Dickinson College Homepage Dickinson Magazine This issue of the Dickinson Magazine was mailed on Friday, October 1, 2004
From This Issue
Volume 82 • Number 2
Fall 2004

Erfle Aims to Demystify Wine
By David Smith
Descend the narrow stairway of the old house in the center of Carlisle, Pa. In dimly lit corners where shadows dart among racks and boxes of dusty-dry bottles, something scary dwells. Don’t be afraid.

Hold out your glass. Steve Erfle’s cellar is not haunted. It just seems that way to anyone afraid to begin an intimate relationship with wine.

Erfle, associate professor of international business & management, is ready to pop the cork on a new season of wine tastings after attracting nearly 70 satisfied sippers to Denny Hall on Alumni Weekend 2004. His wine-tasting road show has hit Washington, D.C.’s eclectic Dupont Circle; Long Island, N.Y.; Greenwich, Conn.; and other stops along the Dickinson alumni club circuit.

A native Northern Californian, Erfle first taught wine classes while he was a tutor at Leverett House at Harvard University, where he got his Ph.D. in economics. He also spent his 1994-95 sabbatical working as a managerial economist for Seagram Classics Wine Co., honing an extensive knowledge of the wine industry.

While his tastings mean good wine and good times, they also pour forth vintage education. Consider this quick sampling of wine wisdom:
Don’t laugh at “Two-buck Chuck.”

“It’s a good wine,” Erfle says, referring to the dry, $1.99-a-bottle Charles Shaw-labeled product that’s rocked the wine world with its bargain-basement price and lack of pretension.

Good wine doesn’t have to be expensive wine. “The biggest mistake American wine producers make is they try to mystify wine,” Erfle explains. “[Two-buck Chuck] is the edge of a movement. … It is a double-edged sword. With a non-mystique-based product you can’t get as much money for it, but you can sell it to a wider audience.”

That old fish story is wrong.

“The biggest mistake people make is white wine with fish, red wine with meat. It’s a huge misconception,” Erfle says. “Wine-and-food pairing is more tied to sauce preparation technique. The weight of the wine should match the weight of the food.”

For example, filet of sole and blackened tuna are both fish, but consider a red wine with the latter.

Learn the basics: Chardonnay is a grape, Bordeaux is a place, and zinfandel is not just a white wine.

A great lesson wine novices are quick to collect from Erfle is that American wine is marketed around the grape, while European wine is mostly about location, primarily exotic parts of the French countryside.

And, to the surprise of many, zinfandel is also a red wine and a very good one from the same grape—now traced to Primativo in the heel of Italy’s boot—that produces the ubiquitous white zinfandel and was once a geographic mystery.

“Americans have taken [the zinfandel grape] further than anyone else,” Erfle says.

American wine is world class. American reds and whites dominated the Paris Tasting of 1976, and the French have been running for cover ever since.

“There are interesting wines made all over the place, too,” he adds. “Chadds Ford is a good chardonnay out of Pennsylvania. There’s a really nice chardonnay out of Front Royal, Va., and nice reds from the Finger Lakes region in New York.

“Winemaking technology has come a long way beyond basic biochemistry. Winemakers have cleaned up their production processes. As a result, you have solid wines even in mediocre years.”

Don’t save that $6.99 bottle of Corbett Canyon merlot and expect it to increase in value.

“Less than 5 percent of wine is made to age,” Erfle says. “The reason is purely driven off what the market wants. Ninety-five percent of wine is consumed within 48 hours of purchase.”
Besides, the wine savored by collectors and investors is much more expensive.

Be daring. If you have a dinner party, don’t buy two or three bottles of the same wine. The main thing we celebrate with wine is variety.

After all, wine is a voyage of discovery. If you like chardonnay, buy four different chardonnays.Hide the labels, then explore the differences. And, Erfle says, hold the cheese; for the best wine-tasting experience, cleanse the pallet with unbuttered bread.

Trust your own preferences.

“What’s good is what tastes good to you,” Erfle says.

For information on Erfle’s upcoming wine
tastings, check out the Dickinson Clubs at:


Dickinson College, PO Box 1773, Carlisle, PA 17013, 717-243-5121