Professionals in the Dallas wine trade, some of them Tony's competitors, fear they will permanently lose customers once they learn they've been lured by false wine information to purchase very simple wine at highly inflated prices. What will these consumers think once they discover a wine for which they paid $30 at Tony's costs less than $15 at a wine shop in Plano?
"It's hard enough to get people to drink--in my world--wines with funny-sounding names," says one wine salesperson. "When you make them expensive, and if they're closeouts that may have been wines that have seen better days, I'll never get that customer back."
Then there's the dubious information. One of the most consistently circulated Tony's myths concerns "deep root wines," or the claim that vines with deep roots (up to 10,000 feet deep, according to Winkler) produce superior wines.
"That's an old wives' tale that sort of floats out there," Wiegand says. "It's never been proven."
Bogus information or not, the classes consistently fill. Monzain donates hundreds of Tony's wine classes to auctions every year, primarily to charities that benefit children and animals. The donated classes are structured to accommodate roughly 25-35 people with a donor value of $1,000 or more. The object is for the winning bidder to invite dozens of family, friends and business associates to the class. Tony's also conducts open classes twice a month where anyone can attend, space permitting, for $40 a head, although store salespeople liberally dispense complimentary wine class coupons.
Although Monzain insists he doesn't generate much income from the classes because many of the attendees don't purchase wine, it's difficult to understand why he would devote substantial time and space to the gatherings if they didn't generate healthy profits. He says Tony's conducts roughly 100 classes a month, devoting at least two rooms--dubbed Sonoma and Napa--to the wine confabs, with class participants tasting wines while they nosh on appetizers priced from $7.50-$18.50 a head. On one Saturday night, cheers and applause from the rooms seeped into the store and restaurant as the aisles between the pallets of wine cases filled with people waiting to slip into the next set of classes. From what we observed from several classes, it's not uncommon for participants to walk out with hundreds--even thousands--of dollars in wine purchases.
It was all too much for Amier Taherzadeh, owner of Chateau Wine Market and son of Stone Trail Restaurant owner Tony Taherzadeh. Last April, Taherzadeh published an e-mail newsletter with an article titled "Fraud in the Marketplace." In the missive, Taherzadeh relays some of the alleged falsehoods presented at the Tony's wine class he attended. One of the wines featured during the class was a 2000 Windtree Cabernet Sauvignon, the value-priced secondary label of the Ferrari-Carano Winery in Sonoma. The Windtree currently carries a Tony's price of $49.95, case-discounted to $24.97, more than the suggested retail price of $34 for the 2002 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon, that producer's premium label. When Taherzadeh questioned the price, he says the instructor insisted Tony's gets "the restaurant allocation of wines" from producers--a first or second superior crush--while other retail shops get inferior bottlings of the exact same wine.
That comment elicits laughter from a California winemaker whose wine is prominently featured in Tony's wine classes. "The wine gets all bottled on the same run," he says. "It's one master plan that's made, and it's consistent for every case...I sat through one of their wine seminars, and I couldn't believe how they were talking about winemaking practices...It was like, what are you guys doing, making this up as you go along?"
Taherzadeh concludes: "Okay Dallas, Michelle [sic] and Tony's Wine Warehouse is mocking you. They think that you are unable to tell the difference between good and bad wine, between the truth and garbage and that there is enough people in Dallas that he can rotate the entire city of Dallas through his facility with his donated wine tastings...He is taking a business that I love and warping people's minds."
Taherzadeh refused to comment to the Observer. But this past August, he issued an "Apology and Retraction," citing Tony's loyal customer base. "I apologize if anyone was offended by my opinions and I retract my article," he concluded.