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Flying back to the States from the U.K. this past weekend, visions of Steelers touchdown passes dancing in my head, something occurred to me.
Actually, a few things occurred to me:
- Flying West into the sunset (or East into a sunrise) at several thousand feet is a visual treat of unmatched proportions, with the cloud horizon fading gently from burning orange to pink, purple, blue, and finally the star-speckled obsidian black of space. Sort of like the visual equivalent to the flavors in a glass of sublime red wine.
- Business and First class aside, the wines offered on most airlines totally suck.
At least, this has been my experience.
Not that I haven’t had decent wine while flying in an aircraft – it’s just that I’ve onl had decent wine while traveling in First or Business class.
What I don’t quite understand is, given the proliferation of very good wine at very low prices, why the stock isn’t better. Just because those in coach class are resigned to the fact that they will be herded around like sky-bound cattle doesn’t mean that they want to drink like sky-bound cattle.
Not that I’m 100% sure exactly what wine a sky-bound bovine would drink… but let’s just agree that it probably wouldn’t be a discriminating choice, ok?
International carriers seem to have a leg up (glass up?) in the area of better-than-average in-flight wine offerings.
The venerable UK wine icon Jancis Robinson had been making wine picks for British Airways. Interestingly, some of the best wine choices available mid-flight are offered by airlines operating from countries that are not known for their wine – or so say the results of a 2007 wine competition by Global Traveler (which, also interestingly, only covered Business Class). Tops in that group were Taiwan’s EVA, Thai Airways International, and Gulf Air (from the Kingdom of Bahrain). Not exactly powerhouses on the world winemaking stage (at least not yet).
Still, it’s not all gloom and doom (and plonk), I suppose. Canadian wine writer Natalie McLean has detailed some of the better in-flight wine options offered (mostly on international long-haul flights), and last year the much maligned US Airways upgraded their wine list.
What’s YOUR experience? Have you had more plonk or more perfection a mile high?
(images: travel.webshots.com, tonyrogers.com, popsop.com, tinnong24h.com)
Now this is interesting. Well, interesting to me, anyway:
Venerable Internet tech. news site TechCrunch recently profiled Snooth.com (I’m an affiiate, so it caught my eye), detailing its growing popularity, and its impressive ability to secure angel funding during a very dank, dark, and dastardly economic climate. Getting featured on TechCrunch is newsworthy enough in and of itself, and the whole event garnered the attention of Kaz & Randy at WineBizRadio.com. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting (I say “chat” because he’s British) with Snooth.com founder Philip James on a few occasions, and he is a generally approachable and nice fellow, so Snooth’s success has been fulfilling to witness from a distance.
Apparently, according to TechCrunch and Snooth.com itself, Snooth.com is now the largest and fastest growing (in terms of website visits) wine community website. SNooth is now even bigger than Wine.com, which lacks the social media aspects of Snooth, and is still battling perception issues from over a year ago when they arguably put their own interests well above those of wine consumers and retailers.
What I found most interesting about the recent Snooth.com lovefest was not Snooth’s success, but how the website has been classified.
TechCrunch called it “a social wine review site.”
While this is certainly true, it’s not the complete picture.
Folks, let’s be clear: Snooth is in the business of selling wine. I know that it says on their home page that they don’t sell wine. And they don’t – not directly. But the fact is that they are in the business of getting wine into your hands, through retailers whose selections are featured in their search results.
And they do it well enough – and integrate it so well with the best aspects of social wine networking (sharing reviews and recommendations) – that they are seeing huge success during a time when being relevant on the Internet at all means being involved in social networking.
Snooth.com is not the Future of Internet wine sales – it’s the Present. If you want to sell wine on-line (despite the headache introduced by arcane and unconstitutional state-run alcohol distribution monopolies getting in your way), then you’d better well understand the model that Snooth.com is quietly (well, not so quietly now I suppose) perfecting.
The King (wine.com) is dead. Long live the King (Snooth.com)!
The Journal of Wine Economics has just published a study authored by Robert T. Hodgson titled An Examination of Judge Reliability at a major U.S. Wine Competition. The reported findings should make the fodder for about 10,000 wine blog articles over the next few weeks.
The study tracked the ability of wine competition judges to replicate the scores that they gave to wines (during blind tasting competition) at the California State Fair. The study found that (emphasis is mine):
…judges were perfectly consistent… about 18 percent of the time. However, this usually occurred for wines that were rejected. That is, when the judges were very consistent, it was often for wines that they did not like…
Let the blood-letting commence!
I fear that the media will take hold of this and start to sound the death knell for the ability of so-called experts to taste and rate wines (again), or use it to shake up an already arguably unfavorable view that wine appreciation and competition is the height of snobbery.
Neither are true, and this study does little to bolster either point. Why? Because wine tasting is, at its heart, heart a subjective exercise.
The study is clear on its intentions, which was not to shake up the world of wine competition, but to “provide a measure of a wine judge’s ability to consistently evaluate replicate samples of an identical wine. With such a measure in hand, it should be possible to evaluate the quality of future wine competitions using consistency as well as concordance with the goal to continually improve reliability and to track improvements associated with procedural changes…”
To understand why this study doesn’t ring so true with me, I need to give you a little detail on the mechanics of the study:
When possible, triplicate samples of all four wines were served in the second flight of the day randomly interspersed among the 30 wines. A typical day’s work involves four to six flights, about 150 wines… The judges first mark the wine’s score independently, and their scores are recorded by the panel’s secretary. Afterward the judges discuss the wine. Based on the discussion, some judges modify their initial score; others do not. For this study, only the first, independent score is used to analyze an individual judge’s consistency in scoring wines.
In summary: the judges weren’t consistent when faced with tasting hundreds of wines in a day, and there revised scores (based on panel discussion – which can have a huge impact on how you would evaluate a wine) weren’t used.
If the study proves anything, I think shows that trying to judge hundreds of wines in a day is a first-class non-stop ticket to palate fatigue, even for experienced wine judges.
Now that I think about it, blind tasting is so notoriously difficult that I give the judges in this study credit for being consistent almost 20% of the time. That would be a respectable hitting percentage in baseball (not sure… I don’t follow baseball actually)…
While the media may latch onto this one, the study hinted that there is some modicum of possible salvation for the madness surrounding wine competitions in general – not by way of wine judges, but by way of the ultimate judges of wine: the Consumer.
…a recent article in Wine Business Monthly (Thach, 2008) conducted as a joint
effort by 10 global universities with specialties in wine business and marketing found that consumers are not particularly motivated by medals when purchasing wine in retail stores. If consumer confidence is to be improved, managers of wine competitions would be well advised to validate their recommendations with quantitative standards.
Interesting conclusion. And a hopeful one.
(images: legaljuice.com, wine-economics.org)
With the recent review I penned for WCDish.com, I’ve had restaurant wine lists on the brain lately.
Which means that this post will likely be ill-timed, given the dearth of restaurant-goers in an economy that is wading knee-deep in layoff announcements. Oh well – timing was never one of my strong suits.
Anyway, as a semi-educated wine geek, I fully appreciate that I might approach a restaurant wine list in a slightly different way than the average diner, in that I might have a deeper knowledge of what the foreign word mean, or what the wine is supposed to taste like from region XYZ.
Which is not to say that I think I’m smarter than the average restaurant-goer; quite the contrary, as I can tell you that 90% of them will be able to calculate an appropriate tip faster than I can (I like words – math… not so much). It just means that I’m probably geekier about wine than the average restaurant-goer.
But… at the restaurant table, while I may have more trouble with tip calculation due to my mathematically-challenged brain, my wine list perusal goal is no different than the average restaurant goer’s: find a good bottle of wine at a decent price that will go well with dinner.
Which is why I think that huge-ass restaurant wine lists suck.
Tyler over at Dr. Vino recently posted an article about a Tampa restaurant (Bern’s) that might be of interest to those who will be traveling to Tampa to watch the STEELERS trounce the Cardinals in Superbowl XLIII. Bern’s boasts 6,800 selections and more than 500,000 bottles. I don’t even want to see that wine list.
For me, dozens of pages detailing hundreds of choices of wine amounts to two things:
- A brief curiosity as I look up something geeky say softly, to no one in particular, “Wow. They have a bottle of 1925 Chateau Légendaire Maison Pompeux that costs more than my car…” (this might have appeal to boring wine snobs, but if that’s your clientelle then I am probably not coming back to your restaurant anytme soon)…
- …that quickly becomes a big distraction. If I am at a dinner with a group of like-minded wine geeks, then by all means bring on the wine cellar curiosities. Chances are that I’m not, however, and a huge wine list distracts from the dinner conversation and enjoyment that I should be having while I try to reason with the weighty tome of vino choices.
And the wine geeks out there will appreciate that it’s always you that has to pick the wine – and the larger the wine list, the faster it will get tossed your way by the other dinner guests.
Here’s an example:
A few years ago I took a trip to Vegas (baby, Vegas) and caught up with some old college friends of mine. We decided to grab dinner at Aureole, the restaurant with over 800 bottles of wine, which are stored in a glass tower and retrieved by babes on hoists.
The wine list is a tablet PC with a touch screen, with which you can browse and search the wine offerings. Sounds like a time saver, but it turned into exactly the same type of curiosity / distraction. While trying to settle on one of the 800+ bottles, I spent too much time looking at the bottles of 1925 Chateau Légendaire Maison Pompeux* that cost more than my car, and not enough time enjoying the conversation with my friends.
And after all, what’s better – oohing and ahhing over a list of stuff you can’t afford to drink, or drinking something good and sharing it with friends?
In my book, there’s no contest.
Kind of like there’s no contest in the upcoming Superbowl…
(images: picasa/chung, m-kerho.net)
* – Not a real producer. At least, not that I’m aware of, anyway…