Tag Archives: wine criticism

Expensive wine, better wine and wine writing

Buried at the bottom of post on a Wired science blog, which recaps research on the expensive wine/better wine issue, is this:

If the only story we can tell about wine is its price, then our pleasure will always be linked to cost, even though this link doesn’t exist in most taste tests. A much better (and more cost-effective) idea is to find some other narrative, to focus on aspects of wine that don’t require a big expense account. Knowledge is free.

Which is a damning indictment of wine criticism — and by science writer and Rhodes Scholar Jonah Lehrer, no less. He writes that it's accepted scientific fact, based on robust research, that expensive wine isn't better wine just because it costs more.

Then Lehrer asks the question that no one in the wine business wants to ask, let alone answer: If there is no correlation between wine price and quality, why does wine writing insist there is? Why doesn't wine criticism deal with what Lehrer calls the subjectivity of taste: "We’ve somehow turned the most romantic of drinks into a commodity worthy of Consumer Reports."

Regular visitors here know how the Wine Curmudgeon feels about that. What's interesting about Lehrer's post is the perspective he brings, which is to understand that there is more than "wine" going on when we drink wine, and he touches on neuroscience, psychology and even philosophy. What happens, he writes, is that "if we think a wine is cheap, it will taste cheap."

All of which, of course, is something that those of us who write about wine rarely take into account. Even I'm guilty of this sometimes. Championing cheap wine just because it's cheap is its own form of snobbery, and just as insidious as any other form of snobbery. What's better, says Lehrer (and what I hope I do more often than not), is criticism based on education. "We should realize that we can make our wines much more delicious, if only we take the time to learn about them," he writes.

Which seems so obvious, and yet is so rarely done.

High alcohol: The controversy continues

What kind of a stir would a food magazine cause if it said it was going to list the ingredients in its recipes? None at all.

But the wine business is not the food business. Only in wine would a controversy ensue when the San Francisco Chronicle and Decanter magazine, two of the leading members of the Winestream Media, announced each would start listing alcohol levels for the wines it reviewed. Said the Chronicle's Jon Bonne: ".. [W]e resisted printing them regularly because the act of bringing alcohol into the discussion of a wine is inherently political."

Which says a lot about how screwed up the wine business is. Bonne is right — unfortunately, reporting alcohol levels in an alcoholic beverage has become political, because much of the wine establishment has made high alcohol its cause. Winemakers have pushed alcohol levels to 15, 16 and even 17 percent, even in white wine, and have been rewarded with glowing reviews from Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator. Those of us who object, like the Wine Curmudgeon, are called philistines and told we don't understand the issue.

Most wine drinkers want to know alcohol levels. As one commenter noted in the Chronicle story, "If I wanted to get sh*tfaced, I could do it for a lot less than $50 a bottle." But that's of little concern to the people who make and write about these wines. They know best, and they're going to tell us what to think. More, after the jump.

CellarTracker and the rise of social media

CellarTrackerWhen Eric LeVine came up with the idea for CellarTracker, the on-line wine inventory system, he thought it would appeal to wine geeks like himself and to people who needed to manage sizeable wine cellars. He never envisioned that he would be helping to make a revolution in the wine business

Because that’s what CellarTracker has done. The number of people who visit the site far outnumbers the number of people who use the site to track their wine collections. CellarTracker has about 40,000 registered users, but 90 percent of the site’s visitors are not registered — and it gets a couple of hundred thousand unique visitors a month. Which means people aren’t going to CellarTracker to mark off a wine after they drink it; they’re going to CellarTracker to read wine reviews written by amateurs.

Which is mind boggling, given the way the wine world works. Wine knowledge is handed from the top down, and we’re supposed to drink what our betters — Robert Parker, the Wine Spectator, and the like — tell us to drink. But that’s not what’s happening with CellarTracker. We’re looking for advice from people just like us.

“These are real people, spending real money for a real bottle of wine,” LeVine says. “There’s a much broader audience out there than I thought, and that was my first really big surprise.”

More, after the jump:

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