Tag Archives: Wine Spectator

Computer-generated wine reviews

Wine Spectator: If you can’t buy it, we won’t review it

wine spectatorThe Wine Spectator, in a stunning reversal of policy, announced today that it will only review wines that people can buy, ending a decades-long practice where it preferred to critique wine made in such small quantities that there were never any for sale.

“Frankly, when we started to think about it, it seemed kind of silly to review wines that weren’t in stores,” said a magazine spokeswoman. “Yes, there was a certain cachet to do wines in the Spectator where the producer only made three cases, because it showed how much better we were than everyone else. Because we are much better than everyone else. But, in the end, we are a wine review magazine, and if our readers can’t buy the wines we review, there isn’t much reason for us to exist, is there?”

The new availability policy, said the spokeswoman, was based on the one used by legendary Internet blogger Jeff Siegel, the Wine Curmudgeon. Siegel, who declined to be interviewed for this story, uses what he calls general availability: He only reviews wines that consumers can find in a quality wine shop in a medium-sized city. Said the spokeswoman: “Considering how much fun he makes of us, and that he is has no credibility because he is an Internet blogger, Siegel’s policy seems quite practical. Just don’t tell him we stole it.”

Reaction from the wine world was immediate:

? A host of cult wines in the Napa Valley, whose production rarely exceeds 100 cases each, announced plans to increase the amount of wine they make so they can be reviewed. “If we’re not in the Spectator, what’s the point of making wine?” asked one winery owner, a Silicon Valley zillionaire. “It’s not like I care about the wine. I just want my friends to be jealous when they see my wine, which they can’t buy, got a 99.”

? Several other wine magazines said they would follow suit, although the Wine Advocate said it would use availability in China as its threshold. “Listen, when you pay as much money for the Advocate as we did,” said a co-owner, “you really don’t care if anyone can buy the wine in Omaha.”

? The country’s largest retailers, including Costco and Walmart, made plans for special Wine Spectator sections in their wine departments, now that the Spectator would review most of the wine that they carry. “They’re already selling some wine for us with their scores and shelf talkers,” said one retailer. “So why not just get rid of the pretense and let them do all the work?”

More April 1 wine news:
? Supreme Court: Regulate wine writing through three-tier system
? Gov. Perry to California: Bring your wineries to Texas
? California secedes from U.S. ? becomes its own wine country


Winebits 344: Wine crime and wine shipping

wine crime

And no, they aren’t related, thought they may often seem to be when you total the shipping charges.

? If you can’t do the time…: Wine crime always makes the Wine Curmudgeon smile, reminding me of my newspaper days and a very wise Treasury agent. “If criminals could do something else, they would,” he used to say, pointing out that most of them weren’t smart enough to understand that their career didn’t have much of a future. Hence this story, about two Seattle men who stole $600,000 worth of wine but failed to disable all the shop’s security cameras during the theft. Employees then recognized one of the thieves, who had been a store customer, and arrests were made. Not very clever, as my friend would have said, but he also would have asked the thieves two questions: First, where where were they going to fence the wine. It’s not like hocking jewelry. Second, did they not think the cops would question the shop’s customers and ask for alibis? Which is why, he used to say, prisons are so crowded.

? Everything you need to know: The Wine Spectator gets a lot of criticism here, but when it does something well, it deserves praise. Such was the recent post detailing wine shipping laws for every state — and it’s not even behind a pay wall. The good news is that 40 states will allow winery-to-consumer sales next year, up from 27 in 2005. The bad news is that just 14 states allow their residents to buy wine from out-of-state retailers, down from 18 in 2005.

? Just a penny: Amazon Wine, whose presence in the wine direct shipping business has been surprisingly limited (the service still can’t ship to all 50 states — just 22), has been offering 1 cent shipping. Regular visitors here know that when Amazon Wine debuted almost two years ago, the first thing I asked was if it could make an impact with traditional wine shipping rates. Apparently not. And the 1-cent shipping doesn’t seem to be that big a deal, with a lot of one-offs, previous vintages, and overstocks on the site when I looked at it. Still, if you need a bottle of Pink Floyd wine (and if you do, I don’t need to know about it), it’s $16.99 for “plush structure and rounded tannins,” plus a penny shipping.

Winebits 216: Entwine, wine scores, wine snobs

? A first-year hit: How do you sell a wine with a minimum of reviews, little retail placement outside of grocery stores, and a lousy name? Make it the house wine for The Food Newtwork. That's the story of Entwine, which sold more than 150,000 cases in its first five months and which is expected to sell one-half million cases annually within two years. Which is a lot of wine. In this, Entwine's success speaks volumes about how Americans buy wine, which we've discussed on the blog more than once. We buy on price — Entwine is $13 — and we buy on label. In this case, the Entwine label is enhanced by the partnership with The Food Network, where it is used on the channel's cooking shows. This, as usual, more than makes up for the lack of information about what the wine tastes like.

? More bad news for scores: Winematch.com takes on scores and why they don't work, especially in the way retailers use scores to sell wine. "Wine is not unique to marketing spin but it's spin of the worst kind and the end result is you lose the consumer." Those are harsh words, but the post makes the accusation stick and it's something retailers should take into account.

? Being a wine snob is a good thing: Or, why there will be always be a Wine Spectator. This is an impassioned defense of wine elitism by the Specator's Matt Kramer, and one has to admire his enthusiasm for the task. It's wrong to say that if you like a wine, it's a good wine, exclaims Kramer: "This is, without question, the biggest lie of them all. … They think it will make wine more accessible to more people. They think they're doing everyone a favor by 'democratizing' wine. Wine is too elitist, you see. It's important – ? nay, essential – ? that wine be taken down a peg or two in order to make it accessible to all." And we certainly don't want that, do we?

Wine Spectator is hiring; is this my big chance?

8_wine-spectator-mobile The Wine Spectator is hiring. One of the most important publications in the Winestream Media needs "a highly motivated wine lover for an entry-level position in its New York tasting department."

I can't say I'm not tempted. I would be rid of the responsibility of running the blog, the constant deadlines and worries. I would no longer have to care about wine that people actually drank, but instead would know what wine they should drink — whether they liked it or not. And I would no longer have to bother about educating consumers about local wine, because I would know that it was inferior — without even having to taste it.

I would be able to luxuriate in the knowledge that whatever wine I drank was absolutely, positively correct, because I worked for the Spectator. And the respect I would get, wherever I went. Ah, the respect. I would no longer be the Wine Curmudgeon, shunted off to a corner because I wrote about — shudders and gasps — cheap wine, but someone with an entry-level position at the Spectator. Can't you already feel the goose bumps?

Sadly, however, I have always been a lousy businessman. I have regularly passed up opportunities to advance my carrer in favor of doing things I that I wanted to do, that I felt passionate about. So I guess I'll pass this one up, too, and remain at my lonely keyboard to fight the good fight. Bring on the next windmill!

Wine business slow? Then boost the scores

There is a reason the Wine Curmudgeon is so cynical about the wine business. It’s news like this:

“The numbers are in, and they’re historically impressive. In Wine Spectator’s report on California Pinot Noir, a whopping 55% of the 350-plus wines from the 2009 vintage had scores of 90 points or higher, including 15 wines that scored a classic 95 or better. It’s the category’s best performance ever.”

More than half are 90-point wines? A record-setting four percent are “classic”? Why? What made the 2009 vintage so special? Robert Parker’s vintage rating called it barely “outstanding,” and one Sonoma winemaker didn’t even go that far; he called the 2009 crop good to very good.

Full disclosure, first, of course. Regular visitors here know that I have no use for scores, and so I view any report heralding scores with a sneer and a quizzical look. Also, I have not tasted all 350 wines in the Spectator report, and it’s always chancy to criticize something when you don’t have all the information.

Having said that, though, there are a couple of things to note about all of those classic wines. First, style matters. The 2009 pinots I have tasted were well made, but in that very ripe and busty style that the Winestream Media enjoys and that makes me reach for something else. Which is, of course, the biggest problem with scores. Second, that many of the high-scoring wines cost more than $30 a bottle. If a wine that costs more than $30 a bottle doesn’t score 90 or better, there isn’t any reason for the winery to be in business. Which is, of course, another problem with scores.

Finally, what would happen if the Spectator did a pinot noir issue that said that the vintage was ordinary and that the wines were ordinary? And what would happen if the magazine did that during a three-year sales slump, like we’re going through now?

Exactly. So don’t worry if you miss this classic vintage; I’m willing to bet there will be another one in 12 months.

Winebits 155: Thanksgiving wine, best wines, Kluge winery

? Wine blogs and Thanksgiving: There's a spirited discussion at Louisville Juice questioning whether wine blogs should offer Thanksgiving wine advice, and the consensus seems to be that it's kind of silly for us to do so. Or, as the blogger Thomas Pellechia wrote in a comment, "Bloggers are just like print writers – ? every holiday, every year, comes with a discussion of which wine to go with which food or a list of the best. All this proves to me is that print isn ?t dead ? writing is." Which seems an odd thing to say. People have questions about Thanksgiving wine, and it doesn't seem untoward that I — or any other wine writer — should try to answer them. Unless, of course, we're not writing for people who have questions about wine, which is another question entirely.

? Wine Spectator's top wines: A tip o' the Curmudgeon's fedora to my brother, Jim Siegel, for passing this along: The Spectator is releasing its top 10 wines of the year in a cyber-fest of video and on-line updates. It's subscription only, but you can see wines 8, 9, and 10 with a free link through Nov. 28. Two of those wines are $100 each, and the Spectator notes that the average price per bottle for the top 10 is $48. You may draw your own conclusions from the pricing.

? The end for Virginia's Kluge Estate: The winery, one of the best in the state, has been forced into bankruptcy, and an auction will be held on Dec. 8 to cover its $35 million in debts. Kluge will be missed. You can argue that its owners, Patricia Kluge and William Moses, made myriad bad business decisions, but they also made good wine. And it's always a shame when a winery that makes good wine goes out of business — and especially a winery that did so much for regional wine.