, is such a real pleasure. It makes sense to me to look at OG's wine program as a first step for both the servers and patrons who may well be interested in delving further into the whole field of wine and food pairings.

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You know those almost too outlandish to be believable escapades you piece together with your friends the next morning after a night out? That was the whole summer. My Las Vegas chronicles, including all Olive Garden related chapters are best told together and are probably better served over a dogfish head at the bar at RTC sometime than this board.

A few thoughts about OG's wine program though, they do try pretty hard to teach servers about wine, even the different server sections were named after different wines. They require servers (at least when i worked there) to offer wine or make a suggestion 3 times during the meal. (And we were secret-shopped on that one) Always fun in a town where there are a lot of Mormons and recovering alcoholics who told you specifically they don't drink. We did do a lot of wine tasting as servers and were very good about giving samples to customers. Most of our customers (and servers for that matter) did not know a lot about wine and might have picked something up from these efforts.

I think we all lose perspective because we live in DC. In most of the country outside of the big Metros, restaurants like olive gardens and ruby tuesdays and applebees might be the only sit down restaurants a family goes to in a year. And when I go home I am hard pressed to find anything more than boones farm at a liquor store within a ten mile radius from my house. You can decry the quality of the wines they have all you want but wouldn't a sublime bottle of vino kind of be wasted on someone who hadn't had exposure to anything but Sutter Home? Everyone has to start somewhere. I started drinking Busch Lite, and thought Guinness was disgusting. I started drinking boones pinot g. and I thought zinfadel was gross. Drank screwdrivers and thought bourbon was HORRID. As I drank more and more though my tastes developed into what they are now.

OG does have some decent bottles that they can buy in MASS quantities and distribute nationwide that I think are just fine for people starting out in wine or who normally never drink wine but want a bottle just once to celebrate or something. I think most of you said it yourself, you have never, would never, step foot in an OG, so they are not writing that wine list for the likes of the people on DR who debate the qualities between different vintages of grapes from a specific vineyard. I think it is perfectly written for someone in a small town whomay only dine out once a month at one of the 3 restaurant options in town, and would like to try some wine other than Boones.

The article said that "they serve complimentary wine samples to 5 million people a year". Despite the quality* (all in the eyes of the beholder!!) of those wines I still think they deserve the award. Who does more for wine knowledge in this country, a restaurant chain that GIVES 5 MILLION tastes of serviceable wines a year, many to people who rarely or never drink wine, or a place like Charlie Palmers who may have 10 gajillion small production gems in their cellar but only serve those to a select few stuffed shirt guests who already consider themselves wine experts and probably memorize the tasting notes from Wine Spect. every month. I agree with you that in DC olive garden's wine program is not doing much to further wine knowledge, but in Monee, IL or Independence MO they are actually doing a lot to introduce people who normally wouldn't drink wine to one of our favorite activities on this board so I say KUDOS.

Very well said. Just for a little perspective, read Ben Giliberti in the Post on what wines to bring to a party. The first white mentioned is Yellow Tail, the most popular import brand in the US.
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Who does more for wine knowledge in this country, a restaurant chain that GIVES 5 MILLION tastes of serviceable wines a year, many to people who rarely or never drink wine, or a place like Charlie Palmers who may have 10 gajillion small production gems in their cellar but only serve those to a select few stuffed shirt guests who already consider themselves wine experts and probably memorize the tasting notes from Wine Spect. every month.

Who does more for music knowledge, Britney Spears or Yo-Yo Ma?

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The article said that "they serve complimentary wine samples to 5 million people a year". Despite the quality* (all in the eyes of the beholder!!) of those wines I still think they deserve the award. Who does more for wine knowledge in this country, a restaurant chain that GIVES 5 MILLION tastes of serviceable wines a year, many to people who rarely or never drink wine, or a place like Charlie Palmers who may have 10 gajillion small production gems in their cellar but only serve those to a select few stuffed shirt guests who already consider themselves wine experts and probably memorize the tasting notes from Wine Spect. every month. I agree with you that in DC olive garden's wine program is not doing much to further wine knowledge, but in Monee, IL or Independence MO they are actually doing a lot to introduce people who normally wouldn't drink wine to one of our favorite activities on this board so I say KUDOS.

Well said. I think OG has a pretty good bottomless bowl of salad, and the breadsticks are pretty good as well. I think we all forget that most Americans do not live in major metro areas, and if the OG is serving $5MM pours of wine to people all over the country that's a very good thing. That would make them in driving force in exposing people to wine.

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Who does more for music knowledge, Britney Spears or Yo-Yo Ma?

I don't think this is a fair comparison. I'd say a fairer comparison would be, "Which does more for music knowledge, Pachebel's Canon in D or Rachmaninov's Symphony in F Major.*"

Sure, the Rachmaninov is more complex with nuanced and complicated interplay, but Canon in D will get you to say, "Hey, I kinda dig this classical piece" and begin working your way up to more 'mature' classical pieces.

*I know nothing of classical music. For all I know, Rachmaninov is the Britney Spears of classical music (just with less crotch shots), but I think you all get my point.

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Well said. I think OG has a pretty good bottomless bowl of salad, and the breadsticks are pretty good as well. I think we all forget that most Americans do not live in major metro areas, and if the OG is serving $5MM pours of wine to people all over the country that's a very good thing. That would make them in driving force in exposing people to wine.

And I think in the long run there is a "trickle up" theory. As more people are exposed at the bottom you will see increased distribution and availability of alll wines from swill to swank.

And Don I think your metaphor is giving Britney waaaay too much credit. I think if OG was giving out samples of Kool-aid spiked with plastic bottle vodka you would be right on... Some of the ones on their sample wine list are not half bad though. I mean yeah most on this board wouldn't usually drink them but I saw Estancia pinot noir on there and shred me all you want but I have downed a few bottles on occassion.

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I don't think this is a fair comparison. I'd say a fairer comparison would be, "Which does more for music knowledge, Pachebel's Canon in D or Rachmaninov's Symphony in F Major.*"

Sure, the Rachmaninov is more complex with nuanced and complicated interplay, but Canon in D will get you to say, "Hey, I kinda dig this classical piece" and begin working your way up to more 'mature' classical pieces.

I have it on authority from a violinist friend of mine that the most requested piece at weddings for her trio is the "Taco Bell Cannon". This completes the circle. Elevator music. Elevator food. (?)

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I'm busted. Now what?
You're forgiven for bringing to light the "Taco Bell Cannon" :P:D:lol:

(You should have heard the discussion, a coupla years ago, when my Puerto Rican neighbor was stressing out over the request by our Welsh neighbor for a CD of Pachebel's Canon for Christmas. "What IS this? I don't even know how to pronounce this. How am I supposed to go into a store and ask for it?" Etc., etc. Still, she came up with the goods and once said CD was loaded up and began to play, well, the light bulbs went off over everybody's heads.) :P

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It is perfectly wonderful for a publicly held corporation to try to condition the masses to drink Beringer White Zinfandel with their artichoke dip and improve their shareholders' profits. It's even OK for Olive Garden to call it an "education" campaign. The Miss America Pageant is, after all, a "scholarship competition."

But it is absolutely not snotty or elitist to suggest that honoring this marketing effort in an allegedly serious wine publication is at best absurd and at worst deeply cynical. It's a triumph of spin and ad revenue. By the way, do we think America's non-metrosexuals are such rubes that we're doing them a favor by giving them a free splash of Yellow Tail (which, despite Ben Gilberti, sucks) before dinner? It's like putting all the poor kids in the "slow" math class because, "they" are never really going to be ready for Algebra anyway.

And keep in mind, if Olive Garden customers really did learn about real food and wine, they'd never go back.

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It is perfectly wonderful for a publicly held corporation to try to condition the masses to drink Beringer White Zinfandel with their artichoke dip. It's even OK for Olive Garden to call it an "education" campaign. The Miss America Pageant is, after all, a "scholarship competition."

But it is absolutely not snotty or elitist to suggest that honoring this marketing effort in an allegedly serious wine publication is at best absurd and at worst deeply cynical. It's a triumph of spin and ad revenue. , by the way, do we think America's non-metrosexuals are such rubes that we're doing them a favor by giving them a free splash of Yellow Tail (which, despite Ben Gilberti, suck) before dinner? It's like putting all the poor kids in the "slow" math class because, "they're" never really going to be ready for Algebra anyway.

And keep in mind, if Olive Garden customers really did learn about real food and wine, they'd never go back.

THISmay be of interest to those who don't know who owns Olive Garden. Read the second paragraph of the release and two names pop out: Anheuser-Busch and Cavit (Italy's largest producer of pinot grigio).

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I have it on authority from a violinist friend of mine that the most requested piece at weddings for her trio is the "Taco Bell Cannon". This completes the circle. Elevator music. Elevator food. (?)

"Taco Bell Canon" is priceless. My former favorite take on this overcooked bit of musical pablum was the New Yorker cartoon of a man sitting in a jail cell with a loudspeaker blaring over his head. He looks brain-fried. The caption: "Prisoner of Pachelbel"...

THISmay be of interest to those who don't know who owns Olive Garden. Read the second paragraph of the release and two names pop out: Anheuser-Busch and Cavit (Italy's largest producer of pinot grigio).

Gee whiz, it's really heartwarming to see how all of these laudable corporations cooperate with each other to maximize benefit to the consumer :P

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Wasn't it the Wine Enthusiast who named Oasis Brut one of the "World's 10 Best Champagne/Sparkling Wines". It certainly puts "wine person of the year" into perspective. Oasis does have a (highly overpriced) damn fine sparkler. But 10 best in the world... I can think of 10 better in France alone.

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A few thoughts about OG's wine program though, they do try pretty hard to teach servers about wine, even the different server sections were named after different wines. They require servers (at least when i worked there) to offer wine or make a suggestion 3 times during the meal. (And we were secret-shopped on that one) Always fun in a town where there are a lot of Mormons and recovering alcoholics who told you specifically they don't drink.

Uh-oh -- just sent my mom on an undercover mission to the Dunwoody, GA, OG. ("You're going to Dino? We're going to an Italian restaurant, too...") (She has been to Dino and does know the difference, btw).

I told her to get a free sample or two, but she said that the server never offered her wine at all. I'm gettin' on the hotline to OG corporate right now...

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I have had the remarkable experience of saying several prayers of thanks for finding an Olive Garden in Davenport, Iowa or Emporia, Kansas when searching for somewhere to have dinner. This is an experience that I never thought I would have in my lifetime but DID happen. Alternatives may have included Ponderosa, Taco John, Braum's and McDonald's. Still, I cannot help but believe that a Macaroni Grill would have blown away an Olive Garden in Davenport or Emporia and a Carabba's would have put OG under....

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Still, I cannot help but believe that a Macaroni Grill would have blown away an Olive Garden in Davenport or Emporia and a Carabba's would have put OG under....
We just got a Macaroni Grill a couple of weeks ago and you can't get near the place it is so crowded. We already had 1.5-2 hour waits for Carabba's. It will be interesting to see if MG gives them a run for their money. We also have an Olive Garden and judging solely from parking lot crowds, Carabba's smokes them.
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In Emporia Carabba's is said in the same breath with Ducasse, Robuchon and Donna.

...of course they haven't heard of Roberto let alone Alain or Joel so blowing out the Macaroni Grill and Olive Garden will stand as a giant step to the next level.

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