Tag Archives: wine critics

Top British wine critic: Don’t trust the Wine Curmudgeon

Wine Curmudgeon

“Hmmm.. what should I write to ruin wine today?”

British wine critic Jamie Goode warns wine drinkers against people like the Wine Curmudgeon

The WC can’t be trusted. Or so says British wine critic Jamie Goode, one of the most respected voices in the wine world. Writes Goode: “Beware the consumer wine champion.” His cry has electroned its way way through the cyber-ether to hurrahs and huzzahs, and one U.S. blogger even called Goode’s stand “courageous.”

Who knew I was the problem bedeviling the wine business? I could have sworn it was overpriced, crappy wine. But no, writes Goode. His argument: That wine critics who do what I do are frauds, and that it’s wrong for us to say that any wine that someone likes is OK to drink. We’re full of “faux outrage” at the wine business and we have an insidious, unspoken goal — to foist simple, sweet wines on the consumer instead instead of interesting, complex ones.

Which I do all the time, of course, evilly twirling my mustache. (And I guess Goode didn’t see this rant.).

Goode doesn’t mention me by name, and I assume he has no idea who I am; we travel in completely different wine worlds. But his description of the threat to the future of wine is spot on with what I have done for 11 years on the blog. Hence this post, since I consider myself part of the solution — the problem is with those who insist that wine should be difficult to understand and require its users to practice medieval alchemy to drink it correctly. Besides, the closest I come to belonging to any international cabal is my enthusiasm for Linux. And we know how much good that has done.

I have no idea why someone as well-spoken and as intelligent as Goode would write this, which is more like the sort of blather that appears every so often in the Wine Spectator. I argue for interesting, complex wines all the time. I just want them to be fairly priced and to come without reams of winespeak. And it would be nice if they were generally available.

Goode even says wine critics shouldn’t review mass-produced wines, since restaurant reviewers don’t write about McDonald’s. Which doesn’t explain why movie critics review poorly-made slasher films and car magazines review pickup trucks.

A friend, who sent me the link to Goode’s post, said it was probably a dog whistle, and likely had more to do with internal British wine politics than anything I’ve written. And he may be right.

Still, it’s worth repeating the philosophy that has helped the blog earn its place in the wine world: First, I love wine and I want to share my passion with everyone who finds it confusing and who is afraid of it. Second, there is only one wine rule: Drink whatever you want — just be willing to try something different.

Follow-up: Expert scores and red wine bias

red wine biasOur red wine bias study has the Internet buzzing – and people are saying smart things about it

This week’s post about red wine bias among wine critics did everything that we hoped it would do: Get people talking about what our study means. There has been some tremendous discussion – not just here, but elsewhere around the cyber-ether.

My biggest surprise? That so many mainstream wine critics picked up on the study and offered serious comment, instead of dismissing it out of hand. That’s my mistake, in assuming the worst. My biggest disappointment? That not enough people saw the study as one more example of everything that’s wrong with wine scores.

Suneal Chaudhary, who crunched the numbers for the study and deserves an award for his efforts, said, “I’m starting to get a sense that there’s something about the scoring system that’s flawed in some way but can’t exactly put it in words at the moment. The other reaction I’ve seen a lot is that red wines are more complex and so they should rightly score higher. Which is a fine argument if it’s true — but I’m not sure if it is. Personally, I think whites have a different aesthetic to them. It’s like saying the smell of roses is more complex than jasmine or something, but does that make the smell of roses better?”

That was a common theme among the comments, emails, and discussions Suneal and I found – that only wines made with serious grapes deserve the best scores, and the only serious white grape is chardonnay (and don’t even think about mentioning rose). So, according to this argument, why should anyone be surprised by any kind of bias? It’s only natural and right.

Which, of course, made me very sad – the some animals are more equal than other animals theory.

A sampling of other reaction from around the Internet:

• A mostly favorable discussion on the Wine Berserkers site, which also surprised me. It’s the Internet – who says nice things?

• Winemakers, not surprisingly, were split. Those who focus on white wine (and several left comments on the blog) disagreed that red was more difficult or more expensive to make. Red winemakers, not surprisingly, said of that course red was more expensive and more difficult, so why shouldn’t it get higher scores?

• Blog reader Patrick Sirridge’s observation was one of the most astute: “In my view, many wine critics/writers follow the herd and provide higher ratings for higher priced reds,” he said in an email. “Even more modestly priced reds get the benefit of the doubt regarding quality and complexity and thus get higher ratings. Bias in favor of reds – sure.”

• Another blog reader, Bob Henry, found several old magazine articles and blog posts discussing this subject, including an interview with Robert Parker in what was then called Wine Times and today is the Wine Enthusiast. In the interview, which is at the link, Parker said that some red wines are indeed more serious than others, and that his scoring system reflects that. I wonder if Parker would disavow that comment today – or if the Wine Advocate still uses that approach.

You can download a PDF of the report here.

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.

Winebits 307: Wine cities, Wine Spectator, wine revolution

? More wine in Dallas, please: The Wine Curmudgeon has noted many times that Dallas residents treat wine as if they were afraid of it, and now we have statistical evidence to support my observation. A Harris Poll found that Dallas residents are the least likely of anyone in the country’s 10 biggest metro areas to drink wine, and that we lead the country in not drinking any alcohol at all. No wonder we spend way too much time obsessing over the Cowboys. Obviously, I have my work cut out for me, and will continue to urge responsible cheap wine drinking on the masses. It’s the least I can do.

? Some wines are more equal than others: Kyle Schlachter at Colorado Wine Press, who has much more patience with the Winestream Media than I have, reports on what appears to be the Wine Spectator’s double standard for choosing wines to review. The magazine has said it won’t review some wines (in this case, from Colorado) if they they aren’t widely available. On the other hand, it recently reviewed several wines from France that weren’t widely available (10 cases or less in the U.S.). Schlachter seemed surprised by this contradiction, but that’s only because he hasn’t been dealing with this kind of hypocrisy for as long as I have. The Spectator does what the Spectator does; that’s why it is the Spectator. And why it has a Curmudgie named after it.

? Democratizing wine: David White of the Terroirist has a fine take on the changes in the wine business, led by consumers who make up their own minds about what they want to drink. He quotes Jancis Robinson, the preeminent European critic: ” ?No longer are wine critics and reasonably well-known wine writers like me sitting on a pedestal, haughtily handing down our judgments. Nowadays ? [consumers] can make up their own minds. That ?s altogether a lot healthier. ? It’s also intriguing, from my perspective, that some of the best and most well-known critics in the world see this change and approve of it. That means they have the well being of wine and wine drinkers at heart, and not whether they continue to be important and famous.

Five things not to say about wine this holiday season

A-Hint-Of-BS

There but for the grace of of the wine gods. …

The holidays are fraught with peril for wine drinkers, and especially for anyone who is intimidated by all the wine drinking going on. Which, truth to tell, is more of us than most of us care to admit. Or, as one 20-something woman asked me during a Cheap Wine book signing (shamless plug alert!), “Is it OK if I bring this $5 wine to a party? Will people make fun of me?”

Hence this guide, because we don’t want to embarrass any of our fellow wine drinkers. Because there but for the grace of the wine gods. …

1. “I can’t believe you’re drinking sweet wine.” Some of the best wine in the world is sweet — rieslings, whether from Germany, New York or elsewhere, and dessert wines, including the $550 French Chateau d’Yquem. Yes, pink moscato or red raspberry is not highly rated by the Winestream Media, but who are they to judge? After all, don’t they believe in the magical gateway wine?

2. “I used to buy that, and then I learned more about wine.” This actually happened to me. A guy I knew saw I was buying an ordinary French red, and said I should buy his French red. Which I did, and it was a waste of money — more expensive and not any better. I learned an important lesson that day about wine and peer pressure. Which is to ignore it.

3. “I just bought a bunch of 92-point wines, and they were only $30 each — such a deal.” Any wine that costs more than $15, given the foolishness of points, should score 92 points. At least. In fact, given the rampant score inflation that has apparently going on over the past couple of years, anyone who spends $30 a bottle for a 92-point wine shouldn’t be bragging about it. They should be consulting the $10 Hall of Fame.

4. “Texas wine? Haven’t they given up on that yet?” You can substitute your local wine region here, but the sentiment is the same. Despite all of the progress we have made, too many wine drinkers, wine critics, and wine snobs still insist they know best about regional wine because they didn’t enjoy the glass they had when Jimmy Carter was president.

5. “The last time I was in Napa, I had the most amazing wine. … ” Wine travel snobbery is among the worst, implying that the only amazing wines can be found by people rich or lucky enough to go where the wine is made. This is obviously not true; the Wine Curmudgeon has found some amazing wines digging around the closeout bin at his local Italian wine specialist. Which is 10 minutes from my house with free parking.

Winebits 227: Booze ads, wine scandal, wine prices

? FTC will investigate alcohol ads: The rise of social media has had an unintended consequence — exposing underage consumers to wine, beer and spirits ads that they might not have seen before. After all, how many 12-year-olds read the Wine Spectator? Hence the news that the Federal Trade Commission is requiring the major alcoholic beverage advertisers to detail their use of digital marketing and data collection practices. Adweek reports that in 2008, these companies spent just 2 percent of their marketing buget on new media, but that regulators expect that that figure has increased significantly over the past several years. In fact, says the story, the biggest booze producers have found social media to be quite effective at reaching younger consumers, and telling the difference between young and too young in the cyber-ether is quite difficult.

? Did top critic take cash? That's what a Montreal newspaper, La Presse, is reporting. The French-language newspaper says former Wine Spectator critic James Suckling was paid C$24,000 (about US$24,200) by the Quebec liquor authority, which runs the province's wine stores, and the hint is that it was for favorable reviews. This is the latest in a series of pay for play scandals among the Winestream Media that included Robert Parker's Wine Advocate. The Wine Curmudgeon is shocked, shocked, to learn that gambling is going on.

? Decanter readers don't want cheap wine: Decanter, the English wine magazine, has been accused of "unashamed elitism" in a letter from a reader. So it ran a poll asking if it should review cheaper wines. The answer? Not really. Only 27 percent of respondents said the magazine should review more wines costing less than 10 (about US$16), while the rest said either the current policy was OK or that maybe wines for less than 15 (about $US24) would be acceptable. This is yet another example of why there will always be an England.