Your Next Wine Mag (Only Serious Geeks May Apply)

Vinted on September 15, 2008 binned in wine publications

WARNING: This is a post for serious wine geeks only.

I’m not joking around. Here’s a test: If the concept of whether or not small doses of Brettanomyces should be considered a wine flaw or not doesn’t excite you, then you might want to skip out on this post.

Because I’m about to extol the virtues of a relatively new wine magazine that takes this stuff – wine – very seriously, because I am totally digging this mag. right now.

The background: A few weeks ago, I published a short article on wine mag. recommendations. Phil Vogels, Business Manager for the magazine Sommelier Journal, contacted me after he read that post, because he thought I might be interested in what SJ had to offer. After a bit of e-mail conversation, Phil sent me a few issues to glance through – no strings attached, of course… I wouldn’t want to offend any long-standing wine industry types (cough… steveheimoff… cough… tomwark… COUGH!) by violating any of ye olde silent and unwritten sacred oaths of journalistic integrity, for sooth I forswear, etc., etc., etc.

I asked Phil about SJ magazine’s backstory. “Our background is interesting. Our company has published a monthly Orthodontic journal for 40 years now, the Journal of Clinical Orthodontics, which was begun by an orthodontist with a journalism background.”

Uh… orthodontics? What?!!?? Braces don’t exactly strike me as interesting… NOT off to a good start….

Our Editor has been the Managing Editor for many years of JCO, and started to get more and more into wine starting around ten years ago. In 2006 he took one of the intensive courses at the CIA in Napa, and while he was there, he realized that there are lot of people in the business who are very serious about their education. So he asked around and also realized that there was not a publication in this niche.”

Also not good. I didn’t have high hopes. Anyway, I’ve since devoured several issues of Sommelier Journal and as far as I’m concerned, I was way wrong on my initial assessment – SJ kicks the crap out many of the established, stodgy, dinasour wine mags. with snarky and negative senior editorial staff (cough… winespectator… cough… jamessuckling… COUGH!).

If it sounds like I have an agenda, it’s because I do. Personally, I think that subscribing to mags. like Wine Spectator, and then following their wine ratings religiously, for most wine lovers is a total waste of time and money. In fact, in my personal experience, giving too much weight to wine ratings and accepting the view that wine is a snobbish pursuit will set your wine learning back years. Wine was not meant to be rated to the point it is now – it’s approachable and is meant to be enjoyed.

Which is why I dig SJ – they actually write about wine. They assume a high level of wine knowledge, but in their accessible writing tone they absolutely do not care HOW you got that knowledge. Make no mistake, this is a trade mag. BUT… I think serious wine geeks who are NOT in the wine trade would also dig SJ. Why? Because the topics they cover simply ROCK – take for example, their series on wine faults. I love that kind of stuff, because I’m a total wine geek.

The best part is their view on ratings. This is how Phil put it: “We do not do ratings, as our research showed that they were not of interest to our core audience. However, I think many serious consumers also aren’t as interested in ratings, the in-depth tasting notes we provide give a good sense of the wine without attaching a numerical value to it. We take this seriously enough to deliberately obfuscate the one place in the magazine where wines are scored, the tasting panel, where our Snapshot graph is designed to give the group consensus on the wines without giving you numerical rankings. So we don’t do a large section in the back of the issue every month where we give a rundown of wines we have tasted, all of the notes are integrated into the articles, except for the Editorial Board Hot Picks which appear in the Notebook section each month.”

Amen, brother!

Are the reviews perfect? Of course not – especially when they get into “round table” tasting notes mode, where the uber-palated MWs wax philosophic about the wines they’re sipping. For me, if I’m not there participating, this puts me quickly into sleep mode (at some point, reading about wine tasting feels like learning how to french kiss by studying a diagram). I will give them recovery points for the tasting summaries of the wines, however, since these quickly capture the salient points without being dull. You won’t find any winery advertising in the mag (not yet anyway), and it hope it stays that way because it suggests a high credibility level in their reviews.

I also dig the creds. for their editorial board (imagine that… a wine mag. with actual Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine on the editorial staff… why other mags. don’t do more of this I will never understand…), except for that slacker Alder Yarrow, who doesn’t have any official creds – apart from founding wine blogging in the first place! (Just kidding, Alder… who loves ya, babe!).

A major advantage of our magazine is that it is heavily freelance based, which allows to use a variety of different writers,” adds Phil. “Our perspective is also a little different than the other wine magazines in what we try to communicate about the wines we cover. Since we are a trade magazine for the restaurant industry we take a more food oriented approach, frequently trying to communicate what the wine will be like with food and what foods it can pair with in our notes.”

With their board, you’d expect the focus to be squarely on wine, and you’d be right. “
Our in-house editorial team is composed of journalists who know how to write and how to edit. This background gives us the flexibility to bring in the perspectives of non-professional writers who still have important things to contribute without sacrificing the quality of the publication. Unlike Wine Spectator, we don’t do lifestyle stories, so no travelogues, cooking advice, resort guides or car advertisements… no gimmicks, no content designed to widen our advertising base, just wine and industry knowledge and opinions,” says Phil.

Amen, squared!

Speaking of Wine Spectator, I asked Phil if he thought that, given their recent restaurant awards scandal, SJ was poised to kick WS in the jimmy, give it a wedge, and steal its lunch money & markey share (OK, maybe I didn’t use those exact words).

We know that the restaurant awards program is designed to further the appreciation of wine in restaurants across the country, a goal with which we are happy to see someone attempting to achieve. Anything Wine Spectator can do to make their program the best it can be can only be beneficial to the restaurant wine community as a whole and we wish them continued success as they tweak their program in the future.

I’ll take that as a “Yes“!



September Wine Events!

Vinted on September 13, 2008 binned in pennsylvania, wine industry events, wine tasting

It’s that time of month again… time to hip you Philly-area peeps onto some excellent wine-related events coming up this month!

First up are two wine & food pairing events in West Chester, PA. I will be trying to get my butt to these events – hope to see YOU there!


Tuesday, September 16
at Doc Magrogan’s in West Chester, PA
from 6-8pm, $35

  • Tuna Thai Chili Glaze with Seaweed Salad and Wasabi Sauce with Banyan Gewurztraminer
  • Smoked Salmon Quesadilla with Goats Cheese with Piko Sauvignon Blanc
  • Blackened Seafood Cannelloni with Tomato Salsa with Evohe Garnacha
  • Roast Pork with Port Wine Sauce and Toast with Hobo Cabernet Sauvignon

Space is limited, reserve now! Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House (West Chester PA), Ph: 610 429 4046,

more below…


Thursday, September 25
at Blush in Bryn Mawr, PA
from 6-8pm, $45

The food menu is being created but the following wines will be poured:

  • Banyan Gewurztraminer
  • Optima Chardonnay
  • Evohe Garnacha
  • Folk Machine – The Long Drive (Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Valdigue, Madera Syrah)

Plus, Blush is offering: 10% off any purchase graciously extended to any guest wishing to dine with us or relax at the bar after the event. Space is limited, reserve now! Blush, 24 North Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, Phone: 610-527-7700,


Also happening this month: the next twitter taste live event, at 7PM on September 18th (click through for my take on the TTL events)! I will be joining the hosts,, LIVE (along with some other east coast wine bloggers) at Wine 2.0 in NYC for the event. Head on over to the recently new-&-improved for the skinny. Check it!


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 (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!



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!


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