All writers are a narcissistic bunch, but critics are the worst of the worst. It’s all, “my opinion is better than yours, and if you’d all only listen to me and do what I tell you, we’ll arrive at some nebulous better state of affairs.”

Today’s column will begin a process that partially dismantles those assumptions and restores a sense of collaborative effort to my overall project: getting more people to enter into a more active, conscious relationship with wine as one component of a more active, conscious life.

In short, I want to hear from you, and I want you to hear from each other. I also want input from other Portland-area wine professionals, and so a more detailed version of the inquiry that appears below has gone out to a number of these friends and acquaintances.

The responses to these queries will appear, edited, in future columns. I’ll still be in charge, of course. I write about wine because I care about it, because I care about the world and hope for the victory of good over bad and beautiful over ugly.

But I also write about wine because I know about it, and while the Twitter-y, Yelp-y tendency of the age is a falsely democratic categorical privilege of the horizontal (everyone’s an expert!) over the vertical (listen to Daddy!), I’m going to use my experience to steer the conversation. Collaboration is potentially more reliable, but it can also just create a colossal mess.

So, to discuss:

Regulations: Maine has laws in place that restrict how and which wines are sold in the state. These include a prohibition against direct interstate sales online (in either direction); a “three-tier” system that prevents state distributors, retailers and restaurants from directly importing wine from abroad; the prohibition against BYO to any liquor-licensed restaurant; and limitations on frequency, location and nature of public wine tastings.

Restaurants and retailers: How can they improve their offerings? How can they better organize their wines or lists? Do you receive genuinely helpful wine advice from local servers and retailers? How would you assess restaurant wine service itself? Which restaurants and retailers have the most interesting selections? Why? Are there wines, regions or varietals that should be more widely available? What sorts of wine-related events would you like to see more of (pop-ups, info seminars, wine clubs, etc.)?

That’s an incomplete list, of course, so in case it helps frame the conversation, here are some of my personally pressing issues, open for debate:

You should be able to bring your own bottle to any restaurant as long as you pay a reasonable “corkage” fee.

Almost no restaurant in Portland serves its wines at correct temperature (whites should be warmer; reds should be cooler).

Competent waitstaff should be rewarded for their talents by being taught much more about wine and wine pairing, and should be trained in how to offer genuinely helpful advice to diners. For this service, they should be paid better wages (not just be hopeful for higher tips).

There’s no reason our many excellent Asian restaurants should have the atrocious wine offerings they do, and it’s the fault of lazy salespeople for not helping them develop more appropriate and interesting lists.

Restaurant wine lists should be more descriptive, creative and personal.

Diners and buyers should sign a pledge that at least one out of every five visits to a restaurant or wine shop, they will seek out a type of wine they’ve never had before, ask someone’s advice on it, and try it.

The wine more people should be exploring these days is Bordeaux. Yeah, Riesling too, as I’ve bellowed countless times. And northern-climate Pinot Noir; all sorts of sparkling wines; Central European varietals only now coming into view; less oaky expressions from Spain and Portugal; next-generation California and Chile.

I’ll explore all these and more forthwith. But younger drinkers’ obsession with shock-of-the-new hipness breeds a misguided disdain for classically great regions and varietals out of some delusion that they’re stodgy or corporate. Trash your certainties; Bordeaux is exquisite.

So, please help me write my next couple of columns. Of course, topics not introduced above are fair game as well. You can post comments and questions at my blog or directly via email, and we’ll take it from there. Thanks for sitting at the table with me.


Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog,, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]