Posts Filed Under commentary

Ode to a Wine Teacher

Vinted on July 1, 2010 binned in commentary, wine appreciation

I could tell that I wasn’t quite myself based on the number of business cards in my backpack.

There were dozens of those little cards left, staring back at me when I opened my pack.  Cards that I should have given away to friends old and new at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla.  The “normal” Joe would have been handing out those cards left and right. Instead, they were practically shouting their futility – after all, what good are they to me? I already know who I am.

It wasn’t the fact that I had been in a new place for the first time, seeing new faces (I’m well used to that scenario); it also wasn’t the fact that back home one of our 100+ year-old trees came down on our neighbors garage in a fierce storm, cleaving it nearly into two (no one was hurt, apart from the trees).  The reason I wasn’t myself was that my teacher was dying.

My teacher was my dog, Sam.  He passed away while I was at the conference (if you were in attendance and I appeared out of it or seemed dismissive, please understand that it wasn’t you, it was most definitely me).

Sam was pretty sprightly for a guy in his 80s (people years, of course), still weighing in at 85 lbs. of mostly muscle.  Still fairly strong, too (he had once accidentally broken my left hand when we were out for a run).  Stubborn, too – in fact, I used to joke that I could sum up Sam’s thoughts in one sentence (“Hey guys – this is what I want to do now”).

Our experience with Sam was more Marley and Me than Lassie – he had a penchant for stealing bread, licking the icing off of cakes on the kitchen counter, eating through metal cans of dog food, and practically destroying the house during thunderstorms.  BUT… he was one of the sweetest souls I’ve ever known.

Sam taught me a lot about how to really appreciate wine (yes, I’m serious – read the post).  But his greatest lessons were in teaching me compassion and patience – the latter being something that I’ve often cited as the ‘secret sauce’ of wine blogging (and life in general, really; yes, I’m serious – watch the vid).

My only real regret is not that I wasn’t there to say goodbye when Sammy passed – it’s that I wasn’t the quickest study when it came to fully grasping all of those lessons in compassion and patience that Sammy tried to teach me.

Here’s to a friend, a sweet soul, an old teacher – long may his lessons be remembered.

Cheers!

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Brave New World (or “Do We Really Need Wine Experts Anymore?”)

Vinted on June 28, 2010 binned in commentary

Just over one month ago, I was quoted in an (excellent and well-written) article by Spencer Bailey of the Columbia Journalism Review, titled “Everyone’s the Wine Expert: Wine critics and bloggers, professional and amateur, are mixed up in a social media web.”

At the time, the CJR article was (rightfully) the subject of interesting and thought-provoking analysis by some very intelligent stewards of the wine world, most notably Tom Wark and Steve Heimoff.

I found myself quoted slightly out of context in the article, and somehow placed on opposite but connected poles of viewpoints with wine writer and educator Karen MacNeil, as if we were some sort of quantum-entangled pair of electrons in a physics experiment.  I’ll mention right now that I am not equating myself with Karen MacNeil in terms of wine writing – not even close; I’m simply pointing out the juxtaposition of our attributed viewpoints in the CJR article.

The article quotes Karen in raising an important viewpoint about wine writing; a concern discussed in detail at the Professional Wine Writers Symposium earlier this year, and one that I’ve pondered on many occasions myself:

“Maybe what blogging will do is undermine the whole idea that this is a subject that is rich and deep and requires some substantive thought and substantive knowledge,” says Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible and one in a small stable of writers that wine critic Robert Parker has recruited to contribute to his Web site, erobertparker.com. “If everybody’s an expert,” she says, “nobody’s an expert.

This was followed immediately by the opposing viewpoint, which was attributed to me despite the fact that it’s not an entirely literal record of my take on the issue:

Do we really need expert critics anymore? Many bloggers don’t think so, arguing that credentials are merely one part of what makes a great wine writer. How you say something—not simply who says it, they argue—is what’s most important. “Readers today have got to feel like the experts connect with them in some way,” says Joe Roberts, who runs the blog 1WineDude.com. “It’s not just, ‘Oh, this person’s got great credentials because they work for Wine Enthusiast.’”

So, over a month later, why am disturbing the tomb and (sort-of) resurrecting the discussion?  It’s the question “Do we really need expert critics anymore?” – the CRJ article proposes it, but then moves off of that topic rather quickly.  Which is a shame, because that’s where the real meat in this pie lies…

Read the rest of this stuff »

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Calling the Brett Police on the Loire

Vinted on June 24, 2010 binned in commentary

Earlier this week, I shared a brief twitter exchange with Wine Spectator senior editor James Molesworth, kicked off by a tweet about a Chinon tasting that I noticed on James’ twitter feed:

“That was a tough flight – I’m more tolerant than most, but someone needs to send the brett police to Chinon…”

Essentially, James and I briefly discussed the fact that Chinon (in France’s Loire Valley) would be making some lovely Cabernet Franc-based wines, if only the fruit in those wines wasn’t buried under the smell of barnyard.

Yes, I’m talking about brett.  Again.

I can’t help it, I don’t want my wine to smell like poop, okay?  There, I admit it!

And with the samples coming my way lately from Chinon and nearby Bourgueil, poop is exactly what I’m finding.  Here are a couple of examples that found their way onto the wine “mini-review” feed:

  • 07 Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon: With that much brett masking the red fruit, a more suitable name might be "Domaine Barnyard Baudry" $18 C- #
  • 06 Domaine Guion Cuvee Prestige (Bourgueil): Brambly red fruit & spice peeking out their heads from under a pound or so of fertilizer $14 C- #

James’ tweet really got me thinking that a) it’s NOT just me, and b) my samples might actually be indicative of the general quality of those regions’ wines.

Sorry to those who really dig Chinon, but I don’t subscribe to the belief that the concept of terroir extends to poop-aroma-inducing yeasts (and possibly dirty winemaking equipment).  When the day comes that winemakers deliberately cultivate the wild yeasts that induce those off-odors, and it can be proven scientifically, then I’ll stop calling it a flaw and instead refer to it as a poor winemaking decision.

But until then, it’s a flaw.

Cheers!

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