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Winebits 400: Wine writing ethics edition

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Wine writing ethicsWho knew we’d have so much controversy about wine writing ethics? But an increasing number of wine writers don’t understand (if events this summer are any indication) that their first duty is to their readers, and not to sponsors or advertisers, and that readers are more than someone to flog wine at.

Respect your readers: Too little content, either or on-line or in print, is traditional any more, so it’s not surprising that so few wine writers understand what traditional means: If someone pays you to run a story, you must tell your readers. No exceptions, no hesitations. Readers visit your site to get honest, unbiased reviews and commentary, and if someone is paying for placement, readers should be told. The Wine Curmudgeon has spent much of the summer writing polite replies to snippy emails because I don’t accept advertorial or paid posts, and this irritates the companies who sell this crap no end. One emailer was stunned that I wouldn’t take $50 to compromise the integrity of the blog. Guess these companies don’t understand the concept of honor. Or journalism, since I’m just a blogger.

The Munchkin of Ink: Chris Kassel at the Intoxicology Report discusses conflicts of interest, and doesn’t understand why people who sell wine think they are above conflicts — and why one of them called him stupid for discussing the subject. This, sadly, is exactly the point about treating your readers with respect. It’s bad enough to have that conflict, but it’s inexcusable to pretend that it doesn’t matter because you are somehow special. Wine is not complicated, and as my pal Dave McIntyre has pointed out more than once, those of us who write about wine aren’t smarter or have better palates than most consumers. We just drink more wine, and we pay more attention.

It’s not really blackmail: Also from the “I’m better than you” department, a food blogger in Britain didn’t think she was treated with enough respect by a bakery owner, and her review made that perfectly clear. Jamie Goode reports that the incident sparked a Twittter hashtage — #bloggerblackmail — and notes that “… if you take payment for content, then your work suffers. Readers aren’t stupid (well, some of them might be, but most are quite smart). They know when something’s amiss. The trust of your readers is a currency that’s not really yours to spend. If you want to be taken seriously, then you need to play it straight.” See, I told you it wasn’t difficult to figure this stuff out.

Expensive wine 77: Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2012

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Leeuwin chardonnayCall it irony or coincidence or whatever, but Australian wines keep showing up in the monthly expensive wine post even though Australian wines are a drag on the market and aren’t famous for being expensive. Bring on the Yellow Tail shiraz, right?

Nevertheless, that producers like Leeuwin are making these kinds of wines points to the quality that has been overlooked in Australia’s troubles over the past decade. The Leeuwin chardonnay ($70, sample, 14%) is top-notch, even for the price, and if it isn’t high-end white Burgundy (chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France), it’s not supposed to be.

Look for rich, delicious apple fruit, as well as what the wine magazines called baked apple aromas, with a little cinnamon and spice mixing with the apple. Also, the wine has a full mouth feel, which you should get at this price. This is a New World chardonnay, a little heavier and with a little more oomph than white Burgundy, but it understands that quality is about more than oomph. In this, it should age well, losing some of the heft and becoming more refined over the next several years.

Drink this chilled with classic chardonnay cream sauce dishes; it’s also the kind of wine to give as a gift for someone who wants to explore high-end chardonnay, and understand that terroir exists in places other than California and France.

Barefoot wine review 2015

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Barefoot wine revie 2015How is Barefoot the best-selling wine brand in the country, and perhaps the only wine costing less than $10 to thrive during premiumization? Because Barefoot is wine for people who don’t drink wine, and this year’s labels are excellent examples of that approach. And if the chardonnay was a touch sweet, the cabernet sauvignon was pleasant enough to drink again.

In this, it’s not so much that the cabernet ($6, purchased, 13.5%) and the chardonnay ($6, purchased, 13%) are simple, but that there is a method to their simplicity — sophisticated winemaking is used to get them to taste the way they do. Each wine emphasizes its fruit while pushing the stuff casual wine drinkers don’t like, the tannins and acid, to the background. The result? A soft, fruit-forward wine made for someone who buys Barefoot to have a glass or two in the evening, re-cork what’s left, and then drink again the next night. Frankly, that’s an impressive achievement for a $6 wine.

The cabernet, with an Argentine appellation but no vintage, was more enjoyable than the chardonnay, with a surprising amount of cabernet character, juicy dark berry fruit, almost no acidity, and enough tannins so that I noticed them but not so noticeable as to bother the brand’s target demographic. This is a red wine that is smooth and easy drinking, two terms that make wine geeks cringe but that are perfectly understandable to the people who buy Barefoot, and are the reasons they buy it.

The chardonnay tasted much like Cupcake’s chardonnay — not quite sugary, but sweet enough to linger on the tongue, plus caramel fake oak and lots and lots of green apple fruit. There was almost no acidity, and the sweetness helped mask a bitterness on the finish (probably from tannins from grape seeds and stems). That Barefoot delivers the same wine as Cupcake for half the price speaks volumes about how smart Barefoot parent E&J Gallo is. This wine is also non-vintage, and the grapes are from California.

More Barefoot wine reviews:
Barefoot wine review 2014
Barefoot wine review 2013
Barefoot wine review 2012

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