Tag Archives: wine rants

Shortlisted for the Born Digital Wine awards


born digital wine awards iOct. 26, 2015 update: Congratulations to all the winners, which didn’t include me. But that doesn’t take away from the importance of rewarding work written exclusively for the Internet.


The Born Digital Wine awards, given to content created for the Internet, are a big deal. For one thing, there’s a cash prize, and that’s about as common as seeing a score on this website. For another, it speaks to the way wine writing is changing — and, oddly enough, how it hasn’t changed.

Which is not to say I’m complaining. That I’m shortlisted (or a finalist, as we say on this side of the Atlantic) in the best editorial/opinion category is a tremendous honor. And I do want to win, and not just for the €500 prize. The recognition would mean a lot, too, that what I do still means something after all these years. As a friend pointed out the other day, I’m one of the few serial wine bloggers left — someone who writes every day and does it himself, without any other writers on the site, no collaborators, no one to offer a different voice or change of pace. Just cranky me, even after almost eight years.

Most of the other successful sites have adapted as the world has changed, adding writers, selling merchandise, doing affiliate marketing, and so forth. Which I’ve thought about, but never seemed to be able to do. Some of it is my lack of business acumen (as well as the fact that the business stuff annoys me), and some of it is the idea that I brought with me from the newspaper business: As soon people give you money for placement, objectivity becomes that much more difficult. And objectivity is why I’m here.

In this, we’ve seen a gradual and significant shift to the Internet for wine criticism. Yes, the biggest Internet sites are the websites for the biggest wine magazines, but the number of legitimate voices that exist that no one would have known about in the old days is amazing — many of whom are shortlisted with me. I proposed a panel for this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference on just that topic, since it may be one of the most important things in wine writing since scores. 

Which never happened. The conference attendees, who vote on panel proposals, weren’t interested. Talk about irony. Even non-traditional wine writers, apparently, can’t see past traditional wine writing. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I won a Wine Bloggers award for best business blog, even though I write for consumers. My approach leaves many in wine scratching their heads. As one of the other shortlisted Born Digital wine writers, Blake Gray, has told me more than once, “You write for people who don’t drink wine.” And, as I have also been told, “Jeff, you write about wine, but you’re not a wine writer.”

At some point, we need to re-define wine writing so I’m not such an exception. How else will will we reach the women who buy Little Black Dress as a splurge because they see wine as too confusing to bother with the rest of the time? Or the men who are too terrified (and too manly to admit they’re terrified) to try something other than the same Big Wine cabernet sauvignon they’ve been drinking every week for the past 20 years?

So, yes, I want to win when the results are announced next week. But I also want to win because my shortlisted entry — how wine marketers, using the Downton Abbey claret as an example, confuse consumers to sell wine — offers more than traditional wine writing. And isn’t that the point of what the awards are about?

Wine Insiders wine club, and why more people don’t drink wine


wine insiders wine clubThe problem with the Wine Insiders wine club is not that the wine isn’t good, even though most of it isn’t. The problem is that the company behind the club doesn’t see wine quality as worth worrying about. Instead, its business plan is apparently based on the Holy Trinity of the wine business: fake pricing, hyperbole, and winespeak. Is it any wonder this makes wine companies lots of money but makes wine that much more difficult to enjoy, and especially for people who don’t know much about it?

I’m not the only one who figured this out; the Wine Dabbler took his anger a step further in a post entitled “The great Groupon wine rip-off:”

I received six different wines I had never heard of before, two bottles each. The wines we have tried so far are abysmal — and they all taste virtually the same! … I do not think that there are any violations of the law, but there are carefully planned and willfully executed violations of moral and ethical values.

As I wrote when I ordered, I got a red and white blend, plus a chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and sauvignon blanc. The advertised price for the six wines was $14.99 each with a 40 percent discount. But these wines weren’t worth $14.99, or even 40 percent off $14.99. They’re mostly Two-buck Chuck quality, made from the bulk wine that comes from the grapes that grow in California’s Central Valley by a company that makes bulk wine for just such purposes. The white blend, in fact, tasted a lot like those 4-liter boxes of Franzia — sort of sweet and probably made with French colombard and chenin blanc.

I write “probably” because there wasn’t any information about the wines — no information sheets, and most of the wines didn’t even have a cutesy back label with winespeak. No doubt the company didn’t want to tell anyone what was actually going on. I did get a sheet offering to sell me six bottles of fruit-flavored moscato for $9 a bottle (I’d guess it costs much less than half of that to make) and a “stunning” French rose, also six bottles for $9.99. I’ll pass, thanks.

On the one hand, I’m not surprised this was such a depressing experience. I’ve been writing about wine for too long to expect otherwise. On the other hand, that it was so depressing makes it that much worse. Can’t the ordinary wine drinker ever win?

Is wine the last bastion of the snob?

wine snob

“Trust me. I’m not dead.”

Periodically, one of my colleagues will lament that the U.S. isn’t more of a wine drinking country, and wonder what can be done to change that. I mention this not because I have the answer — I’m usually shouted down when I offer one — but because it ties into two recent items. First, the annual list of “Blue Chip” wine brands chosen by the company that publishes the Wine Spectator and that ranks wine by sales growth and profit margin. Second, an essay by New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, bemoaning what he calls the death of the film snob and how the movies are poorer for it.

Scott argues that the Internet and post-modern democracy have transformed film criticism, and that “the world of the Yelp score, the Amazon algorithm and the Facebook thumb is a place of liking and like-mindedness, of niches and coteries and shared enthusiasms, a Utopian zone in which everyone is a critic and nobody is a snob because nobody’s taste can be better than anyone else’s.” Who needs critics when we can decide what to watch based on the wisdom of the crowd, and even feel more confident about our choice?

Which, of course, is not how we do things in wine. Scott writes that: ” ‘Snob’ is a category in which nobody would willingly, or at least unironically, claim membership,” so I must assume he has never read wine criticism or discussed wine with the too many people who are too proudly snotty about what they drink. What else is brose but an attempt to turn $10 pink wine that anyone can drink — that anyone should drink — into something that only the most entitled among us can appreciate?

I’m not sure, after writing about cheap wine all these years, that the laments about the U.S. and wine aren’t about wine as much as they’re about the wine that the wine snobs think we should drink. After all, we’ve made tremendous strides as a wine drinking country, with per capita consumption higher than it has been since the 1970s and wine sales up even through the recession. But is that progress enough? Or do we have to progress as a wine drinking nation in the direction the snobs think best?

What if American wine drinking rates were the same as France’s, where the typical adult drinks a bottle a week, four times what we drink here? Because, to get to that point, more of us would have buy the wines on the Blue Chip list, like Barefoot, Sutter Home, Yellow Tail, and Cavit. Would that make the wine snob happy? I doubt it. They’d argue that it wouldn’t be enough that most of us were drinking wine with dinner, but that we weren’t drinking the right wine.

The irony, of course, is that all those everyday wine drinkers in France, as well as Spain and Italy, are drinking the local equivalent of Barefoot, Sutter Home, Woodbridge, Yellow Tail, and Cavit — or something even cheaper or more poorly made or both. The next time you’re in a European grocery store, check out the amazing numbers of wine brands that cost just a couple of euros. Hard to believe if you’re raised on wine in the U.S., where no one is supposed to drink that stuff.

The other irony? That there is a difference between snobbishness and criticism, and I’m surprised Scott didn’t make that point more strongly. A snob rejects anything he or she confiders inferior, even if there isn’t a good reason to do so. The best critics, and Scott is certainly one, detail the whys and wherefores, allowing us to make up our own minds. Good or bad isn’t even the point, which is why wine scores are so useless and why something as stupid as “Animal House” can be so much fun to watch. Rather, did that wine or that film or that restaurant do what it set out to do, and did it do so honestly and with respect for both the form and the consumer?

Otherwise, we might as well buy what the Wine Spectator tells us to buy, make fun of people who don’t drink “good” wine, and pat ourselves on the back for being so much better than everyone else.

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