Sunday, November 22, 2009
There are so many misconceptions about wine and the wine business, most of them fostered by the wine industry and designed to confuse consumers and wine novices. Someone needs to step up and reveal these myths, these falsehoods, these flatout Cheneys and Rumsfelds, these transparent Limbaughs. Or we'll all end up like Pinocchio with a giant nose boner. I guess the ol' HoseMaster has to do it.
Myth #1 Advertising affects wine ratings
Americans are a skeptical folk. We think wrestling is fixed. We think Florida elections are fixed. We think Madonna is fixed. No matter how much evidence to the contrary is presented, we simply believe the cynical thing to believe. Most people in the wine business are of the opinion that if you purchase a lot of full and half-page ads in publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast and Wine and Spirits that that will buy you some points. Come on, people! This is lunacy. The reason these wineries can afford to buy advertising in these publications is because they make such amazing wines they are rolling in dough and they simply want to give back. They don't care about ratings! Ratings are stupid and don't sell wine anyway, why would they waste money in an attempt to get slightly higher scores? OK, Beringer is always in the top 20 wines every year in Wine Spectator, is that because they buy a lot of advertising? Don't be stupid! It's because, from a strictly objective point of view, they produce many of the greatest wines on the planet, and lots of it! And what better way to thank the wine world than to support its greatest magazine? That the advertising department of a wine publication reminds you that your wine is about to be reviewed right before they ask if you'd like to purchase some more ad space doesn't mean the two things are related. Look at it this way. If your lover is wondering what you're going to buy her for Christmas as she is undressing, you know the two things aren't related. Right?
Myth #2 Wine critics can actually smell everything they describe in any given wine.
There's a pretty simple mathematical way to understand how this works. Take the number of adjectives the critic uses--raspberries, green Gummy bears, pain grille, pommes frites, old Summer's Eve--subtract it from the numerical score, divide it by the alcohol content of the wine, subtract the case production, and if the result is less than zero he's making the shit up. Serious studies have shown that the human nose, and, for rhetorical sake, we'll assume the critic is human, can sense no more than four distinct aromas at a time. And, of course, one dog fart changes that equation to one--you know who you are, Mr. Bigshot. So a long list of descriptive adjectives is as much a fantasy as Gary Vaynerchuk getting an M.W.-- unless they award them in Bizarro world. So why do critics pretend to smell fourteen different things in a wine? Think of it in a "Where's Waldo?" way. Think of it as oneupmanship. Think of it as self-deception. Think of it as hubris. Think of it all you want, just don't believe it.
Myth #3 The best wines are unfiltered.
No, the best cigarettes are unfiltered. Wineries love to say that their wines are unfiltered, but, under oath, they might say otherwise. Unfiltered is used in the wine business the way "organic" is used by Safeway. Let's be generous and chalk it up to poetic license. Most of the wines are actually unfiltered-adjacent. Parker, and perhaps a few other lesser critics, lesser in girth anyway, popularized the notion that filtering a wine strips it of some flavor. This makes intuitive sense, but is sort of like saying straining your fish reduction after it's finished robs it of character. Yeah, OK, but it also takes all that floaty barf out of it. And twenty years down the road an unfiltered wine runs a genuine risk of developing all sorts of off-aromas--like barnyard and slaughterhouse and porn set aromas--so the trade-off, even if the unproven premise is true, ain't so bad. But as soon as Parker declared that filtering was evil, every pathetic winery started claiming their wines were unfiltered. It doesn't really matter. Is a great wine better because it's unfiltered? Is a stupid wine less stupid because it's unfiltered? Do wineries unfailingly tell you and Parker the truth. Yes, yes and yes. Suckers.
Myth #4 Marvin Shanken is a real person.
Most of you have seen the familiar picture of "Marvin Shanken," either holding a glass of wine in his stubby, sausage-shaped fingers or smoking some expensive turd. But it's common knowledge in the wine business that "Marvin Shanken" is an imaginary person, a corporate icon that does not really exist. Like Aunt Jemima or Betty Crocker or Mr. Clean or George Steinbrenner. Wine Spectator has under contract four Marvin Shanken "ambassadors." These four guys, who are remarkably similar in build, appearance and smarminess, appear all over the world at wine events and pretend to be the publisher of Wine Spectator. Think of them as Budweiser Clydesdales--hard to tell them apart with a cursory glance--only not as well-groomed.
Two Marvins make a rare appearance together!