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The Wine Curmudgeon most popular posts 2015

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wine curmudgeon

Change your logo as much as you want, but you’re still screwing up my site.

The Wine Curmudgeon blog has a new editor/publisher, but I knew nothing about it until I compiled the top 10 most popular posts from the past 12 months. It’s Google, which now decides what you read on the blog. I can try all I want — and I try very hard — to write relevant, informative, and helpful content, but my efforts matter less and less. That’s because Google directs people to the posts it decides are the most important, and for the first time in the blog’s history, those aren’t necessarily the posts I consider the most important.

Case in point: The top post from November 2014 to November 2015 was a five-year-old effort about Barefoot wine that didn’t make the top 10 last year. It’s bad enough that Google sent readers to the blog for something that wasn’t current, but the Barefoot post replaced the $10 Hall of Fame — my reason for being — as the most popular post.

Ain’t the Internet grand?

Almost none of the stuff that I wrote over the past 12 months that should have been in the top 20 was. None of the stuff that I thought was clever or funny made the top 20. Just old wine reviews — literally. Seven of the 10 best read posts over the last year were reviews of wines from 2014 or before.

This, for a writer, is as depressing as it gets, not unlike someone telling Michelangelo that the Sistine Chapel is nice, but an estimate for painting the house would be even better. What’s the point of reporting, and then crafting and sweating over a piece, when Google says not to bother because no one wants to read it? The search giant equates popularity with trust, so it sends people to the most popular posts because its algorithm says they’re the most trusted. Because, of course, they’re the most popular. That this is the Internet version of a Catch-22 doesn’t seem to matter.

Even the good news, that my traffic recovered in 2015 from the slump caused by Google’s ever-changing search methods and from revamping the website two years ago, was depressing. I’m getting more than 51,000 visitors — that’s visitors, not page views — a month, an amazing number for a one-person site. But what’s the point if they’re coming here to read stuff that doesn’t necessarily matter anymore?

Not to worry, though, if you like the stuff no one else does. I won’t change the blog’s format just because an algorithm says I should. Everyone should know me better than that by now. The most popular posts from 2015, plus a couple of other notes, are after the jump:

A Halloween wine tale 2015: I am Legend

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i am legendThe afternoon was cloudy, and Robert Neville didn’t know how long he had until dark. Because he had a lot of work to do – he had made 47 stakes.

                                                             •
It hadn’t always been like this. Before the war and the plague and the dust storms, when Virginia and Kathy were alive and people lived on Cimarron Street, life was normal. Or it had seemed that way, driving to work with Ben Cortman, having dinner with Virginia and a nice $10 bottle of wine, and enjoying the weekend barbecues with the other families on Cimarron Street.

Cortman, who lived a couple of house down, always knew where to get the best wine deals. He could find a terrific Sicilian red or a Spanish white or even a French rose for as little as $8, and when Neville asked him how he did it, Cortman would smile and make his usual bad joke: “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

Which, of course, is what Cortman was trying to do now. Neville, his 47 stakes driven into 47 lifeless but not dead bodies, was barricaded in the house on Cimarron Street, waiting for daybreak. He had barred the windows, even boarded them up, had reinforced and bolted the doors, and surrounded all with so much garlic that the stench was a permanent part of his life.

Still, the noise from the hundreds of people – if you could call them that – was deafening, and it seemed to get louder every night. Neville knew he must soundproof a room soon; otherwise, the howling was going to make him even crazier than he was afraid he already was.

“Come out, Neville!” Cortman was screaming like he did every night. “We’re ready for you, Neville. We have our Napa cabs and our Super Tuscans, and they all got 98 points. Don’t you want some?”

                                                             •

Neville didn’t remember exactly when the plague started. But he remembered the results – people who had thought Bogle was a splurge bringing cult 15 ½ percent pinot noirs to the barbecues, Cortman subscribing to every wine magazine he could find and talking about cigar box aromas and dusty tannins, and Virginia – God, his sweet, gentle Virginia – telling him to pry open his wallet to buy some wine that actually had flavors she could taste.

Neville, though, seemed immune from the plague. He had been stationed in France during the war, and maybe it was the vin ordinaire he had drunk. All he knew was that as the world went high alcohol and over-extracted around him, all he wanted was a little terroir.

So he made stakes, lots and lots of stakes.

                                                             •

They still came every night, Cortman and their wailing about $2,000 first growths, but Neville had accepted it. It was them and the end of wine as he loved it, or his daylight bloodletting. There didn’t seem to be a choice.

And then one morning, after he had cleaned out a particularly nasty den, with dozens of empty bottles of 97-pointers and wine magazine back issues open to the tasting notes, he saw her.

She was sitting at a table in the park in daylight, drinking what looked like a Gascon white blend, and reading the book with the green bottle and the brown hat on the cover. And it was daylight. Neville blinked, couldn’t believe what he saw, and then ran screaming toward her. Could it be? Could there be someone else?

                                                             •

Her name was Ruth, and she said all the right things. She had been to Italy, had acquired her immunity there, had been running and hiding since the plague started. The same thing had happened to her husband and two sons that had happened to Virginia and Kathy.

Still, Neville wasn’t sure. Maybe it was the way she seemed to be forcing down those 12 percent whites, as if drinking them hurt her. Maybe it was the way she did say all the right things, as if she knew that’s what he needed to hear. But she was out in the daylight. How could that be if she was one of them?

                                                            •

When the end came, Neville wasn’t surprised. “I never really believed you,” he told Ruth.

Ruth and her colleagues, most of whom wrote about wine on the Internet, had captured him that morning. They had mutated, had adapted to the plague the way human beings have always adapted. They could live in the light, but they weren’t like Neville.

“It’s better this way,” she said. “Your time is past. We’re going to remake the wine world, so that there is room for everyone, whether you want to spend $10 or $20 or even $50. Even if I don’t like high alcohol, isn’t it OK if someone else does?”

Neville smiled. He could see the others, standing behind Ruth, crowding to get a glimpse of him. And then, before they led him to his death, as he watched them, he realized why they feared – and maybe even admired – him: “I am legend.”

A tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to the late Richard Matheson. He was a brilliant horror writer who is too little known to mainstream audiences, no doubt because “I am Legend” was turned into three crappy movies, and whose work included the William Shatner Twilight Zone, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” “I am Legend” is not only a first-rate horror story, but its paranoid, noir style speaks to the Cold War era when it was written.

For more Halloween wine tales:
A Halloween wine tale 2014: Frankenstein
A Halloween wine tale 2013: Dracula

Shortlisted for the Born Digital Wine awards

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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?

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