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Merlot-Bashing Is For Douchebags (A Restrained And Tempered Report From The #PNV12 Vintage Perspective Tasting)

Vinted on March 13, 2012 binned in commentary, on the road, wine industry events, wine review

[ Editor's note: While the following article contains a serious view on - and producer recommendations regarding - recent Napa Valley Merlot vintages, it employs a facetious style that may or may not offend you, depending primarily on whether or not you posses a sense of humor. If you are easily offended and/or have misplaced your sense of humor, please take care in reading the article. Also, if you're a Merlot-hater who disagrees with anything that you find in this post, then you are wrong. And probably a jerk. Oh, crap... did I just offend you? Sorry... ]

Last year, I had a run-in with Napa Valley Pinot Noir at a multi-vintage perspective tasting held by the Napa Valley Vintners Association at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. It was… not a fun experience. In fact, it was sort of like having your palate beat up in a bar fight, with cigarette ashes poured over it for spite afterward, only slightly more dignified.

So it’s with much relief that I tell you the 2012 version of the NVV perspective tasting was substantially more pleasant, and gave me the opportunity to go through a blind tasting of three different vintages (2007, 2008 & 2009) from nine different producers. I skipped the overly-crowded Cabernet tasting entirely (hey, the Premiere Napa Valley auction was the following morning, and there’s only so much big-ass Cab I can handle in a 24-hour period) and went straight for the substantially less-well-attended tasting of that most-maligned of reds, Merlot.

After that short PNV Merlot immersion, I’m here to tell you a few things… but I want to start with this:

Merlot-bashing is for douchebags.

Seriously… over-generalizing to the point of hating on anything in the wine world is just plain stupid, because nothing contains more exceptions to prove the rules than the wine world. Hating on Merlot because a fictional character in a movie that is eight friggin’ years old (the movie, I mean, not the character… an 8-year-old bitching about wine in a major motion picture wouldn’t even be funny, it would just be weird) said that it makes sucky wine (and this is a character who actually drinks Merlot at the end of the same damn film)…? Well, that move is just so douchebaggy that we’d need to farm out design work to third-world sweat tech shops (hey Apple… are you listening??) in order to raise the manpower required to create enough instrumentation to measure the enormity of the douchbaggy-ness…

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Where Can Wineries Really Innovate? In Engaging The People Who Actually Drink The Stuff!

Vinted on January 25, 2012 binned in commentary, going pro, wine 2.0

I was recently interviewed by WineSpiralProject.com, as part of their series on wine industry innovation, in which they interview personalities in the wine world and ask them to share thoughts on the wine biz and how it can/should innovate.

Yeah, I know, I’m not 100% certain why they picked me either, but what’s done is done so let’s just roll with it, okay?

You can check out the entire series of interviews at this link; I’ll give the the super-short, edited-down-to-the-bare-bones-Cliff-Notes version of my interview right here:

Wineries are amazing at production innovation; Wineries suck at engagement innovation.

It’s not in bottling lines or fermentation vessels that we need an innovation push in the wine biz; we need innovation in adjusting the attitude that most wine producers have towards consumers. What do I mean by “engagement innovation?” Short answer: using the single most innovative outreach platform ever developed in the history of the human race – the Internet – to directly engage the people who buy their shiz. This may sound like common sense to you, but a lot of the producers I encounter seem to need reminding that those consumers – and not critics – are the ones who matter the most

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Stop Hating On Pinotage, Already

Vinted on January 19, 2012 binned in best of, commentary, overachiever wines, wine review

Seriously. Stop hating on Pinotage.

Why? Because there’s nothing “wrong” with it.

I am here today to tell you that Pinotage is not bad; it is simply different. And if you don’t like this oft-maligned but more-oft-misunderstood South African cross between Pinot noir and Cinsaut, that’s your prerogative. Just stop drinking it and shut about it, already, then. I mean, Pinotage has some high-profile wine critics who are haters right now – for Pete’s sake, Lettie Teague expresses disdain for it on her friggin’ homepage.

Yes, the worst of them (Pinotages, I mean, not wine critics) smell too much like overly-aged smoked meat wrapped in bananas and dipped into a vat of acetone that’s being bioled over a tire fire. I fully acknowledge that, okay?

But riddle me this, Wine Man: what bargain-basement version of any variety doesn’t have its fair share of sh*tty-tasting bottlings? Ever had really bad Cab? Terrible Pinot? Of course you have. Pinotage is no different than any other fine wine grape (yes, I meant to put the “fine” part in there), in that bad fruit in incapable winemaking hands results in a terrible wine, overemphasizing the worst qualities of any grape. It just so happens that Pinotage has more ammunition with which to work than most in the off-odors department.

That doesn’t mean that Pinotage cannot be beguiling when the right fruit gets into the right winemaking hands. It just means that there’s a little more of a deft balancing act to be attained when dealing with Pinotage.

But I know it can be done, and done well, because I’ve tasted some first-hand…

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You Are The Wine Conversation (What’s A Wine Critic To Do When Everyone Is A Wine Critic?)

Vinted on January 18, 2012 binned in commentary, going pro, wine appreciation, wine blogging

IntoWine.com recently (at least I think it was recently, as their posts for reasons unknown to me aren’t dated) ran an interview with SF Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné (long-time readers will recall that roughly a year ago I was on a panel about writing better opinion pieces with Jon and the Wall Street Journal’s Lettie Teague, both of whom probably still in therapy trying to get over my inclusion; I’m kidding… I think…).

I’m not here today to dissect Jon’s responses (many of which ring true for me, and are worth a read because he’s a very, very intelligent guy), but one answer he gave to the IntoWine folks struck me as a bit odd. To the tape (emphasis is mine):

The average consumer still feels intimidated by wine and wine-speak. Are publications like the Chronicle partly responsible for the prevalent feeling among consumers that wine is somehow beyond their comprehension?

If we’re going point fingers at the idea that wine is pretentious, let’s start with the spread of overpriced, mass-produced wine sold as an aspirational luxury. I’ll borrow a phrase from a conversation with a fellow writer a few days ago: You write up to your audience, not down. If sportswriters had to explain a two-point conversion every time they mentioned it, we’d all die of boredom. That’s not an excuse to fall into jargon. But there is no shortage of amateur wine criticism out there that doesn’t contribute to the conversation.”

The trouble for me is that I’ve got no idea what conversation Jon is talking about in that response.

It might be that there is a hidden wine conversation, one available only to a Romanée-Conti-sipping secret society of critics with wine review superpowers like UV vision that can detect the exact number of Brett, fruit, and mushroom particles floating around in a glass of Burgundy and determine at a glance if they are at an appropriate level. A secret society that meets in an underground lair at an undisclosed location (guarded by pools of sharks with lazer beams attached to their heads) and through joint nefarious consensus determines what wines will get the really high scores this year.

The bottom line is that this secret society might as well also be made up of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, because the real wine conversation is actually the one that the amateur critics are having. Or, I should say, it’s the thousands of real and virtual “water-cooler” conversations that the amateurs are having every day, all over the world…

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