Earlier this month, I was a guest lecturer at a wine class for undergrads at Drexel University in downtown Philly. The class is taught by Jason Wilson (author of the very entertaining spirits book Boozehound and who somehow Id never met in Philly; it took a chance encounter at one of the Professional Wine Writers Symposium events in Napa for us to become friends)
Talk about flashbacks (but not those kinds of flashback!) – the impressive great court of Drexel’s Main Building and its serpentine staircases leading to the back classrooms reminded me in no small way of trying to find the Philosophy classroom at my alma matter’s (SJU) Barbelin Hall. I got the sense that a lot of 21-year-old students would’ve been very late trying to get to that Drexel class for the first time (and if you can make it back out after tasting ten-or-so wines without spitting… more power to you).
I was there to talk about the wine regions of Australia (which I’d recently visited), and taste the class through a sampling of wines from those locales, the theme of which, as I tried to summarize early in the likely eventuality that I’d completely lose control of the class later, was “in America we tend to treat French wine regions as if they’re continents apart when in reality you can drive between several of them in a couple of hours; but Australia we treat as one big dessert, when in reality their wine regions really are continents apart!”
Jason has published a fun and insightful take on the class – and on wine talk in general – over at Table Matters (a story in which I play the part of a Brett Nazi, though my reaction to the Bretty wine might have been a bit over-emphasized in that tale… or not, I was onto beer by then, so who knows…).
Scanning the faces of those kids (I can call them “kids” now that I’m 40, right?), sitting in two rows against the long side of the cramped rectangular classroom, I got a microcosm of the East Coast wine drinking future. Some stared pretty intently, offering quiet comments when a topic or wine really struck them. Others were yawning (hey, Wine Appreciation is a better elective than “Math Models In Chemistry,” right?). And others were clearly having revelations about their own tastes and the at lovable madness that is the diversity of wine just within Australia itself.
None of them had any fear whatsoever of trying a new region, grape, or blend. None of them had any concern more pressing than the price point of each bottle ($12 and under seemed to be the realistic cut off for future purchases).
And none of them – not a single one – has ever followed the advice of a wine critic…
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IntoWine.com recently (at least I think it was recently, as their posts for reasons unknown to me aren’t dated) ran an interview with SF Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné (long-time readers will recall that roughly a year ago I was on a panel about writing better opinion pieces with Jon and the Wall Street Journal’s Lettie Teague, both of whom probably still in therapy trying to get over my inclusion; I’m kidding… I think…).
I’m not here today to dissect Jon’s responses (many of which ring true for me, and are worth a read because he’s a very, very intelligent guy), but one answer he gave to the IntoWine folks struck me as a bit odd. To the tape (emphasis is mine):
“The average consumer still feels intimidated by wine and wine-speak. Are publications like the Chronicle partly responsible for the prevalent feeling among consumers that wine is somehow beyond their comprehension?
If we’re going point fingers at the idea that wine is pretentious, let’s start with the spread of overpriced, mass-produced wine sold as an aspirational luxury. I’ll borrow a phrase from a conversation with a fellow writer a few days ago: You write up to your audience, not down. If sportswriters had to explain a two-point conversion every time they mentioned it, we’d all die of boredom. That’s not an excuse to fall into jargon. But there is no shortage of amateur wine criticism out there that doesn’t contribute to the conversation.”
The trouble for me is that I’ve got no idea what conversation Jon is talking about in that response.
It might be that there is a hidden wine conversation, one available only to a Romanée-Conti-sipping secret society of critics with wine review superpowers like UV vision that can detect the exact number of Brett, fruit, and mushroom particles floating around in a glass of Burgundy and determine at a glance if they are at an appropriate level. A secret society that meets in an underground lair at an undisclosed location (guarded by pools of sharks with lazer beams attached to their heads) and through joint nefarious consensus determines what wines will get the really high scores this year.
The bottom line is that this secret society might as well also be made up of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, because the real wine conversation is actually the one that the amateur critics are having. Or, I should say, it’s the thousands of real and virtual “water-cooler” conversations that the amateurs are having every day, all over the world…
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The topic is old news now, and while revisiting it runs the risk of sounding a late-to-the-party bell with overtones of “me, too!,” I do think I can offer you something new on the latest (and largest) piece of wine biz news.
I’m speaking of the news last week of uber-wine-critic Robert Parker passing on tasting/reviewing responsibilities for California wine to Antonio Galloni at The Wine Advocate. There have already been several takes on the news in blogosphere, with my faves coming from W. Blake Gray and Jeff Lefevere (both of whom do a stellar job of covering the big and small of the wine industry and provide thoughtful commentary on the potential ripple effects).
When the news broke, I was in Portugal where the Parker news wasn’t even news, presumably because The Wine Advocate doesn’t pay much attention to Portuguese table wines (or so it might be argued by the Portuguese table wine industry, anyway). So I was totally unaware of the announcement from Parker, or the ensuing coverage in the wine media, until I returned at the close of that work week.
Now, what’s to be said about Parker no longer covering CA wines that hasn’t already been said?
Well, as most of you out there will recall, I interviewed Parker not too long ago, and while that hardly qualifies as having a window into his soul, it might be just enough access to have formulated a different – and more cautionary – viewpoint into his recent decision…
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Welcome to the first installment of Going Pro – what (I hope!) will be a (very) long series chronicling my foray into making whatever-the-hell-it-is that I do here a professional (read: paying) endeavor.
Every Wednesday on 1WineDude.com, I’ll be writing about some aspect / story / triumph / tragedy related to taking my passion – connecting YOU with the experience of wine – full-time. I plan to do this every Wednesday until, well, until one or more of the following conditions have been met:
- I’ve “made it big” and no longer have time for the unwashed masses because I’m too busy cleaning my fleet of yachts.
- I can’t get Internet wi-fi reception from my cardboard box under the bridge.
- The articles have run their course and are no longer valuable (except to me as a means of therapy).
Okay… you’re right… number three will almost certainly never happen because I need all the therapy I can get. Anyway…
The inaugural post in this series is gonna be a loooong one… but I think you’ll find it worth the reading time commitment, and I hope you’ll be sufficiently moved to chime in with your thoughts.
I had a conversation with my friend Steve Heimoff about tasting preferences vs. wine ratings in the comments of a post last week, the topic of which had nothing whatsoever to do with tasting and rating wines (or, at least that’s what I thought when I wrote it, silly me!). That comment-convo seems pretty benign on the surface but it had some profound implications for me (probably because I ended up sort of talking to myself… more therapy… ok, maybe I need a drink…). Implications that get to the heart of how I taste and rate wines, which n part gets to the heart of what it means to Go Pro with wine.
Now, much to the surprise of a lot of people, none more so than myself, I’m now in the invigorating and strangely frightening position where my views / reviews on wines actually matter to some people. I’m the kind of guy who, literally to a fault, doesn’t want to let people down, and so I’ve had to take the position of rating and describing wines much, much more seriously in recent months – and I’d argue that this change in perspective is essential if you even want to start thinking about going pro when it comes to wine.
And since my approach to tasting is so dramatically different to what most of us are used to in the conventional wine press, it seemed a good place to start the Going Pro discussion…
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