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Category Archives: Wine news

Winebits 351: Wine glasses, wine laws, and economic growth

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wine news wine glassesDo wine glasses matter? The answer is no, says the Vinepair website in a post that includes the sentence, “Any industry that marries the existence of experts, the spending of cash, and the words ‘acquired taste’ as exquisitely as the wine industry does is bound to intimidate the uninitiated.” Which was a guarantee the Wine Curmudgeon would write about it. The post dismisses the idea that different shapes matter — a Bordeaux glass, a Burgundy glass, and so forth — and cites several studies and zings Riedel, the big glass company, repeatedly. Most of which makes sense, since I’ve never been convinced spending $100 for a glass is going to make all that much difference. The difference comes, I think, in whether you use well-made glasses instead of poorly-made ones. I buy the Forte from Schott Zwiesel, about $10 a glass, and am content. That’s about the twice the price of Libbey glasses, but the expense seems worth it.

Hell no, we ain’t reformin’: Pennsylvania’s state-controlled liquor store system has been the subject of much controversy as well as repeated demands for privatization. Reform seems as far away as ever, despite all the effort, and I’ve discovered the reason: Money. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, which runs the stores, is a $2.24 billion business. Which is damned big — almost twice the annual sales of Crate & Barrel and only one-sixth the total of Whole Foods, even though the upscale grocer is a national company with more than 360 stores. How many state legislators, regardless of political persuasion, are going to throw away that much money? I’m not even sure I would.

Not just rich people drink wine: There’s a long and surprisingly boring post on Forbes discussing whether wine sales can predict economic growth. If someone can figure out what it actually says, let me know. As near as I can tell, it says that high-end wine sales are a predictor of U.S. economic health, which is not true and seems a silly thing for someone at Forbes to say. Because only five percent of the U.S. population buys wine that costs $20 or more, and the average price of a bottle of wine is about $10. So what the price of vineyard land in Napa Valley has to do with economic growth is beyond me. Which is probably why I do this and don’t write for Forbes.

How to manipulate on-line reviews with a clear conscience — get a federal court ruling

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manipulate on-line reviews yelpAlways wondered how legitimate the scores and reviews were on sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, and the Wine Spectator? Now, thanks to a federal appeals court ruling, you don’t have to wonder: Legitimacy may not matter. The sites may be able to manipulate the ratings, and they don’t necessarily have to tell you what they’ve done.

Or, as Lou Bright, the blog’s unofficial attorney, says: “This does have the ethical aroma of dead rat, doesn’t it? Yet neither Yelp nor the Wine Spectator are legally bound to be morally upright. The First Amendment allows for an awful lot of disreputable speech.”

The court decision, made earlier this month in San Francisco, didn’t break new legal ground when it found that the possible “engineering” of review postings on Yelp, based on whether businesses bought an ad on the site, were legal. The ruling came after several businesses sued Yelp, claiming the site moved unfavorable reviews higher and moved favorable reviews lower on the site – or removed favorable reviews altogether – if the businesses didn’t buy ads.

Said the ruling: “It is not unlawful for Yelp to post and sequence the reviews. As Yelp has the right to charge for legitimate advertising services, the threat of economic harm that Yelp leveraged is, at most, hard bargaining.”

A legal thing here, so I don’t get sued. Yelp’s senior director of litigation said the company didn’t make review decisions based on whether anyone bought ads, and there is a disclaimer on the Yelp site. And I’m not saying Yelp does that. Or that Angie’s List, the Spectator or anyone else does it. Or that it goes on at all anywhere.

Rather, as W. Blake Gray wrote when he broke the story last week, the ruling reaffirms that sites or magazines that do reviews can charge for upgraded placement, higher scores, or better reviews with a clear conscience. After all, it’s just hard bargaining.

I talked to three other attorneys for this post, and each said the same thing as Bright: It’s not a consumer-friendly practice,and there may be risk in the long run, but it’s not necessarily illegal. As long as the site or magazine doesn’t commit libel (which is often difficult to prove, says Dallas attorney Trey Crawford), and doesn’t run afoul of the Federal Trade Commission, it’s on safe legal ground. Some court decisions have even gone as far as to equate engineering with “editorial discretion.”

What can you do to make sure ratings and reviews aren’t engineered? Look for a disclaimer on the site, like the one I use, and will continue to use. No one pays me for favorable reviews or to review their product, and it will always be that way. Because, if there isn’t a disclaimer, anything is possible.

Win two tickets to Grapefest

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free grapefest ticketsAnd the winner is: The winning number is 713 (screenshot to the right). The winner is Nancy Hope, who picked 708. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Want to see the Wine Curmudgeon at Grapefest later this week? Want to attend the always popular People/s Choice wine tasting and judging? Don’t want to buy two tickets to the festival to do it?

Then pick a number between 1 and 1,000 and leave it in the comment section of this post, and only this post. Sending me an email doesn’t count; if you get the blog via email, you have to come to the site to enter.

At about 5 p.m. central today, I’ll go to random.org and generate the winning number. The person whose entry is closest to that number gets the tickets, plus a copy of the cheap wine book. You can pick the tickets up at will-call at Grapefest. These are general admission tickets to the festival, and not to specific events that require a separate admission (like People’s Choice).

Complete contest rules are here.

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