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Wine Doesn’t Sell Wine, Stories Sell Wine (Nederburg Auction 2013 Keynote Speech Recap)

Vinted on September 12, 2013 under commentary, going pro, on the road

I’m not-so-freshly back from Cape Town, where last week I delivered the keynote address at the 39th annual Nederburg Auction. Somehow, my back survived the jaunt (though the sciatica and disk issues did some relatively serious damage on my anxiety).

Since the Nederburg organizers don’t invite keynote speakers back, I felt even less pressure than normal (and I don’t start with much in this regard to begin with) to censor my thoughts… and so I think I delivered on the promised “tough luv” messages about the difficulty, complexity, and insanity of the U.S. wine market, and my ideas on how South Africa can still “win” there.

The organizers were absolutely lovely people, the event was top-notch, and the hospitality beyond any reasonable sense of expectation. Also, I’ve now officially tasted impala and can now tell you that I understand why the big cats prefer to hunt those suckers down in Africa (after the lunch of it I had at La Motte’s fabulous restaurant in Franschhoek, I was ready to try to run a few of those things down and eat them raw myself).

Anyway, the auction itself was successful this year, with price per bottle up over last year’s event. Some amazing juice got auctioned off on day two during the charity portion of the event (including two bottles of 1981 Hill of Grace that were generously donated to the auction by Nederburg in my name… and no, I didn’t get to drink any of it). Below are some images that pale in comparison to actually being in the beautiful country of SA, and (eventually… hang in there!) an embedded video of me getting all Southern-Hemisphere-Keynote on everyone…

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Does The Wisdom Of The Crowd Provide Better Wine Reviews Than The Experts?

Vinted on September 5, 2013 under commentary

[ WARNING: following is one of my lengthy diatribes. If you're the lazy and impatient busy type, skip to the summary! ]

Do you believe that fine wines are multi-faceted?

What I mean is, do fine wines change over time, present different shades and complexities of aromas and flavors?

Well… duh

If you agree that fine wines are complex beasts, then I’m about to show you why it should logically follow that wine experts may not provide the best reviews of those wines.

Because if you also happen to believe in the truth-enlightening powers of scientific and statistically relevant data, then you cannot continue to hold onto the stubborn belief that traditional wine expert opinion always offers a superior summation of a wine to that provided by aggregate reviews in outlets such as CellarTracker.com. At least, you can’t do it without being Spock-raising-a-quizzical-eyebrow-at-you illogical. By the way, if you don’t believe in those truth-enlightening powers, then I’ve got some creationist “textbooks” to sell you, but let’s not get off track, okay?

Anyway… evidence actually supports the view that individual wine expert opinion is inferior to the wisdom of crowds when it comes to reviewing wines.  It’s not that single-shot expert opinion in this field is somehow irrelevant or useless, but that it is less valuable than the opinion offered by an educated, engaged, passionate, and diverse group of people (which may or may not contain experts in their ranks).

Don’t believe me? Well, then, put down that copy of Wine Spectator for a second and hear me out. Because while the view that crowd-sourced wine reviews have merit has been called “propaganda” by wine writers as celebrated as Matt Kramer, looking less passionately and more logically at the act of reviewing suggests that it is the Kramers of the wine world who are spouting the propaganda when it comes to dismissing the wisdom of the crowd

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What We Learned From The Fulvio Bressan Debacle

Vinted on August 27, 2013 under commentary, wine news

Friuli winemaker Fulvio Bressan’s racially-charged political comments about Cécile Kyenge, Italy’s first African-Italian government minister (you can read the translation if you’re up for it, but fair warning: it will most likely disgust you) just caused a large crap-storm in the wine world.

In my view, only an idiot (it takes a lot of stupid to hate based on race, people) would not find Bressan’s original statement offensive.

In the comments section of Jeremy Parzen’s excellent Do Bianchi blog,  there is a follow up from Bressan offering an unapologetic rant in defense of his original (indefensible) statement. I have a touchy spot (ok, a huge, ugly, flaming, red-hot-molten-lava spot) for this type of racially-motivated hate talk, particularly when people of African descent are the targets, as I have a niece and a nephew who are beautiful, intelligent, well-rounded, gentle, and amazing young people, who also happen to be black.

So having this kind of thing happen within the wine world hit a little too close to home for me, and I responded to Bressan directly on Do Bianchi:

Fulvio,

Nothing in any of your unapologetic, post-facto rants justifies the fact that you could easily have made your politically-motivated comment without a single one of the racially-charged epithets you decided to include (presumably for emphasis but clearly without regard to what reasonable people would find offensive or hurtful). The right thing to do – the ballsy, mature, adult thing to do – would be to issue a formal apology immediately.

I, of course, have not been the only one to ask Bressan to apologize (far from it). To my great surprise, Bressan actually did so… sort of…

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Blinding You With Wine Evaluation Science! (VineSleuth Data Shows That Expert Wine Tasters Are Actually Consistent)

Vinted on August 15, 2013 under commentary, wine news

Piling onto so-called expert wine evaluators has become all the rage lately. Remember when the California State Fair commercial wine competition judges got steamrolled (again) by data showing that blind tasting medals are awarded in a random distribution?

So expert wine evaluation is all just donkey-bong bunk, right?

Not so fast, Jerky.

According to data collected over the last several months by VineSleuth, it turns out that when we live by the wine evaluation data sword, we also die by the wine data evaluation sword. VineSleuth’s data shows that expert wine evaluators “are able to repeat their observations on individual wine samples about 90% of the time” when tasting wines blind.

Now, where I come from, 90% is a sh*t-ton better performance than can be explained by random chance. It suggests that the blind wine evaluation game isn’t so clearly flawed as some might make it out to be.

And before you start manically flailing away at your keyboards typing me flaming e-mails about how the experts chosen for VineSleuth’s analysis must not actually be experts, or that their (patent-pending and proprietary) methodology is somehow flawed, you should know that they ran it with the help of sensory scientists and numerical algorithms researchers/experts, and that they stocked their tasting panels with folks who make their livings tasting wine: winemakers, oenologists, sommeliers, writers… and little ol’ me.

And pretty soon, you’ll be able to test out my work for yourself…

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