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Commentary | 1 Wine Dude - Page 62

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This World is Full of Crashing (Wine) Bores

Vinted on June 18, 2008 binned in commentary


Arthur Przebinda (of redwinebuzz.com) has an opinion piece published today in the L.A. TimesBlowback section. It’s well worth a few minutes of your busy time to read.

In his well-written rebuttal of Joel Stein’s amusing but ultimately misguided take on “wine snobbery”, Arthur contends that the language of serious oenophiles is not meant to be pedantic, and is actually no different in principal than that of a dedicated sports fan (or a passionate follower of any field):

“…the knowledge informed wine enthusiasts possess is no less meaningful, less interesting nor more ‘snobbish’ or difficult than the performance statistics in the head of a sports fan or the technical information rattled off by car aficionados.”

In other words, it’s just geek talk. And geek talk does not necessarily a snob make…

By the way, I don’t use the term geek pejoratively – in fact, I prefer to use the term “wine geek” to describe my own passion for wine (as do most of my wine industry buddies).

I love the company of wine geeks, just as I love the company of people who know way, way too much about the wood combinations of MTD basses. Because talking about wine, for me, is the apex of fun.

While I would rather leap off a 4 story building with my arms and legs bound and an anvil tied to my head than discuss fantasy baseball, you might love discussing fantasy baseball with your pals. I certainly wouldn’t ridicule you for doing it – and I’d expect you to show the same respect to us wine geeks.

I think where Arthur has this right, and where Stein is way off the mark, is that wine talk itself does not equate to snobbishness. As the famous Micahel Broadbent put it in Winetasting:

“If there is such a thing as a wine snob, he or she will have all the atributes of any other sort of snob: affectation and pretentiousness covering up the lack of everything that makes a person worthy of serious attention.”

Kind of like when Stein starts off an article with “When wine drinkers tell me they taste notes of cherries, tobacco and rose petals, usually all I can detect is a whole lot of jackass.”

Far worse than a snob in any case is a bore. The seriously smart Mr. Broadbent was onto this in a big way – also from Winetasting:

“A great expert can be a bore, particularly if speaking out of context, being repetitive, pedantic, opinionated… or merely intoing in a tedious, grinding, long-winded way. The wine bore is the person who speaks about wine when no one is inclined to listen, or to the exclusion of all else.”

Sounds right on the money to me, as it can easily be applied to any field of geek interest. Like wine, or fantasy baseball.

As Brit-pop music icon Morrissey sang, This World is Full of Crashing Bores. Wine bores. Fantasy Baseball bores.

And L.A. Times reporting bores.

Cheers!

(images: ewinetasting.com, viva-hater @ flickr.com, informationleafblower.com)

¿Cuál es la gran cosa con España? (Iberian Wines and You)

Vinted on May 28, 2008 binned in commentary

What’s up with Spain, anyway?

And for that matter, Portugal?

I mean… que pasa, dude??!?

Few wine regions are currently as exciting and vibrant as Spain and Portugal. Not too long ago, they were producing wines of specious quality, suffering from a similar Old World wine funk that once engulfed the (now impressive) wine regions like Chianti of Italy.

But now? Now the Iberian peninsula is kicking out quality wines all over the price-point spectrum. I’ve had killer Vinho Verde and Cava that have made me do a triple-head-take cartoon-style to verify that they really were that cheap. And don’t get me started on the screamin’ Priorats, aged Madeiras, and vintage Ports that I’ve tasted. Yowza!

Case in point – just so you don’t have to take only the Dude’s word for it:

“Spain continues to overperform… the number of truly fine Spanish wines continues to increase, with at least as much excitement at the lower end of the quality scale as at the higher end… Portuguese winemakers have now woken up to the tremendous potential that their country offers, making it a hotbed of innovation.” – Tom Stevenson, The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia

BUT… with all of that Iberian awesomeness… why the heck do I find it so hard to consistently recommend good Iberian wines at a decent price point?

I posed that question to the wine blogging world’s resident Iberian wine experts, Gabriella and Ryan Opaz of Catavino.net, when I took part in their 2+1 Iberian wine survey. I’ve reprinted their answer here, as I think it sheds some very interesting light on the marketing situation facing Iberian winemakers and wine distributors today (thanks, guys!). Enjoy…

Mi pregunta: Why are good Iberian wines so damn hard to find in the States? Spain & Portugal are poised to take the wine world by storm in terms of value for money, but most people’s experience with them comes down to seeing a $45 Priorat in their local wine shop and passing it on by, or picking up a $10 Rioja that is plonk and never touching Spanish wine again. Ironically, most of their wines offer incredible quality for the price, except the ones we get here. What’s up with *that*?

Joe, we wish the answer was easier to give. Truth is, there are a lot of Iberian wines available, although we believe the rush to exploit them has been slowed down by the strength of the Euro. Up until this year, everyone wanted a new Iberian wine for their portfolio and were willing to spend a lot of money to obtain them. Today, however, that same money doesn’t go as far. Coupled with this, people are afraid to see Iberian wine as more than “good value”. Many of our best value wines are spreading across the States and selling well, but in the end, it’s time to spend a bit more in order to diversify the availability.

Many of our best value wines are spreading across the States and selling well, but in the end, it’s time to spend a bit more in order to diversify the availability.

Then, there is the country specific problem, i.e. nationalism. Spain will never have the ability to market itself as a brand, no matter how much Wines of Spain tries and fails. There are too many distinct cultures and political divisions throughout Spain for this to work. Thus, Spain will always end up having fragmented marketing campaigns that will never fully co-operate to achieve good, unified branding.

Portugal, on the other hand, is set to overtake Spain, because at least they can have a “brand Portugal”, but sadly, a lot of their brand equity is tied up in the Port houses, and it’s not easy to convince them that they should help the smaller appellations. Additionally, Portugal has a confusing system of Appellations, where you have the highest “quality wine” category (DOC) falling below the wines of the “lower” regional wine category (VR). We don’t think it hurts the retail sector, per se, but it does hurt the in country’s organization and how it presents itself. The final factor that that weakens “brand Portugal”, is the overwhelming presence of the Vinho Verde, Douro and Alentejo regions. Until the smaller regions gain a little spotlight, these main three big guys will always overshadow the smaller ones.

Spain will always end up having fragmented marketing campaigns that will never fully co-operate to achieve good, unified branding.

Think of it this way. French wine is considered good, with wines of quality coming from Bordeaux, CDP, Burgundy, etc. Here, Rioja wine is great, which happens to be from Spain. Port wine is historic, but that is from the English (seriously people have told me this). Vinho Verde is fresh and vibrant. Cava is the “other sparkling wine”. Clearly, we’re fragmented. Portugal and Spain both need to be known for great wine. As you say, people see the $45 Priorat, and only associate it with the region, but never the country.

You can read the entire article over at Catavino.net.

For more on Spanish wines, you can check out The New Spain by John Radford.

Cheers!

(images: catavino.net, about.com, wine.pt)

Who Cares What We Think? (The Influence of the Internet in the World of Wine)

Vinted on May 21, 2008 binned in commentary, wine blogging, wine buying

So, really – who cares what I think?

Maybe not too many wine consumers.

According to a new Pew Internet study report, the Internet has a small influence on consumers’ buying decisions when compared to offline channels (like recommendations from salespeople, friends, etc.). That includes Internet sites like, oh, for example, 1WineDude.com.

Hmm… maybe I should be putting a little more time & effort into my off-line consulting

Anyway, according to the Pew report (which, to be fair, measured on-line impact on purchases of music, housing, and cell phones only):

“No more than one-tenth of buyers… said that online information had a major impact on their purchasing decision.”

Well… crap!…

And here I’ve been trying to steer wine consumers right and not realizing the whole time that nobody is listening (er – I mean, reading).

What’s also interesting (assuming you still might care what I think at this point) in the Pew report is the gap between those who actively contribute to the on-line dialog (by submitting reviews, for example), and those that simply consume the information:

“The large gaps between contributors and readers are understandable; not all consumers
are interested in lending their voice and many may be content to free ride on the efforts of
others. However, with the growth of broadband adoption at home and the buzz about
online participation in a Web 2.0 world, widespread activity in this arena might be
expected. Yet the data in this report do not show this; there is clearly a distance between the numbers of those who contribute and those who lurk.”

I can’t say I’m too surprised by that finding. In my experience, especially with people of my g-g-g-g-generation, I’ve found that there is a need to consume information via the Internet, but very little drive to create that information themselves.

Case in point: my friends will tease me about the number of websites that I maintain (official number: too many), and in the same conversation will ask me why I’ve not updated one of the websites in the past 3 days.

They want to consume – they just feel that it’s someone else’s place to author that content. Is this “The Architecture of Non-Participation?”

Deep down I’m a skeptical guy – which in my twisted in mind is being patriotic (hey, the U.S. was founded by a bunch of skeptics!) – but I gotta admit, deep down I am also feeling like wine is different.

I know, I know – wishful thinking, right?

But hear me out (if you still care what I think, that is): Buying wine is different than buying music or a cell phone, because wine is meant to be shared. By its nature it’s a social beast, to be enjoyed with others. It’s one of the few goods we can buy that actually becomes an event unto itself. A cell phone can be nifty but it’s probably not going to be a lubricant for life. And try sharing your cell phone with someone else without going totally insane.

If you take a look at social networking websites like the Open Wine Consortium, Corkd.com, and CellarTracker.com, you will find lots of wine consumers willing to share their views, reviews, and recommendations. I would find it hard to believe that those interactions don’t influence the wine buying decisions of consumers somehow.

And wouldn’t it be great if, instead of wine distribution monopolies, stuffy media mags, and 2 or 3 critics dictating nearly all of our wine purchasing choices, we actually influenced each other and helped each other out based on our own experiences of wines that we thought actually tasted great?

But then again, who cares what I think?


Cheers!

(images: thoomp.com, allposters.com, imagechef.com)

What Makes a Wine Great? Maybe Not What You Think!

Vinted on April 30, 2008 binned in commentary, winemaking, zen wine

What makes a wine great?

I don’t mean great as in “pretty tasty, I like it, it’s got a nice beat and I can dance to it” great.

I mean eye-popping, life-changing, “the heavens opened ancient mythology style” great.

That’s a tough question, even for those of us in the wine biz, because so few of us have actually tasted a truly great wine.

I’m going to give you my view of what makes a wine great – and it’s probably not what you’d think.

But before I do that, I need to set the record straight about how I think greatness is judged in the first place…

Winemaking is more art than science. If you disagree with me on this one, then I invite you to read my previous post on the subject.

If you still disagree with me, then you might want to skip the rest of this article entirely, because the rest of this post will be drawing parallels between winemaking and art. For those of you who couldn’t stand art class, I apologize in advance!

Personal preference doesn’t matter. I don’t like pilsner beer. Does that mean that all pilsners are no good, or that they can never achieve greatness? I love the works of Picasso. Does that mean all of Picasso’s art is great? When you stop to think about it, it’s obvious that greatness has nothing to do with any one individual’s personal preferences (not matter how highly that individual might regard his/her own opinion…).

The light red wines of Medieval times would no doubt seem watery and insipid to our Parker-ized palates.

Collective preference does matter. The collective consciousness of a given society and its era in time does matter when it comes to greatness. This is borne out time and time again in art history – and in the annals of wine history as well. If you flip through the pages of Ancient Wine, or the superb Story of Wine, you will learn that the wine of the ancient Greeks and Romans likely would be too cloyingly sweet for our tastes today. The light red wines of Medieval times would no doubt have seemed watery and insipid to our Parker-ized palates. Times make the society; and societies make the collective decision on greatness.

Material matters – but not that much. Is a Picasso painting “greater” than a Picasso sculpture, just because the medium is different? Probably not. In wine, while some grapes (such as Concord) may never make truly great wine, it’s pure folly to discount any one of the “noble” grape varieties when it comes to greatness – all of them are capable of making a great wine. Unless you mixed them altogether. That would probably suck.

Is a Picasso painting “greater” than a Picasso sculpture, just because the medium is different?

Nature matters – and so does nurture. Old World winemakers will tell you that terroir – the nature and place from whence a grape came – is the determinant of whether or not the resulting wine can be great; the winemaker’s job is to interfere as little as possible with the natural process. New World winemakers will tell you that it is trough savvy vineyard practices and the use of modern technology in the wine cellar that greatness is achieved. They’re both right – start with a great pedigree, and finish with great care, and a wine may just achieve greatness.

So how can we measure a wine’s “greatness?”

In The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil offers 5 criteria that can be used to determine if a wine is great. Her take is as good as any other, so I’ll share a synopsis of it here:

  1. Distinct varietal character - a wine exemplifies the true characteristics of its grape(s)
  2. Integration – the wine’s components (alcohol, acidity, fruit, etc.) are harmonious
  3. Expressiveness – the aromas & flavors are clear & focused
  4. Complexity – like an artwork, the wine keeps you coming back, discovering more nuances each time
  5. Connectedness – the wine embodies qualities that link it to the specific place where it was made.

Not a bad list at all. I think it’s missing an important element, however. To me, the most important.

So I’d like to add something to Karen’s fantastic list: Great wine is like great art, or a peaceful meditation, or even a great life lived to its potential with humility and true grace.

Great wine is a Mystery.

By mystery, I don’t mean a problem to be rectified, a secret to be revealed, or a puzzle to be solved. I mean a Mystery like the seat of human consciousness in the brain, the origin of life, the feeling of love, and the nature of pure being.

Great wine is a true Mystery, because it is greater than the sum of its parts in a way that synthesizes our mental, physical, and spiritual selves; connecting us to ourselves, to each other, and to a place and time, and to the earth. The greater the wine, the less likely it is that any words will be capable of adequately describing the experience.


Great wine is a tiny miracle of the universe that cannot ever be fully explained.


Now, before you all start sending me lava lamps, crystals, or patchouli, remember the words of Albert Einstein – “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.

Which one would you pick?

Cheers!

(images: winefront.com.au, clevelandart.org, restaurantlacaravella.com, macedonian-heritage.gr)

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