Weirdness at the Wine Advocate

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 03-06-2014

DSC01964Early this morning, Robert Parker took a break from several weeks of traveling to post an update for his readers.

In a brief blurb about the Wine Writers Symposium, he wrote, “…Lisa and Jeb were there and later told me the tasting of Jon Bonné’s “new California” wines, assisted by Eric Asimov, was a disaster of showcasing largely emaciated, excessively acidic, hollow wines –apparently many of the attendees were turned off, wondering how wine writing could intentionally go down such a losing path.”

As readers asked for clarification, Wine Advocate editor Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW shared some quick notes:

Here are the wines as I recall them off the top of my head (forgive me if I get some of the wine details wrong): Chappellet 2012 Chenin Blanc (dilute, lacking perfume, simple, thin and abrubt); Abrente 2012 Carneros Albariño (neutral aroma, flavorless without vibrancy and texture…I wondered if they had actually planted Albariño); Massican 2012 White Wine Blend (a blend of mainly Ribolla Gialla with smaller proportions of Tocai Friuliano & Chardonnay. It was vaguely interesting for uniqueness-sake but not particularly exciting as a wine…fairly simple, tart and nondescript); a Pinot Grigio (can’t remember the name) with some residual sugar to give it texture and the illusion of fruit flavor…enough said.; Heitz Grignolino (this was touted as a red wine but looked like a rose and tasted something like an average quality Gamay); a really disappointing Cabernet Franc (again, I’ve forgotten the producer but I was truly disappointed with this austere, astringent, weedy example because I know Napa can produce great Cab Franc when it’s matched to a compatible site), Lagier Meredith 2011 Syrah (The wine of the tasting for me – a pleasant, cooler vintage style with a medium body and plenty of pepper and spice.) I seem to remember we finished with an under-ripe, hollow, hard, acidic and forgettable Cabernet Sauvignon that wasn’t even close to Napa greatness standards.

The actual lineup was as follows:

- 2012 Abrente Albariño
- 2012 Chappellet Chenin Blanc
- 2012 Massican Annia (46% Ribolla Gialla, 36% Friulano, 18% Chardonnay)
- 2011 Matthiasson White (56% Sauv Blanc, 20% Ribolla Gialla, 18% Semillon, and 8% Friulano)
- 2009 Heitz Grignolino
- 2011 Lagier Meredith Syrah
- 2011 Turley Wine Cellars Library Vineyard Petite Sirah
- 2010 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon

Jeb Dunnuck, who reviews wines from the Rhône Valley, Southern France, Washington, and Central & Southern California for Wine Advocate, also chimed in:

The whites were mediocre at best. Most were tart, hollow and under-ripe; one needed RS to keep it palatable. Eric Asimov even commented that one was not profound and quaffable… Nothing wrong with that, but the idea that that’s what Napa should strive towards is ridiculous. Reds were better (one weird, odd ball blend was a no go), with the 2011 Lagier Meredith Syrah showing well, but it’s far from their best vintage. Disappointing as a whole and I can’t imagine anyone left there thinking this is the direction Napa should be going.

I’m not sure where Perrotti-Brown had a Cabernet Franc or Pinot Grigio, but it wasn’t in that room. And I’m shocked that Dunnuck found the “weird, odd ball blend” so disappointing – it received a score of 94-96 in the May 2013 edition of the Wine Advocate.

I’d bet the bank that most attendees felt it was one of the strongest panels of the week. It was certainly where we had the most interesting wines. And the discussion was fantastic. Jon and Eric talked at length about the history of the California wine industry – walking attendees through where California’s been, where it is, and where they think it’s going.

Parker’s Remarks: Memorable but Disappointing

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 02-25-2014

Parker at WWS14(Editor’s note: Last week, Robert Parker spoke to attendees at the annual Wine Writers Symposium. Alder Yarrow has put up a video and Richard Jennings has published a rough transcript together with his thoughts. I’ve published a transcript of Parker’s response to smart questions posed by Tony Lawrence and Jon Bonné. More snippets will be published in the coming days. But here’s my commentary.)

“I want all of you to succeed.”

When Robert Parker spoke at the annual Wine Writers Symposium last Wednesday, he opened with these words.

While he meant well, such words would have been better suited to, say, the Wine Bloggers Conference. Or a high school English class.

Eric Asimov, Ray Isle, Jon Bonné, and Karen MacNeil sat in the audience. As did Jay McInerney, one of the nation’s greatest living novelists. So did about a dozen magazine editors. As did Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Parker’s boss.

This was the audience. Just 62 writers participated in the symposium. Those who follow wine would have recognized more than half the room. So while his intentions were good, the comment was stunningly patronizing.

As Parker continued, he was personable, humorous, and disarming at times. But over and over again, he came off as divisive and dismissive. He said nothing to convince the crowd he’s more thoughtful than the stereotype he’s created for himself.

Although the appearance was certainly memorable, it was disappointing.

Throughout his remarks, Parker lamented the “myth” that’s evolved about him and his palate and called for more “civility” in the discourse about it. But only once did he admit that he “sometimes overdoes it and gets carried away.”

Remember: This is the critic who praised a Philadelphia BYO in 2010 by celebrating the fact that there wasn’t “a precious sommelier trying to sell some teeth enamel removing wine with acid levels close to toxic, made by some sheep farmer… and made from a grape better fed to wild boar than the human species.”

This is the critic who, just last month, lambasted “a vociferous minority,” who are “perpetrating nothing short of absolute sham on wine consumers.” The sham, which celebrates lower alcohol wines, is a “phony anti-California, anti-New World movement by Eurocentric, self- proclaimed purists.”

In discussing this particular screed, Parker told symposium attendees he wrote it “to encourage conversation on the subject… because we need to discuss it civilly.” He also cited this particular piece to tell the crowd that he doesn’t “like absolutists” – moments after telling us “truth” and “history” are on his side.

The lack of self-awareness would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

With retirement so obviously on the horizon, wine writers — and consumers — expect more from Parker.

We expect more because of the examples set by similar luminaries.

Look at Jancis Robinson. Late last year, Robinson celebrated the “democratization of wine” with the following: No longer are wine critics and reasonably well-known wine writers like me sitting on a pedestal, haughtily handing down our judgments. Nowadays, our readers can answer back, they can throw stones at us, they can make up their own minds. That’s altogether a lot healthier.”

We also expect more because Parker tells us to.

In his opening, he praised the “good talent” that exists in the wine writing community and noted that today’s writers have “infinite possibilities.” Just before taking questions, he said, “it’s sort of a shame that when I look around this room, it’s just a tiny, tiny number of people I’ve ever met, which is sort of sad.”

Parker paints himself as an elder statesman – and acts like he wants to fill that role. But over and over again, he undermines that portrait.

At the symposium, Eric Asimov, Ray Isle, Jon Bonné, Karen MacNeil, Jay McInerney, and others took part in all the events. They were eager to hang out with younger, less accomplished writers. Yet Parker vacated the symposium the moment his time slot ended.

Early in his remarks, Parker described his personal philosophy as “live and let live.” He concluded with an admission that “we’re much closer together in what we believe than what separates us.”

If only he could live up to his words.

Sick of Dumb Infographics? Me Too.

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 12-03-2013

I adore infographics. By turning complex data into easy-to-understand visual representations, they convey information quickly and clearly. Plus, infographics can easily be shared, tweeted, and posted on Facebook. It’s no surprise that infographics so often go viral.

Yet, as global wine brands and public relations firms push them out with increasing frequency, I’ve noticed a surge in the number of dumb infographics. They’re not dumb in that I don’t personally learn anything new; they’re dumb in that they’re rife with errors.

Check out the “Periodic Table of Wine.”

periodic table of wine

This one is completely nonsensical. At first glance, it’s a list of grapes. But then, you’ll notice that several regions are listed, as well. Like Beaujolais (just a few “grapes” away from Gamay); Chianti (right next to Sangiovese); and Rioja (far away from Tempranillo). The white “grapes” are just as bad (white Zinfandel is such a yummy grape). And when you’re stranded in the desert, don’t forget to bring some brandy. You might get thirsty.

This infographic was shared on Facebook by Rioja Wine. What were they thinking?

“How to Make Red Wine,” shared by Wines of South Africa, is even worse!

WOSA - How to Make Red Wine

Apparently, making wine requires the addition of yeast, nutrients, acid, oak chips, and Campden tablets. Only tannin additions are optional. Is this really the message Wines of South Africa wants to promote? Supremely stupid.

Have you spotted any dumb infographics? If so, share them!

Food Friendly? Just Add Salt

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 11-25-2013

saltEverywhere I go, people are suggesting thoughtful wine and food pairings. But I’m rarely impressed.

Don’t get me wrong, wine is the clear choice to pair with food in general. Sorry, beer geeks — only the wine-food combination is capable of producing that magical, transcendent Gestalt, a new whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Beer, on the other hand, is too often like another meal.

That being said, this elusive transcendence is relatively rare and very difficult to predict or define. And yet, like the Supreme Court said about pornography, “you know it when you see it.”

Ultimately, I’d like to devise a practical technique to help onemake an educated guess about whether a wine has the potential to create a perfect pairing. But first, I want to make a semantic distinction between a technically correct pairing — where the beverage serves as a perfect accompaniment and elevates the dining experience — and a pairing that somehow intensifies both the food and the wine, creating an altogether different, elevated experience.

The former is common; the latter is rare.

While the experience is rare, we can begin to map out this secret world of taste transcendence through trial and error.

For instance, perhaps there is no more reliable source of this experience than oysters and Muscadet (preferably from superior wineries, like my personal favorite Domaine de la Pépière). While a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire will do in a pinch, I guess, nothing does the trick like a sublimely oceanic Muscadet — hands down the world’s most underrated wine.

By comparison, while it may be true that any decent Cabernet Sauvignon elevates a steak, and sometimes produces the more rarefied 1+1=3 experience, it doesn’t reliably produce this experience. As much as I might enjoy the occasional summertime combination of Napa Cab and grilled steak, an aged Bordeaux will more reliably produce this experience.

Of course, this is the same thing as saying Old World wines more reliably create symphonic wine-food pairings. And that’s the first principle. Don’t get me wrong, a Cab and a steak is always at least good — but we’re making a distinction here between good and correct and something more than that.

The fact that Old World wines pair better with food is only a principle and not a law — a broad principle at that, if reliability is the goal. For example, a savvy, technical pairing of a relatively robust Leitz German Riesling with David Chang’s mostly spicy-porky creations during a recent meal at Ssam Bar in New York was a disappointment. The pairing “worked,” of course, just fine. But that kind of yeoman’s wine/food experience wasn’t what I was after.

On the other hand, I was shocked when a cured chorizo sausage I brought back from an Andalusian mountain village dazzled with a totally unplanned sip of leftover, entry-level Trimbach Riesling. In retrospect, perhaps, I shouldn’t have been so shocked. After all, Alsace wines are known to have a certain affinity with pork.

(I don’t think any wine performs as well with food as consistently as does Trimbach. Can we call that the second principle?)

So outside of the fact that we are more likely to find it with Old World wines, what, really, do we know about this elusive perfect pairing? Although the science of taste provides a few clues about the conditions of this experience, I find this science mostly uncompelling; taste is opaque, after all, and any explanation of “it” will have to come from descriptions of the experience of “it.” I think we can better begin to develop knowledge about this experience through phenomenological investigation and first-hand accounts. So given that, here is what I think we know most: We know when we experience “it” because, suddenly, a sip of the wine perfectly recalls the food, even well after we’ve finished eating it. It turns out our palate has a perfect, photographic memory, and wine has the ability to continuously reactivate it. With each new sip, the flavors of the foodreturn to resonate and linger on the palate, sometimes even long after we’ve tasted the food.

Does that sound about right?

The science of taste does have something interesting to offer this discourse. Throughout history, lacking refrigeration, most food was preserved with salt, and wine was made with the expectation of food. Significantly, the science suggests that salt and acid occupy the same palate terrain, the same taste “pathway.”  That is, acid in wine works to, in effect, balance or cancel out the taste of salt, providing a platform to emphasize the other flavors. It’s no wonder that Old World wines are high in acid — they had the difficult task of making these dubious foods taste good.

On the other hand, fruit-forward wines, low in acid, are less likely to create this favorable palate environment where flavors shine. As with beer, the fruit flavors of the wine tend to compete with rather than showcase the flavors of the food.

Of course, the fact that sleek Old World wines excel with food is news to nobody. The point is rather that there is something practical to be extrapolated from the salt/acid dynamic: if you want to know if a wine is likely to offer that magical synergy with food, try a sip with a pinch of salt. You’ll notice that the flavors of the wine are enhanced — or not.

Ed Comstock loves to travel and discover new wines, often at the same time. When he’s not doing that, he teaches classes in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, DC.

The Challenges of Being Global

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 10-28-2013

DWCCAs readers who follow me on Twitter or Instagram likely know, I’ve been in Rioja for the past several days at the annual Digital Wine Communications Conference.

On Saturday, I spoke at a panel exploring the communication challenges faced by global wine brands.

Robert McIntosh, the founder of Thirstforwine.com and the co-founder of the DWCC and Vrazon.com, moderated the panel. It included Ben Smith, who heads up communications for Concha y Toro in the United Kingdom, and Pia Mara Finkell, who directs media relations and social media for Rioja Wines. (Please note that Rioja Wines sponsored my trip to the conference.)

Check out my prepared remarks below. The panel inspired a fantastic back-and-forth conversation with the audience, so obviously, lots of what we discussed isn’t included below.

The Challenges of Being Global

When talking about global brands, it’s absolutely critical to distinguish between huge wine companies — like Concha y Toro, Pernod Ricard, and Kendall Jackson – and generic brands, like Rioja, Champagne, and Napa Valley.

They’re very different.

Reps from both are constantly pitching me and other members of the media. And I promise I’m not the only wine writer who is much more receptive to a message from a “generic brand,” like Rioja, then a large corporation, like Concha y Toro.

This makes sense. And communicators shouldn’t apologize for it or feel any need to defend it.

First, virtually everyone here is a wine writer. You’ll notice that I’m saying wine writer – not lifestyle journalist or cooking specialist, but wine writer. For most of us, our audience simply doesn’t care about mass-produced wine.

Here’s a news flash. If you’re writing a wine blog, and focus on inexpensive, mass-produced wine that you can pick up at any supermarket in the world, no one is reading your site. Paul Mabray of Vintank can back this up with data, but it makes perfect sense. People who buy inexpensive, supermarket wine don’t read wine blogs. They’re not fascinated by wine.

Wine blogs are written by wine geeks and read by wine geeks, and wine geeks aren’t interested in mass-produced wine.

I’d compare it to restaurant criticism. No restaurant critic – or foodie – wants to tell the world about a new McDonald’s that just opened. But a hole-in-the-wall Italian joint with world-class cooking? Absolutely.

We are, however, quite interested in generic brands like Rioja.

This, too, make sense.

Just as the clothing you wear and the politicians you vote for says something about who you are, so does what you drink. Wine writers enjoy seeing themselves as ambassadors.

Everyone here has probably heard of Peter Liem. He enjoys being an ambassador for Sherry and Champagne. Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle enjoys being an ambassador for the “new” California wine – the producers who are exploring California’s vast and varied climate to protect old vineyards and produce wine from unusual grapes.

I’m sure there’s someone in this room who enjoys being an ambassador for Beaujolais and another who enjoys being an ambassador for dry reds from Portugal.

And even though she’s paid for it, I’m sure Pia enjoys being an ambassador for Rioja.

Very few wine geeks want to be an ambassador for Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, or, even worse, Yellow Tail.

This doesn’t mean someone like Pia has an easy job.

For starters, “generic brands” are inevitably funded by the largest players – and those “large players” tend to be the companies that wine geeks aren’t that interested in. Just as California’s trade association is funded by large companies like Constellation, Treasury, and Gallo, Wines of Rioja is funded by its members, with the largest exporters paying the most.

So Pia has a difficult job.

On the one hand, her client would be giddy to see Eric Asimov, the New York Times wine critic, write about Rioja. But on the other hand, Pia knows that a guy like Eric Asimov – because of his personal preferences and his audience – is only interested in Rioja’s more traditional producers, like Lopez de Heredia and Rioja Alta. He’s simply not interested in Rioja you can easily pick up in the supermarket. And, generally speaking, Wine of Rioja wants to see at least three brands mentioned in any article about the region.

For another example of why generic brands don’t always have it easy, just look at Australia – the wine-producing country that was once relevant.

Ten years ago, the PR folks for Wines of Australia had an easy job. And then the market for Australian wine completely collapsed. So now, the folks there have a terribly difficult job – how do you convince the American market that Australia is more complex than Yellow Tail and over-oaked, over-extracted, monstrous fruit bombs designed in a lab for Robert Parker?

If Pia has a difficult job, then Ben’s is even more challenging.

I’m certain that virtually everyone who works for Concha y Toro, including Ben, absolutely loves wine. And they’re proud of the work they do and the companies they represent. And then a guy like me gets on stage and loudly says:

“Sorry, I’m just not interested.”

But of course, you can make me interested. Stories matter. History matters. Personality matters.

Tell me about the winemaker at Concha y Toro. Tell me about the small-production, experimental stuff you guys are doing. Tell me about your high-end wines, and why I might be interested in them.

This can work. During the Australian craze in the United States, wine writers could rave about Penfolds Grange or D’Arenberg’s “Dead Arm.” Were regular consumers buying these wines? No. But if they read any serious wine writing and then headed to the supermarket, they’d recognize both these brand names.

And those supermarket wines are appealing to a certain kind of journalist.

Journalists spend lots of time thinking about their audience. I know exactly how many people visit my site every month and where they come from. I even know how much money they make and how much they spend on wine. So I have a general sense of what they want to hear from me.

About half the people that visit my site work in the wine industry. The other half are extreme wine geeks.

But I also write a twice-monthly column that runs in several dozen newspapers across the United States. These folks are general interest consumers. My column might run alongside a recipe or a restaurant review. Or even an article about how the high school football team won a big game.

So for that audience, I do care about Concha y Toro and Kendall Jackson.

Plus, the PR folks for big brands can more easily reach out to other types of journalists, like recipe writers, lifestyle reporters, book-club bloggers, you name it. 

Finally, Ben, Pia, and every other person who represents a global brand can bypass traditional journalists and interact directly with consumers thanks to social media. A Facebook contest offering a free trip to Rioja if you, say, host a Rioja tasting at your house? A simple but effective campaign that could, in theory, reach countless more consumers than a mention in the New York Times. And one that’ll allow you to more easily promote “supermarket” wines.

I’d conclude by saying that even though writers have a responsibility to their audience – and editors – writers will forever write about what interests them. Maybe it’s only Napa Valley wine. Maybe it’s only Champagne. But the overwhelming majority of writers are looking for an interesting story. So long as a global brand can figure out how to make something interesting, then that brand can communicate effectively.

Why the VinTank / Delectable Partnership Is a Big Deal

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 10-16-2013

delectableToday, the wine world was abuzz with news that VinTank, the wine industry’s leading social-media monitoring platform, had partnered with Delectable, the mobile wine app.

If you’re in the wine industry, you should be familiar with VinTank. As Alder Yarrow eloquently explained last year, “Any winery in the world that does not have a free account on this service, and does not spend at least an hour or two every week using it, is dumber than a bag of hammers.”

VinTank’s software enables wineries to “listen” for mentions of their brands on various social media platforms — and then engage, in real-time, with their customers. (Until today’s announcement, the VinTank platform monitored Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare.) Vintank captures about 1 million conversations about wine each day. It’s an incredible tool.

With mobile apps, though, VinTank’s founder and chief strategy officer, Paul Mabray, has long been unimpressed. On several occasions (most recently, in April 2012), Paul took a comprehensive look at wine apps – and just couldn’t find any worth supporting.

So that’s what jumped out to me about this story. The iTunes store has hundreds of wine apps. Why Delectable? Why now?

“We chose Delectable for three key reasons,” explained Mabray, while detailing the partnership with me.

“They aligned with our vision for connecting wineries and consumers; they really understand wine and the key use case for a wine consumer — recording your experience; and they understood social as an app better than any other app in history.

“What I mean,” he went onto say, “is that they’ve woven social tools throughout the app — friends, feeds, etc. — but especially organizing influencers to help consumers follow them and be influenced by their suggestions.”

VinTank knows tech – just check out the bio of the firm’s chief technology officer, James Jory.

So this endorsement of Delectable strikes me as a very big deal. Just as CellarTracker left other cellar management platforms in the dust a few years ago, it looks like Delectable is starting to pull away from its competitors in the wine app space.

With Wine Glasses, Sex Sells

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 09-30-2013

Flickr, Frank Fujimoto.

Flickr, Frank Fujimoto.

“The Riedel Sommelier line is by far the best stem for bringing out the true aromatics of any wine,” says my friend opposite me at the table, swirling his glass of Pinot.

“You’re crazy! Why spend that amount when you can get the same experience from Spiegelau Authentis for a fraction of the cost?” boasts my ever cost-conscience other friend to my left.

“Have you guys tried the Zalto Universal stems?” I ask, sounding a bit like proud parent.

Not a word was uttered. Nothing. Then came the dismissive looks. You would have thought I insulted their families. The two guys were completely unwilling to admit there are other viable options for enjoying wine. Oh sure, there are other glasses out there, but clearly inferior to their choice.

Wine enthusiasts take their glasses seriously. Many are just as proud of their glasses as they are with their wine — and take just as much care in selecting the right glass as they do with the juice inside. I’m sure we all know someone who has taken his or her own glasses to dinner because a restaurant doesn’t have appropriate stemware. Or perhaps you’ve been that person.

But do glasses really make that much of a difference? You bet they do.

I’m far from alone in this thought. Check any wine message board and you’re bound to come across a spirited debate over who makes the best glass and which shape is right for different wines. Are they lead-based? Hand-blown? One- or two-pieced? How thin is the rim? Are they fragile? What do they cost? Do they truly enhance the wine-drinking experience? The answers are plentiful.

While these are all very valid questions, and certainly play a large role in choosing stemware, I seriously doubt they’re actually the determining factor in any purchasing decision. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us will admit that we choose the glass by saying, “wow, those look really cool! I gotta have them!”

We all know sex sells, and with wine glasses it’s no different. I’m guilty of ogling over the pure aesthetics of a glass and convincing myself it must be superior. The more excited an individual is about a glass — the way it looks, feels, and how it accentuates the nose — the more fulfilling the experience. If that wasn’t the case, we could all save a lot of money and just drink from clear plastic cups. But what fun is that? Not much if you ask me.

For such a subjective topic, it always strikes me as odd that individuals tout certain brands as the be-all and end-all of the wine glass world. This shouldn’t surprise me, though. If people can’t agree on the best wine at a tasting, it stands to reason they aren’t going to agree on the best glasses for those wines. The debate will rage on forever .

Fortunately for me and my two friends that night, we all agreed on the best wine of the night. And we did so from our own glasses… that we each brought ourselves. Yes, we were those guys.

Jeb Singleton is a wine enthusiast in Washington, DC. This is his first post for Terroirist.com.

Saying Hello to the Golden Age of Wine Writing

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 09-05-2013

Ball_point_pen_writingEarlier this week, Steve Heimoff wrote yet another screed lamenting the invention of the interwebs. Apparently, this newfangled internet machine is “destructive.” And it’s why we’re no longer living in “The Golden Age of Wine Writing.”

Heimoff is dead wrong. We’re living in the golden age of wine writing — and things are only getting better.

Consider our access to information. Almost anything you’d want to know or read about is easily available.

Once upon a time, wine consumers were starved for content — they could turn to Hugh Johnson, Gerald Asher, or Jancis Robinson, but that was about it. Today, consumers can choose from thousands of different outlets. Sure, some wine publications have gone out of business, but the vast majority still exist — and they’ve been joined by publications like Eater, Zester Daily, Purple Pages, Palate Press, Vinography, and countless others that literally didn’t exist ten years ago.

The condition of wine writing should be judged by the facts and stories consumers have access to. Today, more people than ever before have access to more content than ever before.

It’s that simple, and it’s awesome.  

Just as important, the barriers to entry that once existed are almost entirely gone.

Back when folks like Hugh Johnson and Gerald Asher started their careers, quality wine was rarer and more expensive than it is today. So only those who were wealthy could actually write about wine. Today, clean, interesting, delicious wine is available from across the world — and plenty is quite affordable.

Further, there were only a handful of wine publications — magazines like Decanter, newspapers like the New York Times, etc. So there were only a handful of jobs, and landing one of those jobs often depended on holding a journalism degree or somehow proving you deserved entry into the guild.

Today, anyone, anywhere, can write about wine. There are more publications than ever before and it takes nothing more than an internet connection to be a journalist.  

Heimoff is also wrong because, for the first time ever, every wine writer can now reach nearly every human.

Once upon a time, a consumers’ only wine content came from the local newspaper or a subscription to an expensive magazine. Today, consumers can quickly and easily access thousands of publications, videos, podcasts, etc. And thanks to smartphones, consumers can access that content 24/7. Plus, there are more storytelling formats than ever before.

The list goes on.

To quote Matthew Yglesias, Heimoff is guitly of “a blinkered outlook that confuses the interests of producers with those of consumers, confuses inputs with outputs, and neglects the single most important driver of human welfare — productivity. Just as a tiny number of farmers now produce an agricultural bounty that would have amazed our ancestors, today’s readers have access to far more high-quality coverage than they have time to read. Just ask yourself: Is there more or less good material for you to read today than there was 13 years ago? The answer is, clearly, more.”

Wine Winning More Men, But Losing 30- and 40-Somethings

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 08-07-2013

Wine versus beer: it’s the presidential race of alcohol consumption.

When Gallup’s  latest poll revealed a tie in consumer preference for beer or wine, Wine Spectator resounded with Wine Challenges Beer as America’s Drink of Choice — a headline that could have found a home in Politico last November, plus or minus a few proper nouns.

If we learned anything from the 2012 elections, it’s that we can’t talk victory or defeat without also talking demographics. So let’s take a look at the growing base of wine lovers.

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 5.15.08 PM

The chart above shows the demographic groups in which wine has made the greatest relative gains. This doesn’t capture the fact that, in absolute terms, a greater share of whites (36%) than nonwhites (34%) now prefer wine. Nor does it tell us that more men prefer beer (53%) or liquor (22%) to wine (20%). But you can glean that stuff elsewhere.

What this chart tells us is that, in the past twenty years, wine has made the greatest inroads among nonwhites, men, and the under-30 crowd. Thirty- and 40-somethings were the only demographic that saw a decrease in the share who prefer wine.

This is interesting for two reasons.

First, those middle-aged Americans who lost interest in wine joined their peers who lost interest in beer and headed straight for the liquor cabinet. I’m inclined to blame this on the pressures of modern-day child rearing. (In the comments, please let us know what you think caused this change in drinking preferences!)

This chart is also interesting because some sources have made much of the fact that a greater share of women prefer wine than men. Yes, this is true. But 20 years ago, 15% of men preferred wine; now, 20% do. That’s 33% increase from the 1992 figure, whereas the increase in the share of women who preferred wine then and now is 21%.

The lesson is that, even among groups that don’t usually prefer wine, the preference for wine is growing — sometimes in greater proportion than it is among those whom we consider more inclined to sip a good Merlot.

I’d give wine the wine industry the same advice my mother gives me: Don’t give up on men.

What Wine Geeks Want to Know About Amazon Wine

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 07-11-2013

Amazon WineAmazon Wine is here. Again.

After repeated attempts to enter the wine industry, Amazon Wine has now made bold strides to gain a foothold in the wine marketing and selling space. Yesterday, the company added its 500th winery to the site — and now offers thousands of labels to consumers in 16 states. As the company works through state shipping laws and attempts to add more wine brands, many people in the wine industry are looking on skeptically.

What’s different this time? What’s Amazon’s model? How will Amazon’s presence change the wine retail business?

I had a chance to sit down with Erik Farleigh (PR Manager) and David Lusby (Business Development at Amazon Wine) during their visit to New York last month for the Amazon holiday retail display/show for journalists. The event was a spectacle on its own. Toys everywhere, fake rooms set-up with gorgeous home decor, a pet playground complete with a real live pet, and a mini-wine bar set up for tastings.

Once I calmed my desire to play with everything in the room, we chatted about Amazon’s goals in the wine space, which the team insisted were serious and long-term this time. The other big takeaways were that first, Amazon is not managing the fulfillment and shipping of wine. This is all managed by the wineries. A “marketplace play” for those in tune with the Amazon lingo. Second, Amazon doesn’t charge wineries to market wines on the site, but does charge a 15% referral fee when product sells. Wineries set the prices on the site. Finally, Amazon is working to make the site more content-rich with searchable notes, categorical tasting filters, and recommendations.

I followed up with the Amazon team to get a little more detail about their plans for Amazon Wine. You’ll notice they don’t exactly address all my questions, but I hope this gets the conversation started about Amazon Wine and clears up some of the wine community’s confusion about the site. See below for my interview with Steve Johnson, Director of Amazon Wine. Read the rest of this entry »