This week’s wine news: Wine Folly takes on wine snobs, plus South African wine shops re-open, and a better way to do wine focus groups
• Wine snobs during the duration: The Wine Folly website lists its 50 favorite wine snob moments from the past couple of months, courtesy of its readers. The list is a little long to get through, and some of the complaints could only come from wine geeks. Having said that, though, how can one not enjoy a list that includes the time someone brought their own bottle of wine to a tasting, since it was better than the wine at the tasting? Or the time a sommelier sniffed a screwcap? My favorite? The person who told a group of winemakers what was wrong with each of their wines. Which, of course, I have never, ever seen any of my colleagues do at a tasting.
• Wine returns to South Africa: Liquor stores weren’t seemed essential during South Africa’s pandemic lockdown, so there was much rejoicing when they recently re-opened. The BBC reports long lines formed outside stores, and loud cheers were heard when they opened. But several resrtictions remained: Stores were only allowed to be open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and anything bought at the store can only be drunk at home and not at the store.
• Wine focus groups: The Wine Curmudgeon’s antipathy for wine focus groups is well-known, since it gives us wines that tend to taste alike – “smooth, devoid of character and interest, and overpriced. So I was intrigued by this: Wine Opinions tracks wine consumption, but it actually hasn’t been able to hold any traditional focus groups during the duration. So it has refined its process, where it says it has “perfected online qualitative research methodology that provides not just an alternative, but a new form of qualitative research superior in many ways to the traditional focus group.” If so, maybe it will rub off on others who do focus groups.
This week’s wine news: A wine lawsuit involving a teeter-totter, plus a wine marketer says the industry is its own worst enemy and declining retail customer service
• Another lawsuit: Regular visitors here know how much the Wine Curmudgeon enjoys wine-related lawsuits (and has even been, slightly, part of one). So it is with a fair amount of glee that I report this suit, via Wine Industry Insight – a small Napa Valley winery suing a large importer over a label where an elephant is on a teeter-totter. Yes, I know this is serious business for the parties involved, and trade dress and intellectual property are important legal concepts. But still, an elephant on a teeter-totter?
• It’s not the Millennials? Someone in the wine business actually agrees with the Wine Curmudgeon about wine being its own worst enemy. Leandro Cabrini, the founder and CEO of Wild Yeast Media, writes: “We are killing [the wine business] with our snobbery and a refusal to listen and see what’s going on around us. We refuse to adapt, maintaining that everything is (and should be) the way it was 20, 30, 50, 100 years ago. Do you know what happens when we don’t adapt? We die. We don’t care about our consumers. … “ Wow. Hard to believe, but maybe someone will actually listen to Cabrini.
• Speaking of which: Customer satisfaction with supermarkets dipped over the past year amid an overall decline in all retail, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index annual report. Why does this matter to wine drinkers? Because grocery stores probably account for more than half of the wine sold in the U.S., and as much as 75 percent in some states. Reported the study: “Service personnel are less helpful and courteous in person and over the phone. The checkout process is slower and rates lowest.” Is it any wonder I always recommend a quality independent retailer for wine shopping?
This week’s wine news: Are tasting notes the last refuge of wine snobs? Plus, a tragic end to one of the biggest wine thefts ever and Big Beer gets into legal weed.
• Wine snobs: Tim McKirdy, writing in VinePair, strikes a chord with anyone who has struggled with a tasting note: “But convoluted tasting notes inevitably alienate at least as many prospective consumers as they entice. It begs the question: Is it time to change the way we talk about wine?” The answer, of course, is yes, and if McKirdy sometimes writes as if he composing a university research paper, his points are well made. “If wine industry professionals truly want to make wine more open and accessible — besides providing free wine education for all.” he says, “sommeliers and critics should carefully consider when to use technical language. In wine, as in most things, it’s better to keep things simple.”
• Suicide: A man charged with stealing more than $1.2 million worth of rare wine from Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon apparently killed himself last week while his lawyers waited for him in court. The BBC reported that Nicolas De-Meyer, who was Solomon’s personal assistant, fell from the 33rd floor of the Carlyle Hotel in New York. Police said De-Meyer had used the money from the sale of the stolen wines to fund a 14-month globe-trotting adventure. He was facing up to 10 years in prison.
• Big Beer and weed: One more multi-national booze company is getting into legal marijuana. Molson Coors Canada has foremed a joint venture with Canadian cannabis producer The Hydropothecary Corporation, or Hexo, to sell cannabis-infused drinks. Called Truss, the new company will develop non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beverages for the Canadian market, following the country’s vote to legalize the recreational cannabis. This is at least the third deal between a leading alcohol producer and a Canadian company to get into the legal weed business.
“I like big, in your face tannic reds, and that makes me a special, superior kind of person. Oh, please.”
The continuing increase in the world’s wine foolishness has been making the Wine Curmudgeon more than bit crazy these days. The news release about wine aged in bourbon barrels was close to the top of the list: “If you often find yourself indecisive about whether to opt for a bold glass of red or a neat pour of bourbon. …”
No, not really. Sometimes I want wine. Sometimes I want bourbon. Why would I want both at the same time?
And don’t even ask me what they want to do to our beloved $10 rose. I can’t even link to it. It’s too horrible.
Hence a visit with John Cleese, one of the funniest men in the world and particularly spot on about wine in his video, “Wine for the Confused.” To hear Cleese use the words rubbish, nonsense and wine snobbery in the same sentence, and in the voice that has been skewing pretension since Monty Python, is enough to make me want to type again. Or at least to plow through all of those news releases.
Self-denial is an important part of wine; how else are we going to accept so much of the overpriced, underwhelming stuff we buy with such grace? It’s also why we don’t understand why so many others think wine is silly, snotty, and elitist.
Fortunately, the Wine Curmudgeon is always ready to help burst wine’s bubble, because how else will we teach others to appreciate it as much as we do unless we get rid of the pretension? To that end, consider this clip from a show on TruTV called “Adam Ruins Everything,” where host Adam Conover says that wine is “just totally subjective, like all foods. We don’t need sandwich experts because we know what we like.”
Because, sadly, wine snobs have been dominating the wine news lately:
? Defending wine: Alder Yarrow, one of the most respected wine writers in the U.S., writes forcefully about the recent spate of anti-wine sentiment on the Internet, lamenting the fact that so many are so hateful about wine. He seems surprised by the venom, unable to understand why people write things like “Americans who drink wine do so because they think they are living in a BBC adaptation of a Jane Austen novel.” In this, Yarrow doesn’t see the forest for the trees, despite his skill, influence, and popularity. People hate wine because too many wine drinkers and too many people who write about wine want wine to be that way. Remind me to tell the story sometime about the editor who said I couldn’t write for her because wine drinkers weren’t interested in what I wrote about. Or, as a student in my wine class asked me: “Will I be successful in the restaurant industry if all I drink is sweet wine? Won’t they hold it against me?” And I didn’t have an answer for her, other than to say people like me were trying to change that.
? You can always count on the Wine Spectator: Matt Kramer, writing about local wine, asks “Should restaurant wine lists feature local wines?” Could it be? Was one of the high priests of the Winestream Media advocating local wine? Would the Wine Curmudgeon have to welcome the Spectator into the regional wine movement? Of course not. This is the Spectator. In 819 words, Kramer comes to this conclusion: “Should restaurant wine lists showcase and champion local wines? Do restaurants have any such obligation? Is it even desirable? I leave it to you to decide.” Which, I suppose, is how you get to be a high priest of the Winestream Media.
? Money, money, money: I wonder if Yarrow saw this study, which says rich people are buying wine not to drink, but “as a wealth store ? providing a hedge against inflation, protection against low interest rates and currency fluctuations.” How wonderful it must be to be rich, to buy wine instead of gold or real estate. “Wine, Katie Scarlett. Why wine is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.” The Wine Curmudgeon, whose lack of business acumen is legendary, has never been able to appreciate this. I buy wine to drink, because drinking wine gives me pleasure. Who knew the rich got as much pleasure from just looking at it?
The cyber-ether has been abuzz with accusations of wine snobbery, and even Blake Gray — who recently shared a bottle of $10 South African chenin blanc with me — has been accused of snobbery. Trust me: People who drink cheap wine with the Wine Curmudgeon aren’t wine snobs.
All of this back and forth means it’s time to set the record straight. Note that wine snobbery doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with winespeak, scores or high alcohol. It’s much more nefarious than that. Hence, the Wine Curmudgeon’s eight questions to tell whether you’re a wine snob.
? Do you tell other people what to drink?
? Do you criticize other people when they drink wine that you’ve told them not to drink?
? Do you think wine quality is a function of price, and that all expensive wine is inherently better than cheap wine?
? Do you only drink certain varietals, like cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay, because other varietals aren’t good enough for you?
? Do you only drink wine from certain regions of the world, because other regions aren’t good enough for you?
? Do you know everything there is to know about wine, and aren’t shy about telling others how smart you are?
? Do you gladly share wine knowledge with others, or are you glad you know more than they do?
? Do you remember the last time you tried a wine you didn’t think you would like?
Answer yes to more than one of the first six questions, or a yes plus a no to the seventh or eighth, and there’s no doubt: You’re a wine snob.