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Winebits 343: Dave McIntyre, wine scores, and wine in the movies

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Dave McIntyre

That’s Dave in the middle, and he should be smiling.

More than well deserved: Who knew the Wine Curmudgeon would know someone who had won the same award as a Mondavi? Or the legendary Konstantin Frank, without whom U.S. regional wine would not have been possible? But that’s my pal Dave McIntyre, who was given the Monteith Trophy over the weekend for his work as a wine writer. Dave has done much for the cause of wine, including co-founding Drink Local Wine with me when people thought we were crazy. So it’s more than time that the wine world recognized the effort Dave has made, not only for regional wine, but for wine drinkers everywhere. Dave will be in Dallas in a couple of weeks, and I have laid in some Texas wine that we will celebrate with. Congratulations, my friend. But couldn’t you have worn a tie for a big deal like this?

End the tyranny: Or so says Michael Woodsmall at the Grape Collective, calling for an end to the 100-point scoring system. “It should be duly noted that these scales don’t take actual wine’s nuanced characteristics into account; they merely assigned values to general traits. … Also, it is no longer the seventies and eighties.”  This sentiment is something the Wine Curmudgeon has long advocated, and Woodsmall makes an intelligent argument for the end of scores, even throwing in a little political theory to explain why the debate generates such controversy. This is a revolution, and the scoreists will defend the ancien regime until the bitter end.

Hollywood and wine: The Wine Curmudgeon, in discussing U.S. wine culture in the cheap wine book, talked about Hollywood’s complete indifference to wine for most of the 20th century, and how this indifference reflected American views of wine. So I was more than pleased to see an academic study of the subject, supporting my views. Raphael Schirmer of the University of Bordeaux, writing for the American Association of Wine Economists, has found that as wine has become more popular in the U.S., so has wine become more popular in film. This is not just about Francis Ford Coppola owning a major wine company or movies like “Sideways;” rather, it’s the idea that we drink wine as part of our everyday lives, and the movies that are made reflect this.

Wine competitions and wine scores

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wine scoresThe Wine Curmudgeon’s opinions of wine scores are well known: Get a rope. So what would happen when I had to judge a wine competition that required judges to use scores?

The competition, the Critics Challenge in San Diego, was its usual enjoyable self, featuring wine I usually don’t get to drink as well as some top quality cheap wine. The scores? Meh. More, after the jump (plus some of the best wine I tasted):


Caveats first: The competition pays judges a $500 honorarium and reimburses expenses, and the weather in San Diego is always so much better than it is in Dallas that I’d do it just for the 70-degree temperatures.

But are those good enough reasons to give scores, considering how I feel about them? Probably not. I agreed to judge for two reasons: First, because if you’re going to criticize something, you should do it at least once, and second, because I have tremendous respect for competition impresario Robert Whitley. If Robert wants to do scores, then I’m willing to try it.

Having said that, the scoring process was underwhelming. In years past, we gave wines a silver, gold, or platinum medal; this year, we added scores to those awards. I’m still trying to figure out the difference between a silver medal wine with 87 points and one with 89 points, even though my judging partner, Linda Murphy, did her best to explain it to me. A silver is a silver is a silver, and I don’t understand why two points makes a difference. Or how Linda and I could give the same wine the same medal, but different points. How could one of us like the wine 2.2 percent more than the other (the difference between an 87 silver and an 89 silver)?

Still, there were some terrific wines entered:

• The 2013 Giesen Riesling from New Zealand ($15) was named best in class, an excellent example of the tremendous value available in New Zealand riesling.

• Linda and I agreed that the Yorkville Cellars 2012 Carmenere ($38) was platinum worthy, and it earned best in class honors. Carmenere can be off-putting, unripe and tannic, but this was an intriguing, rich, and earthy effort, with dark fruit and complex finish.

• I’ve been lucky enough to taste sparkling wine from Dr. Konstantin Frank in upstate New York three times since last fall, and each time it has been sensational. The 2007 Chateau Frank Brut ($25) won best of class, and the non-vintage rose ($21) grabbed a silver.

• The 2012 Nottage Hill Chardonnay from Australia’s Hardys ($13) won a platinum, which wasn’t surprising. Aussie chardonnay can often be $10 Hall of Fame quality; the catch, usually, is that the wines vary greatly from vintage to vintage, and what was tasty one year isn’t the next.

• A non-vintage red blend, called Kitchen Sink ($10), won a silver. It’s fruity, but well-made, and I’ve always enjoyed the Kitchen Sink white blend.

Winebits 329: Legal affairs edition

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Winebits 329: Legal affairs editionBecause the Wine Curmudgeon is always amused by the legal side of the wine business:

Blame it on Utah: The Wine Curmudgeon has first-hand experience with Utah’s liquor laws, thanks to a story I wrote about the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But not even I was ready for this excellent piece of reporting by Nancy Lofholm in The Denver Post. How about eight different liquor licenses? Or that some establishments have to have a barrier between customers and the bartender, and that others don’t — even if they have the same license? But don’t worry too much. Says one Utah tourism official: “We are not the only state with peculiar liquor laws.”

Scores don’t matter: Or, did a New York judge tell a wine drinker that a high score can’t be the basis for suing about wine quality? There are many ways to interpret the decision, in which a Manhattan judge dismissed a lawsuit (requires free registration) in which a consumer wanted a refund from a wine store because he didn’t like the six bottles of 91-point wine he bought. The judge wrote that wine taste is subjective, and so can’t be the basis for a lawsuit. I know the wine in question, a decent enough bottle of Rioja, but one that’s probably not worth the $12.99 the consumer paid. Damn those scores anyway.

Questioning three-tier? Or so says this post from the Libation Law blog, analyzing a New Jersey court decision that said “New Jersey’s liquor control laws and regulations must be administered in the light of changing conditions.” Which, of course, is what those of us who want to reform the three-tier system have been saying for years: That a system put in place at the end of Prohibition to keep the mob out of liquor has outlived its reason for being. The decision, which dealt with distributors and how they paid commission, is esoteric, but Ashley Brandt at Libation is optimistic that it “strengthens the argument that a vigilant regulatory system can uncover and prohibit the practices that people claim the three-tiered system was meant to forestall.” The Wine Curmudgeon, with his vast legal experience (a semester of First Amendment law in college) isn’t quite so sure, but who am I to ruin a good mood?

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