Tag Archives: wine writing

winerant

Is it time to end the Champagne boycott?

Champagne boycottThe Wine Curmudgeon has boycotted Champagne for almost two years to support Champagne Jayne Powell, the Australian wine writer who was sued by the bully boys at the Champagne trade group, CIVC, for no reason that any reasonable person would understand. Powell mostly won the suit, which accused her of trespassing on the Champagne trade name, but only after spending A$75,000 (about US$55,000) in legal expenses she will never see again.

Powell, who was under a gag order during the suit, gave one of her first interviews a couple of weeks ago, and she didn’t mince words. “I refused to give in to the CIVC; I have a strong sense of fairness: I would not succumb to such outrageous behaviour,” she told the British trade magazine thedrinksbusiness.

Sadly, almost no one else thought it was outrageous behavior. Too many wine writers ignored what was happening, and people even made fun of me for the boycott. Which wasn’t the worst part, of course. I wasn’t the one being sued, and I didn’t have to pay attorneys and lose business while I fought against a trade group whose members are worth billions. And I didn’t wait in vain for my colleagues to support me and denounce the CIVC.

Hence I am hesitant to end my Champagne boycott. The lawsuit was despicable, and I don’t want to reward the CIVC for trying to deny Powell one of the most basic of human rights, free speech. And yes, I understand that my almost solitary act of defiance made almost no difference, and that the CIVC probably doesn’t even know I did it. But it was still the right thing to do.

That’s the tough part about being one of the good guys. You have to do things even when you know that what you do probably won’t matter. In the end, how we act should not be about money or currying favor or getting free samples, but right and wrong – even if you’re a wine writer.

So consider the Champagne boycott still in force. I’ll taste it when I have to, probably for my El Centro class, and if I run across something that seems worthwhile, I’ll consider writing about it. But the idea of spending my time or money to help a group that did what the CIVC did to Powell remains as repugnant today as it was a couple of years ago.

Overlords at Google

The third ultimate do-it-yourself wine review

do it yourself wine review

Drinky wants to write his own wine review.

Three years ago, I stole this idea from a Chicago Cubs baseball blog. Is that, I wonder, some sort of Freudian statement about how the Wine Curmudgeon approaches wine writing? Or the Cubs?

Nevertheless, it has become a popular post. For one thing, it taps into so much of the silliness we read in wine reviews. Such as: The graphite flavor in wine “most often emanates from the alchemy of expensive wood and wine. Cabernet kissed with finely toasted French oak most often proves the source of such aromas.” And it allows anyone who drinks wine to take aim at the pomposity that is all around us and that the pompous rarely see.

So write your own wine review, using the drop-down menus in this post. Just click the menu, choose your favorite line, and laugh appropriately. Those of you who get the blog via email may have to go to the website — click here to do so. And, if you like this one, you can do the first and second ultimate do-it-yourself wine reviews, too.

In the glass, this wine looks like:

I swirled the wine, and:

I tasted the wine, and:

All in all, I’d say the wine:

Welcome to Wine Curmudgeon 2.5

wine curmudgeonOr, the Wine Curmudgeon really likes blue.

Call this refreshing the blog, and not a complete redesign; hence version 2.5 instead of 3.0, which went up on Saturday. There are still a couple of rough edges, but we should get most of them worked out over the next week or so.

The changes should make it easier to use the site – faster loading times; easier navigation, particularly for those of you who visit the WC with your phone or tablet; and a cleaner, simpler design. Many, many thanks to Kermit Woodall of Woodall Design, who did an excellent job with the renovation despite my schedule, which meant I took too long to make decisions, and suffered my cranky ex-newspaperman design eccentricities.

The new look should also make it easier to add better and higher quality advertising in my never ending quest to make enough money from blogging so I can retire to Burgundy.

Finally, there are a couple of things we had to do to please our overlords at Google, which probably annoy me more than they will annoy you. Why every post has to say that I wrote it, when I’m the only one who does any writing here, is beyond any rational explanation other than Google says we have to do it. As always, if you have questions or thoughts, .

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

winerant

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?

wine news

Winebits 426: Stupid wine headline edition

headlines

Some people do know how to write headlines.

Because a cranky ex-newspaperman still gets a kick out of silly headlines.

? I’m a teetotaler: The latest Centers for Disease Control edict about drinking, that women who want to get pregnant and aren’t on birth control should not drink, surprised even me, and I didn’t think the Neo-Prohibitionists could surprise me any more. Check out this headline: “Millions of women risk exposing unborn children to alcohol.” That would stop me from drinking, and I can’t get pregnant. The problem, though, is that you’re telling someone not to do something because it might affect something that might happen to them years in the future. Which is neither practical nor good medicine. But it is very scary, which was probably the point.

? Drink the damn wine: Each year, people much smarter than the Wine Curmudgeon tell us that we’re not smart enough because we didn’t buy the correct wines. And it doesn’t even mean we’re drinking the wrong ones, despite this effort: “10 wines you should have bought a year ago.” We didn’t buy the right ones to invest in, and I kept slapping my head as I read it. How could I not buy the 2006 Opus One, which appreciated in value 35.9 percent to almost $4,200 a bottle? No wonder I’m still working for a living.

? They just don’t like each other: In “Bull Durham,” Kevin Costner’s character teaches Tim Robbins’ character how to talk in cliches. I still laugh when I see it, because it’s spot on. As is this headline, if you’re looking for cliches: “The battle between Big Beer and craft brewers is getting ugly.” No kidding? You mean they really don’t like each other? (Another phrase that used to make us groan on the copy desk when we had had to edit it out.) I think, as the story details, that the relationship between Big Beer and craft beer is past ugly when they start cursing at each other on Twitter.

NFL

Once more into the Super Bowl breach

super bowlOne of the biggest shocks in the 8 1/2 year history of the blog is that Super Bowl Sunday is the worst day for visitors every year. It’s worse than Christmas and New Year’s, both of which are actually pretty good days for traffic.

The Wine Curmudgeon does not know why this is, but I do know that it annoys the hell out of me. I am an ex-sportswriter who was so worn out by pro sports that the only thing I still pay attention to is baseball and my Chicago Cubs, and one can argue that the Cubs are not sports or very professional.

So the country’s obsession with the Super Bowl leaves me at a loss. I haven’t watched the game since 1986, which is more or less the last time I got paid to watch it.

Nevertheless, because so many of you do care, I offer you this wine story about the Super Bowl from the New York Times — “Wine Here! A Football Bud Gets Competition,” which includes a cartoon as badly conceived as that headline and this truly dreadful lede: “Beer and football may go together like wine and cheese. But lately more and more people seem be favoring a Bordeaux over a Bud Light.”

Which would have made me rise from the copy desk, pica pole in hand, to chase down the offending reporter (if my pal Johnny D. Boggs hadn’t already forcefully reprimanded the miscreant).

The point of all this is that since the game is being played in suburban San Francisco, which is in wine country, there must be a wine angle to the Super Bowl (even if Bordeaux is a French wine region). To the reporter’s credit, he quotes an expert, some former NFL types, and a wine person or two. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the story any more interesting, and it’s way too long, but if you’re on deadline and the composing room is screaming for the copy, you spell check it, slap a headline on it, and hope for the best.

Right, Johnny?