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In Defense Of Oak (And Thoughts On Why Overoaked Wines Get High Scores)

Vinted on October 23, 2012 binned in commentary

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from the folks who create content for Publix Grape Magazine, a free newsletter with wine tips and recommendations from the grocery chain’s extensive list of available wines.

For those who don’t know Publix, they kind of rule the roost in terms of the grocer action in the Southeastern U.S., employing over 150,000 people across more than 1,000 stores, and registering sales in excess of $25 billion (yes, with a B) annually.

The creative side of Publix Grape wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing an overview of oak aging for the Spring edition of the magazine, including its pluses, minuses and the science behind it.

“Absolutely,” I told them, and not just because I thought it would be entertainingly ironic for me to be published in both Playboy.com and Publix grape, two outlets that have got to serve almost opposite ends of the Liberal/Conservative constituency. “In fact, this is spookily serendipitous because I’d just sat down at my computer to draft up a blog article I wanted to call ‘In Defense Of Oak’!”

Combine that eerie coincidence with the fact that I hadn’t contributed to Publix Grape in what seemed like forever, and I couldn’t pass it up. And as I penned that Publix piece, I had a particularly personal realization reinforced (and no, it’s not that I love consonance). Namely, despite the fact that my subjectively favorite wines in all of the world (Mosel Rieslings) are un-oaked, I rather enjoy oak in a lot wines.

Okay, maybe that was more of a confession than a realization, given the gestalt of the modern wine media and geekier wine circles.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the oak-perception pendulum when it comes to wine might have swung just a bit too far lately…

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Fine Wine Reviews Can Never Be Crowd-Sourced! Oh, Wait, They Already Have Been… For Years!

Vinted on October 10, 2012 binned in best of, commentary

About every other week, some friend or 1WD reader emails or tweets me a link to Matt Kramer’s “Drinking Out Loud” blog on WineSpectator.com. And about every other week, I have the same reaction after reading it: Kramer writes well, but his conclusions sometimes leave holes large enough that you could drive a steel tank full of Yellowtail through them.

Usually I simply shrug and ignore those conclusions, but Kramer’s piece (titled “Dubious Wine Achievements of Our Time: How smart wine people became boneheads”) published last week struck enough of a nerve that, Shatner style,  I just… couldn’t… let… GO!

It wasn’t Kramer’s near-total dismissal of both Bordeaux (maybe he should have called it “Bored-oh?”) as a region (points with which I largely agree, by the way) and Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (points with which I largely disagree) that set me into a fit of head-scratching bewilderment, but his assertion that fine wine recommendations cannot successfully be crowd-sourced.

That latter conclusion flies so forcefully smack-dab into the face of reality that I can only categorize it as head-in-the-sand posturing. Sounds harsh, I suppose, but I see no reason to let something slide when it’s so far off the mark from reality.

Let’s break this one down, shall we?

First, by looking at what Kramer actually wrote, and then at the (potentially invalid) assumptions upon which those statements were based. C’mon, it probably beasts actually working over the next few minutes, doesn’t it?…

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When Does A Winemaker’s Job End? (Touring The World’s Leading Synthetic Cork Operation)

Vinted on October 9, 2012 binned in commentary, on the road

“That was an interesting concept for me,” Jeff Slater, Nomacorc’s Marketing Director, told us as he presented research findings on alternative wine closures; “winemaking continuing after bottling.”

A few weeks ago, I and a small cadre of wine press toured Nomacorc’s Zebulon, North Carolina manufacturing facility as media guests, meeting with their upper brass and donning lab coats to see how their synthetic wine closures – the only ones in the business to offer specific oxygen transfer rates – are made.

And Slater (who has his own –  quite engaging – personal blog, by the way), had gotten me thinking with that comment. When does a winemaker’s job end? If you believe Nomacorc, that job – at least when it comes to any particular wine release – doesn’t stop when the bottle gets sealed.

Nomacorc might not be a household wine geek name, but in terms of numbers the odds are good that you’ve had your corkscrew in at least one of their products at some point. As of 2011, Nomacorc had around 70% of the synthetic cork market, and were the second-largest closure manufacturer in the world, topping off 13% of all still wines globally by market share. Thanks to deals with mega-producers Kendall-Jackson, Cupcake and Barefoot, nine out of every ten Chardonnay bottles in the U.S. are stopped with a Nomacorc closure.

Put another way, recycling has become a major concern and big priority for Nomacorc (according to CEO Lars von Kantzow), because they produce two billion (yes, with a “b”) closures per year: 1 in 5 of every wine in France, 1 in 4 for Germany, 1 in 3 for the U.S., by volume. They’ve churned out something like two corks for every human on Earth since they entered the market in 1999, when their founder, Belgian Gert Noel, got fed up with having one too many corked wines and worked with his son to develop an alternative.

So, yeah, you’ve seen one of these closures. And chances are good that you’ve not thought much about them, either. As Slater put it when he summarized a 2011 Merrill Research survey of about 600 wine consumers: “it’s like the laces in your shoes; you don’t think about it unless it breaks”

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Millennial Wine Marketing Misfire (Note To High-End Vino Producers: You Don’t Have An “Entry-Level” Wine)

Vinted on October 2, 2012 binned in commentary, wine buying

If you’re a wine producer and calling, say, your refreshing but probably overpriced (c’mon, let’s be honest) $35 Sauvignon Blanc an “entry level” wine, you might be missing the trick with both the older (now in the 30s) and younger (just reaching legal drinking age) Millennial generation.

That conclusion isn’t based on reams of hard data (believe me, I tried to find those reams, and no one has them… yet…), and so I will go ahead and do you the favor of substantially undermining my own argument here before I even start. But… there are some signs in the wine marketplace worth mentioning, signs that might be of concern to those vintners who offer “lower-priced” wines over $25 labeled as “entry level,” secondary products without as much focus as their high-end stuff. And they are signs that suggest that the target markets don’t consider those wines as much “entry level” (a term they most likely associate with “affordable”) as they do “splurge.”

Consider these tidbits:

Which means that your “entry level” wine is actually splurge material for most Millennials, and yet is probably marketed as an adjunct to your “real” wines (the more expensive ones) that most of them can’t afford even if they’re splurging. Hellooooo, mixed messages!…

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