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Seven years of wine writing on the Internet

wine writingThe Wine Curmudgeon has the best job in the world — I get to drink wine and write about it for a worldwide audience that appreciates what I say and regularly tells me so. I’ve won awards and I’m respected in a way I never was in my previous writing careers, and it’s not like I didn’t have successes then. How about interviewing a talking dog?

The catch? That writing about wine on the Internet is as financially unrewarding as it was when I started, which is the lesson for the blog’s seventh annual birthday week. The Internet isn’t interested in wine writing; rather, it rewards selling and marketing wine.

Mostly, that’s the Winestream Media, which has always been as much cheerleader for the wine business as it has been consumer advocate. But it’s also the biggest wine-related sites, retailers like Amazon and aggregators like Snooth, who benefit. That’s because the Internet values quantity above all; witness this wine site acquisition by another site this week, which is just like the consolidation and “synergies” that go on in other businesses. That the biggest sites may not be impartial or objective doesn’t matter. My review of a wine, no matter how brilliant, will almost never out-Google the largest sites, which may do nothing more than list the wine for sale. In this sense, quality is irrelevant, and what matters is who has the biggest inventory.

In addition, too many wine drinkers who use the Internet want to be told what to drink, which has been as depressing to discover as it has been surprising. Every year, I get a disappointing number of entries when I give away the $50 Wine.com gift card during Birthday Week. It’s as if wine drinkers using the Internet don’t care about free money, because then they have to decide what to do with it, and wine is too complicated for that. These wine drinkers are a perfect fit for the Winestream Media, retailers, aggregators, and the like, and they help reinforce the rewards for sites that sell and market wine.

One of the smartest wine people I know, whose career has been a model of quality and professionalism, makes no pretense about how she writes for the Internet: She has a list of search terms that Google looks for, and she uses as many of them as possible. If her writing is awkward or repetitive, that’s better than not being read at all. Google’s algorithm even takes into account how long a post is, and it penalizes those (like this one) that are too long. Or too short, which is the case for most of my reviews.

In fact, a consultant who parses Google for a living has told me that I may have to face facts: I may never be able to compete with the biggest sites and may have to find something else to do for a living. The best explanation of how this works, and why Google gets away with it, is from computer blogger Dedoimedo (the language gets a little rough): “If you believe in your work, your passion, your words, then I beg you, do not let the corporate morons out there reduce you to the lowest common denominator.”

Unfortunately for my financial future, I have no interest in selling or marketing wine, which is different from carrying advertising on a website. And the day I take writing lessons from a search engine algorithm is the day Robert Parker and I have a sleepover to giggle about inky 98-point shirazes. I’m a writer, not a salesman. And, with no false modesty, I’m one of only a handful of quality, legitimate wine writers on the Internet. You’ll read stuff here that you not only won’t get anywhere else, but that no one else thinks there’s a need for wine drinkers to know. Because, after all, their job is to sell wine.

My goal is just the opposite of what the algorithm says it should be. I don’t want to tell anyone what to drink. I want to teach you how to make up your own mind, so you can drink what you want and pay as much — or as little — as you want. That’s called journalism, and if it makes me quaint and old-fashioned, so be it. I’m not here to become famous or win awards. I’m here to perform a service. There’s no point in doing this, in writing five posts a week, 52 weeks a year, unless I care about the people I’m writing for. And that’s each of you, whether you come here for a Barefoot review, to laugh at one of my rants, or to try to figure out what punk rock has to do with wine.

Hence giving you the best I can — the best writing, the best-informed opinion, the best information about how the wine business works — regardless of what the algorithm wants. Anything less is hypocrisy, and there is already enough of that in the world. And especially in the wine business and wine writing.

So I’m here for the long run, even if I never make enough money to retire to Burgundy. Or if I have to write arcane trade magazine pieces, be polite to annoying editors, or do book signings for people who are too smart to read books. It still beats working for a living.

More about the blog’s history:
Birthday week 2013
Birthday week 2012
Birthday Week 2011
Birthday Week 2010

Wine of the week: Castillo Perelada Brut Reserva NV

Castillo Perelada Brut ReservaNothing illustrates the revolution in cheap wine better than cava, the Spanish sparkling wine. When I started writing about cheap wine in the early 1990s, cava was almost unknown in the U.S., and the only cava for sale, even at many specialty retailers, was the Freixent black bottle.

Today, though, cava is everywhere, and it’s not unusual to see a half dozen labels at a grocery store. And why not? As the Perelada ($9, purchased, 11.5%) demonstrates, cava may be the best wine value in Spain, and Spain may offer the best wine value in the world. That’s a combination that’s difficult to pass up, especially during the blog’s birthday week.

The Perelada fits between Cristalino and Segura Viudas in style — not as simple as the former, but with its crispness, and more balanced than the latter, but with quality apple and lemon fruit. The bubbles, small and tight, are rarely found in sparking wine that is this inexpensive. And, though simple, it’s not stupid and isn’t as showy as the otherwise delicious Dibon.

Highly recommended, and maybe the best $10 cava I’ve tasted yet — impossibly well done for the price. Will join the Cristalino, Segura, and Dibon in the $10 Hall of Fame in January. Buy this for Thanksgiving, but make sure you buy enough, because everyone will want a taste.

Winebits 360: Birthday week edition

Birthday weekA few notes after the past year of blog posts about cheap wine, wine education, and the wine business:

? Operating system wars: Microsoft controls about 90 percent of the world’s computer operating system market with its various Windows products, but not on the blog. Just 52 percent of visitors over the past year used a Windows operating system to get here, and almost one-third of those had Windows XP installed — which died in April. Still, Windows was the most popular operating system, with Apple’s mobile iOS and desktop Macintosh tied for second at 16 percent. My beloved Linux was at 1.3 percent, good for seventh (and I think I know the other person who uses Linux to get here).

? Picking a browser: Another surprise, given that the world’s most used browser is one of Microsoft’s Internet Explorers (warts and all) at about 55 percent of the world market. On the blog, though, Apple’s Safari (warts and all), is the top browser with 29 percent, with Explorer at 24 percent. Chrome and Firefox, the geek browsers of choice, were tied at around 19 percent.

? Expensive wine: The best-read expensive wine post over the last year was for a Virginia wine, the Barboursville Octagon, which ran in August 2013. It was No. 115. In one respect, this isn’t surprising, since the blog isn’t about expensive wine. But that it did better than host of cheap wine posts, including the recent discussion about Spanish wine value, speaks to how popular Barboursville is in the world of regional wine.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s most popular posts 2014

most popular postsThe most popular posts from the past 12 months are almost completely different from what they’ve always been. Stories that been top-ranked every year that they’ve been on the blog, like The six things you probably don’t know about wine and $10 pinot noirs, aren’t any more.

Chalk these changes up to the new website, which debuted last fall; Google’s ever-demanding search algorithms and how they penalize sites like this one (and more on that Thursday); and who knows what else. In some ways, I’m no closer to figuring out the Internet and how people get to the site than I was when I started seven years ago (though the fine fellows at Reap Marketing have done their best to help me, as has Cindy Causey at the Dallas Media Center).

What I do know is that the blog’s reason for being hasn’t changed. The most popular posts continue to reflect what I’m trying to do here — cheap wine reviews, wine education, and criticism and analysis of how the wine business works. The most popular posts from 2014, plus a few other notes, are after the jump: Continue reading

Great quotes in wine history: Olivia Pope

WordPress, the blog’s platform, is blocking TubeChop videos, so you can’t watch this clip. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Washington fixer and power maven Olivia Pope letting the president know that his favorite 98-point cult Napa cabernet sauvignon would never, ever get a 92 again. Ever.

A tip o’ the Wine Curmudgeon’s fedora to the Dedoimedo website; this post is based on his “My reaction to — ” series. The video is courtesy of juststandhere2 via YouTube, using TubeChop.

12 wines for International Tempranillo Day

Tempranillo dayThese 12 wines show tempranillo in many of its 21st century styles. There’s classic tempranillo from the Rioja region of Spain; post-modern Spanish tempranillo; regional tempranillo from Texas and Colorado; a highly-regarded Oregon label; and even one from Argentina.

Tempranillo for years languished in wine’s outer orbit, though that banishment had little to do with quality. Rijoa’s wines are some of the best in the world. Rather, tempranillo wasn’t cabernet sauvignon, merlot, or pinot noir, and those are the reds that got most of the attention. Wine geeks knew about it, but the grape deserves a wider audience than that.

Enter the Internet, which has allowed tempranillo and its advocates to sidestep the Winestream Media, as with today’s fourth annual International Tempranillo Day. Also important: The discovery that tempranillo does well outside of Spain, something that no one understood before and that has revolutionized Texas wine. I’ve even had tempranillo from Idaho, about as different a region from Rioja as imaginable. No castles, for one thing.

Why is tempranillo worth drinking? First, the Spanish versions are among the best values in the world. Second, it’s a food-friendly wine that doesn’t insult the wine drinker; in fact, most tempranillo needs food, be it red meat or roast chicken. Third, it’s not the usual red wine, and anyone who wants to enjoy wine should be eager to try something that isn’t the usual.

After the jump, the wines: Continue reading

Wine of the week: Little James’ Basket Press Red NV

Little James Basket Press RedThe blog’s seventh annual birthday week begins on Monday, so what better preview for all the fun than Little James’ Basket Press Red ($10, purchased, 13.5%)? This is cheap French red wine that does everything that great cheap wine should do:

? Varietally correct. This is a red Rhone blend with lots of Rhone-style red fruit, It’s made with grenache, which seems to take on a different life every time I review it. This year, it was sweet cherries, and much less dark than last year. And it’s even different from the review two years ago.

? Tasty. The bottle was empty before dinner was over, which has turned out to be the best way to determine how much I like a wine. It’s not as spicy as years past and the funky aroma is fading, but the tannins and acid still balance the fruit. Think steak frites.

? Unpretentious. That means a screwcap, a clever front label, and a weird tasting note on the back label with the phrase “irresistible crunchy fruit.” I have no idea what that means, but it’s still infinitely better than the usual junk that passes for back label tasting notes.

? Non-vintage. The key to the Little James is a solera, in which old wine is mixed with new wine and vintage doesn’t matter. In fact, for a cheap wine, this often adds complexity that the wine wouldn’t have.

Highly recommended, and certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame next year. The only drawback? The importer has been sold, and I’ve had difficulty finding the wine in Dallas. Thanks, three-tier system.