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Commentary | 1 Wine Dude - Page 55

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Old and In The Way?: The Future of Wine Criticism

Vinted on September 12, 2008 binned in commentary

I just got through a ridiculously well-written article by Mike Steinberger, titled “Every one a critic: the future of wine writing” and available for download at CellarTracker.com (or in print in Issue 19 2008 of World of Fine Wine magazine). The man just has mad writing skills!

In the article, Steinberger discusses the factors that made Robert Parker such a force in the fine wine market, and how his retirement (Parker is now in his 60s) will leave a void in the world of wine criticism.

Steinberger offers the Internet voices of wine criticism as a potential for filling that void, since it is unlikely that anyone after Parker will have the clout, work ethic, and financial independence to take Parker’s place (especially considering the outrageous prices that top-scoring First Growth Bordeaux and Grand Cru Burgundy can fetch nowadays – upwards of $1000 USD per bottle in some cases), and the Internet provides very low barriers to entry.

What was interesting for me was what Steinberger didn’t touch on in his excellent article…


For starters, history has shown us that when you have a virtual dictator / enlightened despot (depending on your viewpoint) wielding such individual control and influence, as is the case with Parker, they hand-pick their successor in order to ensure the orderly hand-over of power, and to keep their vision alive. The followers, well, they follow. Think Putin in Russia, for example. So isn’t it still possible that Parker may groom someone from within his own ranks at the Wine Advocate to take his place on the throne of Bordeaux wine critique?

I think we’d find that many Bordeaux, Rhone, and California wineries, and the Wine Advocate faithful, all of whom sometimes follow Parker’s scores with almost religious fervor, would line up behind that pick with relatively little resistance.

The other thing that Steinberger didn’t explore was the age range of the core Wine Advocate / Parker / Wine Spectator audience. I’d imagine (though I’ve no means to confirm this), that this group is aging right along with Parker. This isn’t a dig on aging wine aficionados or critics (despite my arguably provocative post title); it’s just an acknowledgment that there is currently a baby boomer generation driving the wine market, and that generation does things differently than the next one will when it comes to buying wine.

From Steinbergers article: “Certainly, the leading [wine] publications look to be in fairly ruddy health. Wine Spectator is a thriving franchise, and there is no reason to think this will change anytime soon.”

Is this really true…? I wonder if the generation that comprises the Wine Spectator faithful isn’t already being replaced in the marketplace by a new generation that expects to get their information from a broad range of expertise, validated by real-world experiences and real-time recommendations, and expects to get that information instantly via global social connections made over the Internet.

Call me crazy, but I don’t see Wine Spectator, even with their on-line presence, fitting that bill…

One thing’s for sure: Things are gonna get interesting from here!

Cheers!
(image: tralfaz-archives.com)

Who’s Afraid of Big Bad Brett?

Vinted on September 11, 2008 binned in commentary, wine tips, winemaking


If you’re talking Brett as in Brett Favre, then not me – I’m a Steelers fan, baby!

If you’re talking Brett as in the yeast Brettanomyces, then that’s a different story entirely. Lots of wine folks are scared of that puppy. And with pretty good reason – chances are that if you’ve ever had red wine, you’ve run into Brett. And unlike the Steelers rushing, hurrying and sacking the other big, bad Brett, when you run into brettanomyces, it’s you that could be the one on the wrong side of that meeting…

The trouble with brett is that it’s not all bad (although the jury is still out in the wine world on this one). In small enough amounts, brett creates compounds that potentially add interesting complexity to a wine, with smokey, spicy elements (yum!). Too much brett, and you have reduced fruit aromas, and wine reminiscent of medicine, Band-Aids, and stinky barnyards (yuck!)


Like a boring dinner guest, brett is notoriously difficult to get rid of. (Crap, did I just end a sentence in a preposition?). It’s been found lodged deep into the staves of new oak barrels (one of its favorite hideouts), to the point where no cleaning will ever get it out. And it can basically chill out in a dormant state for long periods of time until it finds food (in the wine) – and it doesn’t need much food to get its party started.

What’s a winemaker to do?

Well, there are plenty of cleaning techniques that help the situation, and some winemakers will carefully rack and test their wines at each stage of the winemaking process to minimize the impact of brett on their finished wines.

But there is something else that they can do to minimize brett. The trouble is, it goes against conventional marketing wisdom in the chase for high-scoring wines on the hundred-point wine scale!

They can harvest their grapes earlier.

According to a recent article on Sommelier Journal magazine, harvesting grapes earlier reduces the pH levels, which brett doesn’t like. Lower pH levels also help to make anti-brett initiatives (like using sulfer dioxide) more effective.

The trouble is, if you harvest earlier, your grapes can’t achieve the raisin-like ripeness and high alcohol extremes favored by some point-giving wine critics out there.

Just sayin’.

Reduce Band-Aid action, and increase the amount of lower-alcohol, elegant red wines available in the marketplace? Hmmm… I’m sooooo in on that, baby!
Cheers!
(images: maximumgrilledsteelers.com, vignaioli.it, jackstrawspizza.com)

Wine Studies, Sex, and the Art of Anticipation

Vinted on September 8, 2008 binned in commentary, wine appreciation

Or maybe that should be the Science of Anticipation…

Back in January (yes, I am just now getting around to this – hey, I’ve got a newborn at the house; what’s your excuse?), findings were published from a study that measured participant’s brain reactions to tasting wine. The trick: it was the same wine, but they were told that the wine was either cheap, or relatively expensive. Guess what – participants enjoyed the wine more when they were told it had a higher price.

With all the duping going on in the wine industry the past few weeks (including an embarrassing gaff for Wine Spectator, and the claim that wine bloggers – Dude included! – were duped by winery marketers), I thought it would be fun to revisit this little ditty, and cast a different light on it in lieu of recent events.

According to one article on the study findings:
“Contrary to the basic assumptions of economics, several studies have provided behavioral evidence that marketing actions can successfully affect experienced pleasantness by manipulating nonintrinsic attributes of goods.”

[ My translation: instead of telling you that the wine is "an everyday guzzler" or "as close to sublime perfection as humans are likely to reach," they just upped or lowered the price. ]

This struck me as totally odd (in terms of this being contrary to economic assumptions). I mean, aren’t we talking about something that marketing types, hucksters, clever business folk, and seductresses have known for maybe hundreds of years? Not only does a higher price give you the cache factor of shelling out for “the best,” setting a higher price does something else just as important:

It gives your brain the opportunity to indulge in anticipation of experiencing “the best.” Which is, I’d argue, an essential element in making a “good” experience – a meal, a movie, a date, a wine, and (especially!) sex – “great.”…


What studies like this one don’t mean is that you can’t tell the difference between wine that is pure plonk and wine that is superb. Almost anyone can do that, provided that they are willing to do a little bit of learning beforehand.

The studies don’t mean that all wines are created equal. In a lot of ways, the current wine market does set prices fairly, and you tend (with some exceptions, of course) to get what you pay for.

The studies also don’t mean that you need fancy-schmancy wine certifications, or advanced study under your belt, to appreciate wine. For that, you only need an open mind, patience, and the willingness to learn. Incidentally, these are the same things that you need to better appreciate a good meal, a movie, a date, and (especially!) sex.

I’m not sure what enlightenment we’re hoping to reach with all of this wine duping afoot, but I can tell you this: You know what they say about sex? ” When it’s good, it’s great. And when it’s bad, well, it’s still pretty good!”

The same applies to wine (and other great experience-givers) because, fundamentally, wine gives us pleasure, connect us together, and provide us the opportunity to open our minds a bit further than they were a few minutes before.

And if we indulge in a bit of anticipation to heighten the experience? From what I can tell, the most harm it might cause us is to think that the experience is a bit better than someone else thought it was.

That’s a trade-off I’d take any day of the week.

Cheers!

(images: .geocities.com/SoHo/Nook, danielpadilla.com)


Ethics and Wine Blogging (or "Ouch! I’ve Got a Neck Cramp From All This Navel-Gazing!")

Vinted on August 29, 2008 binned in commentary, wine industry events

Oooooooooooooohhhhh boy.

Seems I can’t go a week these days without getting embroiled in one wine blogging controversy or another.

Let’s see… how do I recap this so it’s not mind-numbingly boring for people who came here thinking they might be reading about wine?

See, apparently, that’s not what wine bloggers like to do anymore (I know… I didn’t get the memo, either!). Instead, they talk about themselves… which will be cool to do during the upcoming Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma, but isn’t so cool to do on wine blogs themselves.

Where readers come to, well, read about wine stuff.

And not to read about wine blogger navel gazing stuff.

But… in this case I will need to talk a bit about wine blogging because it actually involves YOU – the readers of wine blogs (I know this is difficult now… but someday, I think you’ll forgive me, and our relationship will grow stronger… and we’ll finally take that get-away-from-it-all trip to Vancouver tat we’ve been planning… just the two of us…).

Whoops. Sorry, got distracted.

Let’s recap: Regular 1WD dot com readers will recall that I was part of an innovative blogging experiment, headed up by Jeff over at GoodGrape.com, to be among a select group of bloggers to taste the innagural release of Rockaway Vineyard, a new allocated California Cab.

Apparently, a bunch of other wine bloggers didn’t like that.

Tom Wark (fermentation.typepad.com) and Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast (www.steveheimoff.com) in particular both questioned the ethics of the experiment participants for agreeing to write about Rockaway as a condition of taking part in the experiment (and receiving an advanced sample of the wine). Tim over at Winecast.net has a great summary of the whole thing, which you can check out here.

The funny thing is, no one who’s written about the ethics of the experiment has yet to validate their assumptions with either Rockaway or the participants.

Whoops…


I tried to clear things up on Tom’s blog in his comments, but let’s just say it ain’t easy convincing a group of green cheese lovers that the moon is made of rock. Even when you’ve got a sample stone in your hand.

For those of you who still care (sorry, I’m trying to make it as “non-boring” as possible), I actually have a Code of Ethics that’s been posted on my site for well over a year. As far as I can tell, it wasn’t violated by me taking part in this experiment. Sure, I agreed to write an article, but I agreed that with my editor (Jeff at Good Grape), not with a winery. And I didn’t see anything wrong in an editor stipulating receipt of an article as grounds for participation.

I mean…. DUUUUUUH…. wouldn’t a journalist get fired for consistently not producing articles for an editor by a deadline? If not, then I’ve changed my mind, and I really do want to be a journalist! Sounds like a sweet gig!

Instead of talking about ethics, maybe wine bloggers should be talking about Journalism 101 and Reading Comprehension? Or (egads!), wine?

Anyway – now you’ve got the background, and you’ve got my take, and you’ve got my Code of Ethics. And that is important, to me at least – I’m writing this blog because it’s fun, but mostly because I genuinely love sharing wine knowledge with you. I’m certainly not writing it for other wine bloggers (though they’re more than welcome to participate).

I trust that you’re smart people, and all-grown-up adults (at least, I hope so considering you’re reading a blog about an alcoholic beverage…), and therefore I trust that you can make up your own minds about my ethics.

Which reminds me…

THANK YOU to those who have contacted me with your words of encouragement and support. It’s literally kept me from hanging up my bloggin’ spurs these past couple of weeks. And for that, you have my (possibly non-journalistic and unethical) gratitude, always!

Cheers!
(image: calgarysun.com)

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