Tag Archives: wine writing

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Winebits 422: Wine thefts, wine writers, wine reviews

wine thefts ?He knows his wine: A New York man has been arrested after stealing wine from restaurants and retailers throughout the northeast, posing as an interested consumer with high dollar tastes. Among his targets — a 1990 Chateau Petrus, one of the most expensive wines in the world at $4,000 a bottle and almost impossible to find. There’s a video at the link with surveillance footage; if nothing else, the suspect looks like the Wine Curmudgeon when I check out the wines on display at restaurants I visit.

? Drunk or not? The Guardian, a British newspaper, decided to call the country’s government on its claim that all drinking was bad by asking its wine writers how much they drank to do their job. The story is funny and cheeky and sad in that particularly English way, and my favorite comes from Michael White: “When I was a young reporter on the London Evening Standard, covering anything from murder to Miss World, lunch on the early shift consisted of three pints and a cheese omelette at the Globe across the street at 11 a.m. It ?s what Americans, still prohibitionist puritans at heart, call a ‘British lunch.’ ” The English know us so well, don’t they?

? Cash upfront: New Zealand wine writers are in an uproar over some of them taking money to write favorable reviews, something that is so reprehensible that it shouldn’t even be worthy of discussion. But, since this is wine writing, one so-called marketing expert defended the practice, telling an Auckland newspaper that “this didn’t mean such reviewers wouldn’t be honest.” Which is why I use the phrase so-called, because what kind of idiot would take someone’s money and then write a review that the client didn’t like?

Cartoon courtesy of the drinks business, using a Creative Commons license

wine news

Winebits 412: Birthday week odds and ends

Birthday week ? Approaching 2,500 posts: Or, 2,423, counting this one. A little less than one-third of those have been wine reviews in eight years, which probably isn’t enough to make Google happy. On the other hand, only two percent have been wine rants, which makes me wonder why I haven’t written more. It’s not like there isn’t enough to rant about, and I probably could have written two percent of the blog with just rants just about the three-tier system.

? Where wine rarely goes: The geographic breadth of blog users never fails to amaze me — 173 countries this year, including four from Nepal. The Nepalese, given that none of the wine I write about can possibly be available there, deserve some sort of prize. Or maybe they appreciate great wine writing? The U.S. is the top country, not surprisingly, but with only 87.3 percent, which means that more than 1 out of every 10 visitors comes from outside the country. And though California is the top state, more than 83 percent of visitors come from the rest of the U.S. That does make me think I’m doing some good, despite any gloom to the contrary over the past year.

? My poor beloved Linux: Perhaps someone with more tech chops can explain why the various metrics track visitors by operating system, which I appreciate but don’t understand. Having said that, just one percent of the visitors came to the blog via Linux, and that’s probably me. Still, that’s three times as many as Windows Phone, which says more than any rant about Microsoft. The top operating system was Windows at 35 percent, but that’s just a couple of points better than the Apple phone. Maybe there’s something to this mobile thing?

winetrends

The Wine Curmudgeon most popular posts 2015

wine curmudgeon

Change your logo as much as you want, but you’re still screwing up my site.

The Wine Curmudgeon blog has a new editor/publisher, but I knew nothing about it until I compiled the top 10 most popular posts from the past 12 months. It’s Google, which now decides what you read on the blog. I can try all I want — and I try very hard — to write relevant, informative, and helpful content, but my efforts matter less and less. That’s because Google directs people to the posts it decides are the most important, and for the first time in the blog’s history, those aren’t necessarily the posts I consider the most important.

Case in point: The top post from November 2014 to November 2015 was a five-year-old effort about Barefoot wine that didn’t make the top 10 last year. It’s bad enough that Google sent readers to the blog for something that wasn’t current, but the Barefoot post replaced the $10 Hall of Fame — my reason for being — as the most popular post.

Ain’t the Internet grand?

Almost none of the stuff that I wrote over the past 12 months that should have been in the top 20 was. None of the stuff that I thought was clever or funny made the top 20. Just old wine reviews — literally. Seven of the 10 best read posts over the last year were reviews of wines from 2014 or before.

This, for a writer, is as depressing as it gets, not unlike someone telling Michelangelo that the Sistine Chapel is nice, but an estimate for painting the house would be even better. What’s the point of reporting, and then crafting and sweating over a piece, when Google says not to bother because no one wants to read it? The search giant equates popularity with trust, so it sends people to the most popular posts because its algorithm says they’re the most trusted. Because, of course, they’re the most popular. That this is the Internet version of a Catch-22 doesn’t seem to matter.

Even the good news, that my traffic recovered in 2015 from the slump caused by Google’s ever-changing search methods and from revamping the website two years ago, was depressing. I’m getting more than 51,000 visitors — that’s visitors, not page views — a month, an amazing number for a one-person site. But what’s the point if they’re coming here to read stuff that doesn’t necessarily matter anymore?

Not to worry, though, if you like the stuff no one else does. I won’t change the blog’s format just because an algorithm says I should. Everyone should know me better than that by now. The most popular posts from 2015, plus a couple of other notes, are after the jump: Continue reading

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A Halloween wine tale 2015: I am Legend

i am legendThe afternoon was cloudy, and Robert Neville didn’t know how long he had until dark. Because he had a lot of work to do ? he had made 47 stakes.

?
It hadn’t always been like this. Before the war and the plague and the dust storms, when Virginia and Kathy were alive and people lived on Cimarron Street, life was normal. Or it had seemed that way, driving to work with Ben Cortman, having dinner with Virginia and a nice $10 bottle of wine, and enjoying the weekend barbecues with the other families on Cimarron Street.

Cortman, who lived a couple of house down, always knew where to get the best wine deals. He could find a terrific Sicilian red or a Spanish white or even a French rose for as little as $8, and when Neville asked him how he did it, Cortman would smile and make his usual bad joke: ?If I told you, I’d have to kill you. ?

Which, of course, is what Cortman was trying to do now. Neville, his 47 stakes driven into 47 lifeless but not dead bodies, was barricaded in the house on Cimarron Street, waiting for daybreak. He had barred the windows, even boarded them up, had reinforced and bolted the doors, and surrounded all with so much garlic that the stench was a permanent part of his life.

Still, the noise from the hundreds of people ? if you could call them that ? was deafening, and it seemed to get louder every night. Neville knew he must soundproof a room soon; otherwise, the howling was going to make him even crazier than he was afraid he already was.

?Come out, Neville! ? Cortman was screaming like he did every night. ?We’re ready for you, Neville. We have our Napa cabs and our Super Tuscans, and they all got 98 points. Don’t you want some

?

Neville didn’t remember exactly when the plague started. But he remembered the results ? people who had thought Bogle was a splurge bringing cult 15 percent pinot noirs to the barbecues, Cortman subscribing to every wine magazine he could find and talking about cigar box aromas and dusty tannins, and Virginia ? God, his sweet, gentle Virginia ? telling him to pry open his wallet to buy some wine that actually had flavors she could taste.

Neville, though, seemed immune from the plague. He had been stationed in France during the war, and maybe it was the vin ordinaire he had drunk. All he knew was that as the world went high alcohol and over-extracted around him, all he wanted was a little terroir.

So he made stakes, lots and lots of stakes.

?

They still came every night, Cortman and their wailing about $2,000 first growths, but Neville had accepted it. It was them and the end of wine as he loved it, or his daylight bloodletting. There didn’t seem to be a choice.

And then one morning, after he had cleaned out a particularly nasty den, with dozens of empty bottles of 97-pointers and wine magazine back issues open to the tasting notes, he saw her.

She was sitting at a table in the park in daylight, drinking what looked like a Gascon white blend, and reading the book with the green bottle and the brown hat on the cover. And it was daylight. Neville blinked, couldn’t believe what he saw, and then ran screaming toward her. Could it be? Could there be someone else?

?

Her name was Ruth, and she said all the right things. She had been to Italy, had acquired her immunity there, had been running and hiding since the plague started. The same thing had happened to her husband and two sons that had happened to Virginia and Kathy.

Still, Neville wasn’t sure. Maybe it was the way she seemed to be forcing down those 12 percent whites, as if drinking them hurt her. Maybe it was the way she did say all the right things, as if she knew that’s what he needed to hear. But she was out in the daylight. How could that be if she was one of them?

?

When the end came, Neville wasn’t surprised. ?I never really believed you, ? he told Ruth.

Ruth and her colleagues, most of whom wrote about wine on the Internet, had captured him that morning. They had mutated, had adapted to the plague the way human beings have always adapted. They could live in the light, but they weren’t like Neville.

?It’s better this way, ? she said. ?Your time is past. We’re going to remake the wine world, so that there is room for everyone, whether you want to spend $10 or $20 or even $50. Even if I don’t like high alcohol, isn’t it OK if someone else does

Neville smiled. He could see the others, standing behind Ruth, crowding to get a glimpse of him. And then, before they led him to his death, as he watched them, he realized why they feared ? and maybe even admired ? him: ?I am legend. ?

A tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to the late Richard Matheson. He was a brilliant horror writer who is too little known to mainstream audiences, no doubt because “I am Legend” was turned into three crappy movies, and whose work included the William Shatner Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” “I am Legend” is not only a first-rate horror story, but its paranoid, noir style speaks to the Cold War era when it was written.

For more Halloween wine tales:
? A Halloween wine tale 2014: Frankenstein
? A Halloween wine tale 2013: Dracula

winerant

Shortlisted for the Born Digital Wine awards

born digital wine awards iOct. 26, 2015 update: Congratulations to all the winners, which didn’t include me. But that doesn’t take away from the importance of rewarding work written exclusively for the Internet.


 

The Born Digital Wine awards, given to content created for the Internet, are a big deal. For one thing, there’s a cash prize, and that’s about as common as seeing a score on this website. For another, it speaks to the way wine writing is changing — and, oddly enough, how it hasn’t changed.

Which is not to say I’m complaining. That I’m shortlisted (or a finalist, as we say on this side of the Atlantic) in the best editorial/opinion category is a tremendous honor. And I do want to win, and not just for the ?500 prize. The recognition would mean a lot, too, that what I do still means something after all these years. As a friend pointed out the other day, I’m one of the few serial wine bloggers left — someone who writes every day and does it himself, without any other writers on the site, no collaborators, no one to offer a different voice or change of pace. Just cranky me, even after almost eight years.

Most of the other successful sites have adapted as the world has changed, adding writers, selling merchandise, doing affiliate marketing, and so forth. Which I’ve thought about, but never seemed to be able to do. Some of it is my lack of business acumen (as well as the fact that the business stuff annoys me), and some of it is the idea that I brought with me from the newspaper business: As soon people give you money for placement, objectivity becomes that much more difficult. And objectivity is why I’m here.

In this, we’ve seen a gradual and significant shift to the Internet for wine criticism. Yes, the biggest Internet sites are the websites for the biggest wine magazines, but the number of legitimate voices that exist that no one would have known about in the old days is amazing — many of whom are shortlisted with me. I proposed a panel for this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference on just that topic, since it may be one of the most important things in wine writing since scores.

Which never happened. The conference attendees, who vote on panel proposals, weren’t interested. Talk about irony. Even non-traditional wine writers, apparently, can’t see past traditional wine writing. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I won a Wine Bloggers award for best business blog, even though I write for consumers. My approach leaves many in wine scratching their heads. As one of the other shortlisted Born Digital wine writers, Blake Gray, has told me more than once, “You write for people who don’t drink wine.” And, as I have also been told, “Jeff, you write about wine, but you’re not a wine writer.”

At some point, we need to re-define wine writing so I’m not such an exception. How else will will we reach the women who buy Little Black Dress as a splurge because they see wine as too confusing to bother with the rest of the time? Or the men who are too terrified (and too manly to admit they’re terrified) to try something other than the same Big Wine cabernet sauvignon they’ve been drinking every week for the past 20 years?

So, yes, I want to win when the results are announced next week. But I also want to win because my shortlisted entry — how wine marketers, using the Downton Abbey claret as an example, confuse consumers to sell wine — offers more than traditional wine writing. And isn’t that the point of what the awards are about?

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Is wine the last bastion of the snob?

wine snob

“Trust me. I’m not dead.”

Periodically, one of my colleagues will lament that the U.S. isn’t more of a wine drinking country, and wonder what can be done to change that. I mention this not because I have the answer — I’m usually shouted down when I offer one — but because it ties into two recent items. First, the annual list of “Blue Chip” wine brands chosen by the company that publishes the Wine Spectator and that ranks wine by sales growth and profit margin. Second, an essay by New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, bemoaning what he calls the death of the film snob and how the movies are poorer for it.

Scott argues that the Internet and post-modern democracy have transformed film criticism, and that “the world of the Yelp score, the Amazon algorithm and the Facebook thumb is a place of liking and like-mindedness, of niches and coteries and shared enthusiasms, a Utopian zone in which everyone is a critic and nobody is a snob because nobody ?s taste can be better than anyone else ?s.” Who needs critics when we can decide what to watch based on the wisdom of the crowd, and even feel more confident about our choice?

Which, of course, is not how we do things in wine. Scott writes that: ” ‘Snob’ is a category in which nobody would willingly, or at least unironically, claim membership,” so I must assume he has never read wine criticism or discussed wine with the too many people who are too proudly snotty about what they drink. What else is brose but an attempt to turn $10 pink wine that anyone can drink — that anyone should drink — into something that only the most entitled among us can appreciate?

I’m not sure, after writing about cheap wine all these years, that the laments about the U.S. and wine aren’t about wine as much as they’re about the wine that the wine snobs think we should drink. After all, we’ve made tremendous strides as a wine drinking country, with per capita consumption higher than it has been since the 1970s and wine sales up even through the recession. But is that progress enough? Or do we have to progress as a wine drinking nation in the direction the snobs think best?

What if American wine drinking rates were the same as France’s, where the typical adult drinks a bottle a week, four times what we drink here? Because, to get to that point, more of us would have buy the wines on the Blue Chip list, like Barefoot, Sutter Home, Yellow Tail, and Cavit. Would that make the wine snob happy? I doubt it. They’d argue that it wouldn’t be enough that most of us were drinking wine with dinner, but that we weren’t drinking the right wine.

The irony, of course, is that all those everyday wine drinkers in France, as well as Spain and Italy, are drinking the local equivalent of Barefoot, Sutter Home, Woodbridge, Yellow Tail, and Cavit — or something even cheaper or more poorly made or both. The next time you’re in a European grocery store, check out the amazing numbers of wine brands that cost just a couple of euros. Hard to believe if you’re raised on wine in the U.S., where no one is supposed to drink that stuff.

The other irony? That there is a difference between snobbishness and criticism, and I’m surprised Scott didn’t make that point more strongly. A snob rejects anything he or she confiders inferior, even if there isn’t a good reason to do so. The best critics, and Scott is certainly one, detail the whys and wherefores, allowing us to make up our own minds. Good or bad isn’t even the point, which is why wine scores are so useless and why something as stupid as “Animal House” can be so much fun to watch. Rather, did that wine or that film or that restaurant do what it set out to do, and did it do so honestly and with respect for both the form and the consumer?

Otherwise, we might as well buy what the Wine Spectator tells us to buy, make fun of people who don’t drink “good” wine, and pat ourselves on the back for being so much better than everyone else.

winerant

The tyranny of wine samples

wine samples

“Come on. .. they’re just wine samples. What could be wrong?”

One of the great contradictions in wine writing is that so many of us review wine that most of our readers will never drink. That’s because we don’t pay for the wine, but get wine samples — thousands a year for some of us.

The Wine Curmudgeon has always been suspicious of wine samples, not only because of availability, but because there’s not enough transparency. That’s why I try to buy most of the wine I review, and each review notes whether it was a sample. But wine samples are addictive, something I discovered a couple of weeks ago when a distributor friend brought four terrific (two of which were pricey) bottles for a dinner I was having. During dinner, as the five of us were passing the wine around, I thought “This is so nice — four wines I never would have bought, two of which are too expensive to buy, and I didn’t pay a penny for them. I could get used to this.”

The older one gets, the more the phrase “There but for the grace of God” applies (regardless of religious leanings). What if, all those years ago, I had started writing about something other cheap wine that I bought myself? What if I had stumbled upon wine samples — expensive, hard-to-find wine samples — through one of the newspapers I wrote for? In those pre-recession days, high-end wineries were throwing around $100 bottles like baskets of chips at a Mexican restaurant; what if I started pouring $60 Napa cabernet sauvignon for a weeknight dinner?

I would have become everything I hate about wine writing, of course. Yes, given my disposition, that’s not likely, but the idea is troubling. I had a lot of fun drinking those wines that Saturday night, which included a $40 sparkling and a $35 riesling, both from Germany. It’s not so much that they were delicious, though they were, but that I didn’t pick them out, I didn’t pay for them, and I didn’t have to suffer them if they weren’t any good (something that happens all too often with my cheap wine).

It was wine drinking the way everyone wants it to be — wonderful wine on the table without any muss or fuss, and I suddenly understood why so many of my colleagues accept it as normal and wonder about people like me. But, as I reminded myself when I was writing this piece, wonderful has nothing to do with it. The people who read the blog don’t get samples. They have to negotiate the terrors of the grocery store Great Wall of Wine, which is why I’m here. I’m not a wine writer to drink great wine that I get for free, but to help wine drinkers figure out what they like. And, in the end, that’s more fun than any amount of wine samples.