Tag Archives: wine rants

wine advice

Beware wine vintage skulduggery!

wine vintageThe Wine Curmudgeon, ever vigilant in the cause of price, value, and quality, must sound a skulduggery alert about wine vintages. How serious is this? The headline to this post has an exclamation point, which I use only on the rarest occasions.

But this wine vintages alert deserves an exclamation point. Too many retailers, and especially grocery stores, have shelves stocked with cleverly named and cutely labeled wine, costing as much as $20, that are four, five, and even six years old. These wines were not made to age; even if they were, they haven’t been stored in ideal cellar conditions, but in warehouses and back rooms with minimal, if any air conditioning. And they’ve been driven around on trucks between these warehouses and back rooms, passed from distributor to retailer to distributor to retailer, in less than ideal cellar conditions, too.

It’s worth repeating – almost all of the wine made in the world today is not made to age, and almost everything we buy will go off in two or three years, whether it has oxidized, turned to vinegar, or has had something else ruin it. This is chemistry, and will happen no matter what the sales person says with his or her reassuring smile. (Not that I’ve ever had that happen to me.)

The rule of thumb: Don’t buy a rose older than a year old, a white older than two, and a red older than three. Check the winery’s website to see what the current vintage is, and if what you see on the shelf isn’t that close to the current vintage, you’re risking buying spoiled wine. Yes, there may be a tremendous discount, but all that means is that you spent less on something that you don’t want to drink.

That these older wines are still being sold speaks to retailer cynicism and to the vague idea consumers have that older wine is always better, and that too many retailers believe that what consumers don’t know won’t hurt them.

Cartoon courtesy of WholeCellar.com, using a Creative Commons license

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How desperate is Big Beer?

big beerHow desperate is Big Beer to regain its stranglehold on U.S. beer drinkers? So desperate that it’s not enough to mock craft beer; now, even chardonnay is seen as a threat, and that has never been the case in the history of the United States. Beer consumption has outpaced wine since before we were a country.

Nevertheless, Miller Lite came up with this commercial, which says that women should take its product to a chardonnay event. My guess is that wine is seen as a Millennial drink, and someone found a study that said Millennials are forgoing Big Beer for wine. Perhaps one of our visitors with ad agency experience can explain why chardonnay is a target, given that old white guys drink Miller Lite.

For all of my ranting about Big Wine, it has never done anything this stupid. The commercial is below — what were they thinking?

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Wine, food, and truth in labeling

farm-to-fable-ledeimageSerious food writing may be more rare than serious wine writing. Usually, it’s poetic rhapsodizing about quinoa and kale, beatifying this week’s hot chef, and barely paying attention to quality, price, or value.

That’s why it was such a pleasure to read Tampa Tribune food critic Laura Reiley, who wrote that some chefs in her region are – and there is no more accurate way to say this – liars. A variety of Tampa area restaurants that claimed they used local ingredients not only didn’t use them, but were buying the same corporate food from the same distributors that sell to the chain restaurants that those chefs love to hate.

Best yet, many of the chefs didn’t understand why they couldn’t lie about it. As one told the newspaper, “We try to do local and sustainable as much as possible, but it’s not 100 percent. For the price point we’re trying to sell items, it’s just not possible.”

So why does this matter to wine? Because, as regular visitors here know, wine also plays fast and loose with labeling. Artisan and hand-crafted, anyone?

The latest: The federal study that found that about one-quarter of wine labels incorrectly listed the amount of alcohol in the wine. Can you imagine the outcry if one-quarter of the ketchup in the grocery store made the same sort of serious labeling error?

At some point, someone who isn’t looking for an arsenic fast buck will do for wine what Reiley did for Tampa’s phony farm-to-table restaurants. And then, when the U.S. consumer finds out that their favorite $20 bottle of wine, with its expressive boysenberry and toasty mocha flavors, used Mega Purple and highly-processed wood chips to get those flavors, there will be hell to pay.

Finally, a note to newspaper bosses everywhere: Read Reiley’s story. See how well done it is. And just imagine that you had the guts and good sense to do something like that at your paper. Maybe the business wouldn’t be in such bad shape, would it?

Illustration courtesy of Tampa Tribune using a Creative Commons license

Google to WC: Maybe you don’t have to drop dead

google linksThe good news about the new Google links edict, in which the search engine giant will penalize bloggers who use samples for their product reviews, is that it shouldn’t harm the Wine Curmudgeon or anyone else who is a legitimate wine writer. The bad news? That we have to trust Google – a highly secretive company that doesn’t tell anyone what it does or why it does it.

That’s the learned opinion of Stephen Kenwright, who has been parsing Google’s search algorithms since 2003 for Branded3, a consultancy in Leeds and London in the United Kingdom that helps companies boost their search results.

I contacted Kenwright after Google’s March samples announcement, and he didn’t disagree that there was reason to be concerned. “What you wrote,” he said, “made a lot of sense. Google’s guidelines are open to interpretation.”

So how legitimate was my fear that those of us who use samples were being lumped in with the sleazes and scumbags who trade in links for scam and profit? Links matter because their quality and quantity are crucial in getting the best search ranking from Google, and those of us who write on the Internet live and die by Google’s search rankings. A crummy search ranking, and you can’t find me no matter how good I am. Links also matter to the producers who send us samples, since Google’s new policy will penalize them as well – even though they aren’t trying to cheat the system.

Said Kenwright: “You’re writing a review– are you giving the best possible advice? Or is there no real reason for the review and the link to be there? Then you’ll probably be penalized. If you trust Google to do the right thing, it probably will.”

The key word, of course, is probably. Kenwright said Google’s targets are bloggers and companies who pile on links for no legitimate reason – a highly-ranked Mommy blogger, for instance, who suddenly reviews rifle scopes, or a well-read travel site for backpackers that for no particular reason starts doing luxury hotel reviews.

“Ask yourself, ‘Is my readership interested in this product?’ “ said Kenwright. “Do your readers expect to see this review on this site? The deciding factor is whether the reviews are genuine or not.”

So producers can keep sending samples to those of us who do legitimate wine reviews, and I can keep using those samples in my reviews without sending the blog crashing and burning to the bottom of the Internet.

I hope.

The headline on this post refers to the infamous 1975 New York Daily News headline during New York City’s bankruptcy crisis.

More about Google and wine blogging:
Google AdSense, wine blogs, and Joe Camel
Google as the WC’s editor
Wine and sex

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Wine falls further behind in nutrition and ingredient labels

Nutrition and ingredient labels

Not on my wine bottle, you don’t.

Costco is lending money to its small suppliers so the warehouse giant will have more organic food to sell. An on-line retailer has launched a campaign against misleading olive oil labeling. Class action lawsuits against food companies over extravagant claims are becoming increasingly common. And Walmart — the same company that has stood for everything that’s wrong with post-modern U.S. retailing for decades — has pledged to sell only cage-free eggs.

But the wine business, its head firmly buried in premiumization and the idea that consumers aren’t sophisticated enough, still sees nutrition and ingredient labels as an evil to be avoided at all costs. How is this possible, given all else that is going on? Why does wine act like it’s still the 1950s when everyone else seems to be marching boldly into the 21st century?

• Because we’ve always done it this way — what I like to call the cork mindset. Why do bottles still have corks, which aren’t the most efficient or effective way to close a bottle? Why do they still have punts, the hollow space on the bottom of the bottle, when technology has made punts obsolete? Because wine bottles have always had corks and punts, and if we get rid of them the world will come to an end!

• There isn’t enough room for nutrition and ingredient labels on the bottles, the so-called “label aesthetic.” Right, because there is so much on the back label that the consumer can’t live without. This also begs the question of how enlightened producers like Ridge and Boony Doon manage to fit ingredient labels on their wines.

• If we tell them what’s in the bottle, they won’t understand. Of course we won’t. We might also get angry and stop buying the wine. It’s not so much that federal law allows winemakers to use more than 60 things that have little to do with grapes (polyvinyl-polypyrrolidone, anyone?), but that we’ll find out that these “ingredients” are in wine that isn’t cheap. What would we do if our $18, 92-point bottle was loaded with Mega Purple to boost color and sweetness and aged with oak shavings in a bag because shavings cost two-thirds less than oak barrels?

When Walmart is more progressive than the wine industry, something is very, very wrong.

More about nutrition and ingredient labels:
• Update: Nutrition and ingredient labels for wine
Update: Nutrition labels and what the wine business doesn’t understand
Nutrition labels coming to wine — finally

 

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Why do you read about wine you can’t buy?

wine you can't buyHow frustrating is it to read about a wine you can’t buy? After all, how often do you read a review of a movie you can’t see?

Some of it, of course, is snobbery —  and yes, Winestream Media, I’m talking about you. Some of it can’t be helped, thanks to the foolishness that is the three-tier system. In the last month, I’ve tasted a $10 Gascon white and had friends tell me about a $15 red Bordeaux and a $10 Sicilian red that would be perfect for the blog. But the first is only available in southern California, and the other two are only found in the northeast. Which means the wines don’t have distributors in any other part of the country, and don’t meet the generally available criteria I use for the blog.

But there are other, less obvious reasons why you read about wine you can’t buy:

• To create demand for the wine. I get a lot of emails from publicity people offering me samples of wine from regions unfamiliar to U.S. wine drinkers and that have limited, if any, distribution in this country. They do so in the hope that I’ll write about the wine, even if no one can buy it, so that my review will convince an importer or a distributor that there is demand for it. Yes, it’s a little backwards, but it’s one way to get around the restrictions of the three-tier system.

• Because it’s the next big thing. Wine recommendations are often driven by peer pressure, and if one hotshot sommelier or writer praises something, then everyone else has to do so as well. We’ve seen this for years with gruner veltliner from Austria, which is difficult to buy outside of the East Coast. The most recent next big thing is Greek wine, which can be well done and offer value but is even more difficult to find outside of the East Coast than gruner. In fact, during our recent podcast, that’s what Wisconsin retailer Nick Vorpagel lamented about Greek wine.

• Available wine is boring. I’m paraphrasing here, but I’ve heard and read this countless times: “Why should I write about a wine that anyone can buy in the grocery store?” This isn’t quite the snobbery practiced by reviewers who purposely write about wine no one can buy, but it’s almost as bad. Again, do reviewers not do movies because they’re in 5,000 theaters nationwide?

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Google to WC: Drop dead

Google

Google, why do you hate the Wine Curmudgeon so?

Google’s most recent edict to blog owners is another example of how it — and not the blog owner — controls blog content, and how the search giant punishes those of us even when we do the right thing. The new system says a wine writer who uses samples, but is transparent about where the samples come from, is no better than a sleaze bag who loads a post with paid links and pretends they aren’t.

At first, Google’s March 11 blog post, “Best practices for bloggers reviewing free products they receive from companies,” seems to make perfect sense, distinguishing between what Google calls “organic links” and links that are only there because the blogger is getting something — money, product, or more links — to put them in the post. Links matter to Google, because that’s one of the criteria used to give pages a better search ranking, and a better search ranking means more visitors to the blog.

So how could something like that affect me, or anyone else who uses only organic links? Because the blog post says that links that refer to an on-line merchant selling the product or to the company that makes the product aren’t organic. That means, I think, that every time I review a wine, whether a sample or not, and link to the winery, I will be punished by Google unless I use a specific “no follow” command in the link. To make matters worse, using “no follow” means I don’t get credit for the link, even though I’m not doing anything wrong. Talk about the worst of both worlds.

Ignoring for a moment that adding “no follow” makes writing posts that much more complicated (if anyone understands “no follow” after reading the link, you can explain it me), it also lumps me with the sleaze bags by assuming that I benefit from the link. In fact, I don’t. No one asks me to put them in, and most wine producers — notorious for their inability to understand how this stuff works — don’t even know the links are there. I add the links to help readers get more information about the wine, which used to be a best practice.

This is just another example of Google’s one-size-fits-all approach, in which it assumes all blogs are exactly alike because it’s easier for Google to think that way. Hence, any blog that contains product references must be trying to sell the product — which certainly isn’t the case for me or for anyone who offers honest reviews, whether wine or not. In Google’s world, though, there doesn’t seem to be such a thing as an honest review.

The headline on this post refers to the infamous 1975 New York Daily News headline during New York City’s bankruptcy crisis.

More about Google and wine blogging::
Google AdSense, wine blogs, and Joe Camel
Google as the WC’s editor
Wine and sex