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Tag Archives: wine writing

Winebits 337: Coravin woes and crappy wine

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wine news coravinCoravin says whoops: Far be it for the Wine Curmudgeon to say “I told you so,” but the $300 Coravin wine opener has hit a snag. As in exploding bottles. The system exerts so much pressure that some bottles, likely with minute defects, burst when the Coravin is used. The company has halted sales until it fixes the problem, and has sent those who purchased the opener a patch. Who knew wine openers would be subject to recalls?

No more reviews: Lew Perdue, who runs the Wine Industry Insight news service, used to throw the occasional wine review in the mix. But no more: “…I’ve grown weary of panning bad wine. You probably don’t enjoy reading about it. Worse than that are all of the bad wines I’ve had the misfortune of buying. And tasting.” I’m sorry to see Lew go, but completely understand. Those of us who buy wine to review and take our chances with what we buy have had the same thing happen to us. Over and over. And over. Or, as I like to joke, I taste more bad wine than anyone in the world. Which actually isn’t very funny, is it?

Legitimate wine education: Or so promises a British supermarket chain, which is adding a taste test to its on-line store. Consumers will answer questions about their wine preferences, and the results will guide them to wines labeled sweet, fresh, smooth, or intense (as well as a numbered scale) that match their answers. Says the chain’s wine buyer: “Customers really love wines but they find buying it scary because they are really worried that they are going to buy the wrong products.” Wow. Who knew retailers knew that?

Winebits 334: Wine prices and the Winestream Media

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Winebits 334: Wine prices and the Winestream MediaIt’s all about real estate: The Women for Wine Sense Napa Sonoma website (now there’s a URL) breaks down the price of a bottle of California cabernet sauvignon, and the cost of land makes up much of the difference between cheap and expensive. “Everything else being equal, Cabernet from the Stag’s Leap AVA costs more than Cabernet from Lodi.” This is something that can’t be harped on enough, and is a key part of the cheap wine book. The other question the article poses: “Is the $50 wine really over 200% better than the $15 bottle or are you just paying to finance the winery’s fancy tasting room?” Heavens, doesn’t the author know it’s not polite to ask those things in California?

Another record harvest? There’s good news and bad news for wine prices, courtesy of Rob McMillan at Silicon Valley Bank, perhaps the world’s leading authority on the subject. Despite a record drought, California is on track for another huge harvest in 2014, which will almost certainly lower grape prices. But McMillan isn’t sure that will translate into lower wine prices, given the price increases producers haven’t taken over the past couple of years. The 2014 vintage may be about restoring margins, which have suffered since 2008 and the beginning of the recession. If that happens, then – as one astute blog visitor pointed out earlier this year — the hunt for great cheap wine, as opposed to just cheap wine, will become even harder next year.

Wine writing’s Cold War: Those of you too young to remember the collapse of the Soviet Union might be a little confused by this interview with Chateau Montelena’s Bo Barrett (who apparently was the only person happy with the casting for the movie “Bottle Shock”). In it, he compares the current feud between the old Winestream Media, like Robert Parker, and the new Winestream Media, like Jon Bonne, to the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviets, which lasted some 40 years. It’s an interesting take, and one I hadn’t considered: “You’re either with the Soviet Union or you’re with the USA and NATO.  What happen is as that broke down you have this global anarchy, and that’s what I see with the Internet has created this democracy where people are voting with their feet, and the freedom to choose their own wines and different styles of wines has never been better.” Who knew we’d ever see NATO, the military alliance that includes the U.S. and western Europe, mentioned in a wine story?

Wine term: Post-modern

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Wine term Post-modernNo, the wine term post-modern is not something that usually shows up in the Winestream Media or on most of the websites with winespeak dictionaries. But post-modern is a crucial term in understanding the evolution of the wine business over the past couple of decades.

I adapted it from literature, where post-modern defines a style of writing that rejects the idea that narrative is the most important thing in the novel. In post-modernism, it’s not necessary for the plot to go from beginning to end, or to even make sense. Things just happen, and that’s what writers like Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, and Martin Amis explored.

An astute visitor has noted that winemaker Clark Smith wrote a book, published last year, called Postmodern Winemaking, and wanted to make sure that I gave credit where credit was due. I wasn’t aware of the book, or certainly would have. We apparently cover much the same ground with the term post-modern, though Smith focuses on the winemaking aspects, while I’m concerned less with the technical aspects and more about what it means for consumers (and Smith drops the hyphen, like a true post-modernist).

My view? In wine, post-modernism rejects traditional methods and benchmarks, just as post-modern literature rejects traditional narrative. That means terroir doesn’t matter, that varietal character isn’t important, and that alcohol levels are for old ladies. In this world, the only thing wrong with a 15.5% chardonnay without green apple fruit is that no one had thought of doing it before. The idea is to make wine the way the winemaker wants, free of the constraints that hampered the process for the past 500 years. Or, as one leading post-modernist wrote so memorably: “California promotes wines that don’t suck.”

The International style of winemaking, where winemakers in Italy or Argentina consciously try to make wine taste like it came from Paso Robles, is part of post-modernism, but it’s not the only part. What’s more important, and what’s often overlooked, is how Big Wine has adapted post-modernism to its purposes — to sell more wine without having to educate consumers.

Hence, dry red wines with sweet fruit that don’t taste dry; wines without tannins, because the casual wine drinker doesn’t like them — even though tannins are an integral part of red wine; and wave after wave of sweetish white wines, like moscato and Prosecco, where the wine is made to a taste profile and not necessarily to what the grapes give it.

The other thing that matters is that post-modernism is neither good nor bad. It just is. Martin Amis is a fine writer, but he makes me crazy. You don’t have to like those wines; rather, you need to know they exist and that they are in stark contrast to wines made in the traditional manner. I’m not going to tell you what to drink. Instead, I’m going to describe what the wine is like and let you make up your mind. And using the wine term post-modern is one more way I can do that.

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