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Tag Archives: wine rants

Why do you read about wine you can’t buy?

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wine you can't buyHow frustrating is it to read about a wine you can’t buy? After all, how often do you read a review of a movie you can’t see?

Some of it, of course, is snobbery —  and yes, Winestream Media, I’m talking about you. Some of it can’t be helped, thanks to the foolishness that is the three-tier system. In the last month, I’ve tasted a $10 Gascon white and had friends tell me about a $15 red Bordeaux and a $10 Sicilian red that would be perfect for the blog. But the first is only available in southern California, and the other two are only found in the northeast. Which means the wines don’t have distributors in any other part of the country, and don’t meet the generally available criteria I use for the blog.

But there are other, less obvious reasons why you read about wine you can’t buy:

• To create demand for the wine. I get a lot of emails from publicity people offering me samples of wine from regions unfamiliar to U.S. wine drinkers and that have limited, if any, distribution in this country. They do so in the hope that I’ll write about the wine, even if no one can buy it, so that my review will convince an importer or a distributor that there is demand for it. Yes, it’s a little backwards, but it’s one way to get around the restrictions of the three-tier system.

• Because it’s the next big thing. Wine recommendations are often driven by peer pressure, and if one hotshot sommelier or writer praises something, then everyone else has to do so as well. We’ve seen this for years with gruner veltliner from Austria, which is difficult to buy outside of the East Coast. The most recent next big thing is Greek wine, which can be well done and offer value but is even more difficult to find outside of the East Coast than gruner. In fact, during our recent podcast, that’s what Wisconsin retailer Nick Vorpagel lamented about Greek wine.

• Available wine is boring. I’m paraphrasing here, but I’ve heard and read this countless times: “Why should I write about a wine that anyone can buy in the grocery store?” This isn’t quite the snobbery practiced by reviewers who purposely write about wine no one can buy, but it’s almost as bad. Again, do reviewers not do movies because they’re in 5,000 theaters nationwide?

Google to WC: Drop dead

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Google

Google, why do you hate the Wine Curmudgeon so?

Google’s most recent edict to blog owners is another example of how it — and not the blog owner — controls blog content, and how the search giant punishes those of us even when we do the right thing. The new system says a wine writer who uses samples, but is transparent about where the samples come from, is no better than a sleaze bag who loads a post with paid links and pretends they aren’t.

At first, Google’s March 11 blog post, “Best practices for bloggers reviewing free products they receive from companies,” seems to make perfect sense, distinguishing between what Google calls “organic links” and links that are only there because the blogger is getting something — money, product, or more links — to put them in the post. Links matter to Google, because that’s one of the criteria used to give pages a better search ranking, and a better search ranking means more visitors to the blog.

So how could something like that affect me, or anyone else who uses only organic links? Because the blog post says that links that refer to an on-line merchant selling the product or to the company that makes the product aren’t organic. That means, I think, that every time I review a wine, whether a sample or not, and link to the winery, I will be punished by Google unless I use a specific “no follow” command in the link. To make matters worse, using “no follow” means I don’t get credit for the link, even though I’m not doing anything wrong. Talk about the worst of both worlds.

Ignoring for a moment that adding “no follow” makes writing posts that much more complicated (if anyone understands “no follow” after reading the link, you can explain it me), it also lumps me with the sleaze bags by assuming that I benefit from the link. In fact, I don’t. No one asks me to put them in, and most wine producers — notorious for their inability to understand how this stuff works — don’t even know the links are there. I add the links to help readers get more information about the wine, which used to be a best practice.

This is just another example of Google’s one-size-fits-all approach, in which it assumes all blogs are exactly alike because it’s easier for Google to think that way. Hence, any blog that contains product references must be trying to sell the product — which certainly isn’t the case for me or for anyone who offers honest reviews, whether wine or not. In Google’s world, though, there doesn’t seem to be such a thing as an honest review.

The headline on this post refers to the infamous 1975 New York Daily News headline during New York City’s bankruptcy crisis.

More about Google and wine blogging::
Google AdSense, wine blogs, and Joe Camel
Google as the WC’s editor
Wine and sex

Wine pricing skulduggery

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Wine pricing

“This must be a good deal — we spent $40 to save $4.”

It’s bad enough that post-modern wine pricing is designed to make wine buying even more difficult, but what happens when retailers take wine pricing confusion to another level? Call it wine pricing skulduggery, and it turns out wine isn’t the only category that suffers from it:

The fake volume discount. Store A sells Rene Barbier white for $6.99, but offers a 10 percent discount if you buy four or more bottles. Store B, about 10 minutes away, sells the same wine for $5.99. Drive the extra distance, and you can buy four bottles at store B for less than the discounted price at store A ($23.96 vs. $25.16). Or you can buy two bottles at store B, which is all I wanted, and not have to listen to someone at store A tell you that spending $13.98 to save $2.80 makes good sense.

• The previous vintage two-step. This is the time of year when retailers start to get the current vintage, 2014 for reds and 2015 for whites. So beware older vintages with big signs proclaiming deep discounts, like store C did with the 2013 vintage of the legendary Domaine du Tariquet Classic. It was “marked down” from $12.99 to $10.99, even though it’s usually about $10. That’s bad enough. But since it was a previous vintage, the retailer likely got it from the wholesaler at a significant discount so the wholesaler could get it out of the warehouse. In other words, store C is selling the wine for the normal price, even though it probably paid less for it and there’s a good chance that the 2013 suffered after sitting in a warehouse for two years.

• The private label shuffle. Also saw this at store C (though store A is notorious for doing the same thing): A California red with a cute name and a bright and enticing label, in a big display promising all sorts of things a $15 wine can’t deliver. Look at the back label, and the bottled and vintaged information mentions a company no one has ever heard of. That’s because the company only exists to sell this wine to this retailer, and the $15 price is not as much a reflection of the wine’s quality but how much margin the private label company promised it could deliver to the retailer. In other words, $8 wine in $15 clothing.

Depressed? That’s understandable, given how many retailers think wine drinkers are ripe for the picking. As I noted in the cheap wine book: “The best retailers do more than sell wine. They help you find wine you didn’t know you would like.” Obviously, the retailers mentioned here never read the book.

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