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Wine Spectator: If you can’t buy it, we won’t review it

Wine writing, and what's wrong with it

wine spectatorThe Wine Spectator, in a stunning reversal of policy, announced today that it will only review wines that people can buy, ending a decades-long practice where it preferred to critique wine made in such small quantities that there were never any for sale.

“Frankly, when we started to think about it, it seemed kind of silly to review wines that weren’t in stores,” said a magazine spokeswoman. “Yes, there was a certain cachet to do wines in the Spectator where the producer only made three cases, because it showed how much better we were than everyone else. Because we are much better than everyone else. But, in the end, we are a wine review magazine, and if our readers can’t buy the wines we review, there isn’t much reason for us to exist, is there?”

The new availability policy, said the spokeswoman, was based on the one used by legendary Internet blogger Jeff Siegel, the Wine Curmudgeon. Siegel, who declined to be interviewed for this story, uses what he calls general availability: He only reviews wines that consumers can find in a quality wine shop in a medium-sized city. Said the spokeswoman: “Considering how much fun he makes of us, and that he is has no credibility because he is an Internet blogger, Siegel’s policy seems quite practical. Just don’t tell him we stole it.”

Reaction from the wine world was immediate:

• A host of cult wines in the Napa Valley, whose production rarely exceeds 100 cases each, announced plans to increase the amount of wine they make so they can be reviewed. “If we’re not in the Spectator, what’s the point of making wine?” asked one winery owner, a Silicon Valley zillionaire. “It’s not like I care about the wine. I just want my friends to be jealous when they see my wine, which they can’t buy, got a 99.”

• Several other wine magazines said they would follow suit, although the Wine Advocate said it would use availability in China as its threshold. “Listen, when you pay as much money for the Advocate as we did,” said a co-owner, “you really don’t care if anyone can buy the wine in Omaha.”

• The country’s largest retailers, including Costco and Walmart, made plans for special Wine Spectator sections in their wine departments, now that the Spectator would review most of the wine that they carry. “They’re already selling some wine for us with their scores and shelf talkers,” said one retailer. “So why not just get rid of the pretense and let them do all the work?”

More April 1 wine news:
Supreme Court: Regulate wine writing through three-tier system
Gov. Perry to California: Bring your wineries to Texas
California secedes from U.S. — becomes its own wine country

 

Supreme Court: Regulate wine writing through three-tier system

Wine writing, and what's wrong with it
Supreme Court: Regulate wine writing through three-tier system

Scalia: “So how does this affect what I buy through my wine club?”

A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled today that wine writing, since it’s mostly about selling wine and isn’t journalism, is not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Instead, said the 5-4 majority, it falls under the 21st Amendment, which allows each state to regulate alcohol sales any way it sees fit, and which makes wine writing part of the three-tier system.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said: “First, state’s rights. Second, I’m an old white guy and I need to be told what wine to drink. Third, I thought wine writing was already about shilling for the industry.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her sharply worded dissent, said: “Has Scalia ever actually read the Constitution? Or is he just making this up as he goes along?”

Reaction was swift:

 • The National Association of Attorney’s General said it would publish guidelines to help each state regulate wine writing, including recommended winespeak terms and a primer on how to score wines.

• The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said it would appoint a committee to take over Dave Falchek’s immensely popular Empty Bottles blog, and that the new version would be distributed through grocery store vending machines.

• The Wine Spectator praised the ruling, and a spokesman said: “We’ll be working closely with our partners in the production, distribution, and regulatory channels to assure that each benefits from the ruling, and especially us.”

• The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said wine writing in the state must now include references to football, sweet tea, and protecting the border. Or else, because its agents are armed. And don’t you forget it.

• Jeff Siegel, who writes the Wine Curmudgeon blog, announced he was giving up wine writing to return to the Burger King on Skokie Valley Road in Highland Park, Ill., where he worked the broiler as a teenager. “Yes, I’ll smell like a hamburger when I’m done with my shift,” he said, “but no will expect me to write that a Whopper has a bouquet of fresh heirloom tomatoes.”

The Court’s ruling came in Bonne vs. Parker, stemming from an incident at the 2014 Symposium for Professional Wine Writers that seemed really important at the time but, like so much about wine writing, is not that big a deal to the vast majority of people who drink wine.

More April 1 news:
Gov. Perry to California: Bring your wineries to Texas
California secedes from U.S. — becomes its own wine country

April Fools’ Day 2011

It’s April Fools’ Day, so it’s time for the annual California secedes from the United States to become its own wine country post. “I’ll drink to that,” says the Guvanator. And who’d have thought the post had a longer shelf life than Schwarzenegger’s political career?

And a tip o’ the Wine Curmudgeon’s fedora to my pal W.R. Tish, who talked me into writing it. Tish has a new venture, quite serious and much worth checking out for New York City wine drinkers — the New York Wine Salon. Of course, today there are a couple of stories that may not be quite so serious, right Tish?

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