Monday, December 15, 2014

Lo Hai Qu on Wine Magazines

In an effort to provide some wine education for my unpredictable intern Lo Hai Qu, I gave her gift subscriptions to most of the major wine publications, and Sommelier Journal (oh, my mistake, SOMM Journal, which is a subsidiary of LADYHOME Journal—Jerry Lewis, Editor Emeritus).  She asked if she could use HoseMaster of Wine™ to express her opinions about these august magazines, most of which are published in the other months as well. Buckle your seat belts, here we go.

So, like, I’ve been reading all these wine magazines for the past few months, and, fuck me, they are so boring. I mean, like, Oprah-What-I-Know-For-Sure boring. Here’s what I know for sure, Oprah, you rich and I ain’t, and all that preaching you do is making my ears bleed. If you’re every woman, I’m every woman’s ass you can kiss.  Oprah is kinda what most of these wine mags are like—they just preach at you, but all the time they’re doing it, what they’re really doing is promoting how great they are, how you should try to be more like them, wise and all that arrogant shit. I always think two things when I’m done reading an issue. One, “It’s only wine!” And two, “I’m horny.” Which is the opposite order from when I’m at the local wine bar with Shizzangela. But that damn Shizzangela always gets all the attention with her sparkly wine shirts. Her one last night said, “Pull Your Cork for These.” That Shizzy, she crazy.

But after a bunch of months reading all these wine mags, I think I’m starting to understand them. Wine magazines are a lot like porn. It’s mostly the same positions over and over, just new dicks doing it. And it’s mostly about dicks. But for the occasional article about a woman winemaker, an article usually written in a sort of “Oh, isn’t she amazing, doing a man’s job and all” kind of tone, you’d think the only things women do in the wine world is wear stupid fucking hats to charity auctions, or work for bigass corporations peddling wines with insulting names like “Bitch,” or “Skinnygirl” or “Kung Fu Girl.” If one of my girls buys me a bottle of “Kung Fu Girl” I’m going to Bruce Lee her ass into next week. I find that “Kung Fu Girl” label kind of offensive. I’m guessing they’re not gonna come out with a “Welfare Queen” Moscato any time soon. What kind of low self-esteem, Oprah-worshipping, tasteless chick buys a bottle of “Bitch” or “Skinnygirl?” You don’t see any dudes buying “Limpdick” Pinot Gris or “Beergut” Zin. I felt like all these magazines treated me like I was a stupid woman. I don’t need that from wine magazines. I can get that from Ann Coulter. Fuck, if she isn’t an argument against empowerment, I don’t know what is.

According to the HoseMaster, Wine Spectator is the most successful of these wine rags. You know, for me, I just looked at the damned format of the magazine and that told me a lot. That big, glossy, supersized Wine Spectator just screams fake. It’s like a wine magazine with breast augmentation, all shiny and way too big. You just know it cost a lot of money, and even though the wine tit job looks good, you know it’s fake the minute you touch it. And this is really a men’s magazine that rates wine. It’s written by men for men, so if you have a vagina, you’d best just smile real pretty and some nice Wine Spectator man will show you the pretty full-page ads while the real wine buyers read the wine scores. And it’s all really old dudes! Like all the Wine Spectator columnists are WalMart greeters. “Hello, my name is Harvey. Welcome to Wine Spectator! Can I get you a shopping cart?” It’s James and Matt and Marvin and Tim, all smiling in their photos like the After pictures in Cialis ads. Guys at Wine Spectator, hey, we girls buy most of the wine in this country! We don’t much care for your condescending tone. Bite me. Cancel my subscription.

And what is up with that Wine Enthusiast? I mean, what a stupid name, first of all. Enthusiast? Who the fuck uses that word except snotty British guys? And why do all these wine magazines put the scores in the very back of the magazine? It seems like that’s what the people who read that crap are paying for is the stupid scores. I guess it’s like grocery stores that put all the milk and butter and pharmacies in the very back of the store so you have to maneuver your way through all the junk to get to what you actually want—milk and drugs. OK, yeah, they put a few scores in the front, just like those paid-for endcaps you see at Safeway, but all the other shit you need is way in the back. You have to flip through all the fascinating pictures of grapevines, and people holding wine bottles, and women winemakers looking all cute with their tussled hair, to get to the drugs. The scores. They’re drugs. Seems like wineries are hooked on them, like the whole wine business is jonesin’ all the time for scores. They get so addicted and desperate, they start whorin’. It’s like me and my cigarettes. I know I’ll die from the goddam death sticks, but I crave ‘em so bad cuz they make me look cool. A big glass of naked Chardonnay and a lit cigarette? Man, they go together like insects and windshields. And it seems like wineries want to die by scores. Scores are a great high, like meth, but only stupid people and addicts don’t know they’ll kill you one day.

Wine Enthusiast is like a wimpy baby brother to Wine Spectator. It’s the momma’s boy of wine magazines, all self-important and needy. They, like, give awards for anything and everything, which is hilarious, like if I gave awards to all the guys I date, even a guy I awarded “Sweetest ED Enthusiast.” Like they award things like “Wine Region of the Year.” So it’s like if they gave an Oscar for “Best Country Making Movies that Aren’t Quite as Good as Hollywood’s.” Come on, the Wine Region of the Year? New York? Man, if you want junkets and free wine, just ask. I’m just sure the Wine Region of the Year is totally honored. It’s like being the First Runner-Up for Miss America. Yeah, you’re beautiful and all, but, really, you need just a little more talent to make it big. Now go celebrate! You got an award!

These magazines all seem to think they’re important, which is kind of sweet, really, like brave little Chihuahuas. But you give ‘em a little shit and they just pee all over themselves. Wine and Spirits tries really hard to be smart and pretend it's powerful, and that’s cool, but it’s also not any fun at all. Like that guy who drones on and on about what he loves, wine or football or how popular he is on Pinterest, which is like being popular at church, which no one interesting ever attends either, but when you start talking his mind wanders. “Yeah,” he says over and over, “but what about wine? Let’s talk more about wine.” So smart isn’t what Wine and Spirits is, but it aspires to smart, and to be admired for being smart, only it’s as ill-equipped as a one-armed sommelier. And almost as smarmy.

There’s other magazines, too. Decanter and World of Fine Wine. These are both written by members of a club for geniuses related to Mensa, guys not quite as smart, called Densa. Man, are those magazines for the Densa. How is it that a beverage that makes us so much more fun to be around, makes us giddy and drunk and happy to be alive, can generate so much turgid prose? Decanter puts the t-u-r-d in turgid. And World of Fine Wine, I couldn’t stay awake reading it. I think they use it to induce comas in people with serious brain injuries, like wine writers. It’s like 400 slick pages without a single laugh, not even one light moment. It’s so fucking serious, it’s like reading 400 pages of your cancer diagnosis, though death, in this case, might be welcome.

Oh, maybe I’m being too mean. They mean well, these men’s magazines, they try to educate me about wine, but what they really do is trumpet the importance of men writing about a subject that, really, has little importance. So what did I learn reading all these magazines? I don’t know, I’m just a dumb girl. I learned that ads don’t buy scores, scores buy ads. And that, in the right hands, even the best wines I’ve ever tasted, having Coravined those suckers from the HoseMaster’s cellar, can be made to sound downright boring. Oh, and that, when it comes down to it, wine magazines are just like the men that read them—fun for a night, but then easily disposable.


Bryan Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Pierson said...

LOL stuff Ron.. my fav.. men after Cialis ads... Lo Hai Qu isn't showing enuff leg.. funny at the San Diego wine fest I couldn't resist taking a discreet pic of a total babe and got home and found I had inadvertently captured another old perv checking her out..

winemolly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron Washam, HMW said...

I think you mean "Mark" Twain, but I'll take "Mart." My wife says I'm the Napa Valley Wine Twain, which is a joke I like.

I don't set out to create "masterpieces." Nor do I. I just love to write as Lo Hai Qu, and often use her character when my own HoseMaster character seems tired to me. She's becoming a stronger and stronger voice in my head. And, believe me, it's crowded in there.

Thanks, Bryan. Kind words. Happy Holidays!

Thanks, my friend. I've never been to the San Diego wine fest, so, I swear, that isn't me in your picture.

Lo doesn't show much leg usually. She's all about lip.

Happy Holidays, David, and thanks for being such a loyal common tater.

Good Golly, Winemolly,
It is mostly about dicks, and maybe it takes viewing the world through Lo's eyes to make me see how much WS is about dicks. Thank you for chiming in, and I hope your Holidays are joyful.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Gang,
Don't think I've ever had two comments disappear at once! Bryan and Winemolly removed their own remarks. So my comments seem rather odd, addressed to no one. But, then again, that's the whole premise of HoseMaster of Wine™, so I guess it works after all.

Going to be one of those days...

Patrick Horn said...

Yes, I get it. Everything is about appearances if you're selling a magazine or a show or political candidate. But do we have proof that the reviews/scores have been altered for material gains? I doubt James Suckling would even consider it! ; )

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'm not sure we have proof James Suckling even exists. I'm pretty sure the guy we see in those videos is computer-generated. He's the Jar Jar Binks of wine critics.

Happy Holidays, and thanks for being a common tater.

Mark Paley said...

The pessimist sees the glass half-empty, the optimist half-full and the Hosemaster just sees one big dribble glass.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Nicely put! Though some might say "drivel" instead of dribble.

Happy Holidays!

Marcia Macomber said...

I second all of Lo Hai's comments! I can't read a word in those rags. I suppose they hold value for wine lovers living in non-wine country locales. Long may Lo Hai reign (or rain, as the case may be today)!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia Love,
I confess I rarely read wine magazines unless there is absolutely nothing else to read. I even prefer back labels of wine bottles, which are the absolute nadir of writing.

Lo appreciates your support. Wear a funny wine shirt, and meet her for drinks!

Happy Holidays, Marcia! Very few have been a common tater as long as you have. Not sure that's anything to brag about, but I do appreciate your loyalty and support.

Thomas said...

So they are dicks. I thought they were cigars...

pam strayer said...

Rebecca Solnik (author of Men Explain Everything to Me) and Lo Hai Qu are on the right track!

But I have a question...Do men buy all of the expensive wines in this wine mags? The wines in these magazines are pretty much not in the supermarket…and most not even in wine stores…so who are these articles actually for?

Probably not about selling 90-95% of the wine sold in the U.S. Which mostly comes from the Big Four.

But the mags are good for luxury lifestyle ads, which is mostly what you find in them. Or international brands trying to get a toehold in the U.S. market with ads…It's a mystery to me.

I hope someone can explain it to me.

Thanks for shining the light in another dark and musty corner!

Mark D said...

A beauty Ron. All of your posts make me laugh but I sprayed coffee out of my nose today. Cialis ads. Limpdick Pinot Gris. Beergut Zin. Too good mate. Too good. DO NOT QUIT. Our business needs you!
Happy Holidays

Ron Washam, HMW said...

To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a dick is just a dick.

When I decide to write as Lo Hai Qu I don't have any idea where the piece is going. I start with a very simple subject--wine magazines, in this case. Then I start to type. Her voice emerges, and she tells me where she's going. Frankly, it's a bit scary and weird.

There are times I think that not enough attention is paid to how much of a Sausage Fest the wine review business is. Talk of Parker's demise leads to endless speculation of who will replace him. Have you ever heard anyone suggest a woman will replace him? I haven't.

And chat rooms are so male dominated it's rather pathetic, with the same latent homosexuality you find in sports locker rooms. All of this is disheartening to me. And even with a lot more women winemakers, and a lot more women sommeliers (or, as I call them, winemakers and sommeliers), it's a business that at the top is wildly male dominated. But it's only wine, so why fuss?

Certainly, Wine Spectator has been a lifestyle magazine for some time now. Most of the articles are as vacuous as the looks on the faces of the models in the ads. This is the great American way, of course, and I don't have a problem with it. I don't read GQ or Esquire either, and I'm fine with their continued success. We're a consumer society, and as such, we need to know what makes us look cool to consume.

As for Rebecca Solnit, she has an especially brilliant essay in the December 2014 issue of Harper's (a magazine worth reading cover to cover every month). I highly recommend it.

Happy Holidays, Pam! Thanks for chiming in.

Thank you! Happy Holidays to you, too!

Mike said...

Check out Punch, you will love it. Imbibe isn't bad either. And stick to the other wine blogs and stay away from wine ragas. Loved the blog post by the way.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Mike,
Thanks. I've looked at PUNCH, and that "I'm Hip and You Can be Hip if you Wannabe" vibe is far too cloying and condescending for me. Maybe I'm too jaded, but all of those sites seem to spend far too much time on the headlines and feeds than they do on content. But it's not a site aimed at me, so that's just my take.

PUNCH is aimed at making money in exactly the same way Wine Spectator is. Don't be fooled. It's emptyheaded and disingenuous, filled with false authority and generalized drivel.

But, hey, what do I know? If you love it, and feel enlightened, enjoy it! It's a start.

Happy Holidays! And thanks for chiming in.

tom bohr said...

Thanks for your take on wine scores, Ron.
It's really so annoying.
Crack for dummies.

Bob Henry (Los Angeles wine industry professional) said...


All these holiday greetings! I've never read in you in such a jovial mood. Reconsidering giving the blog?

Addressing the question: "Who is Wine Spectator's target audience?"

Let's turn to their online media kit.

(I realize that HoseMaster disdains embedded links. I will only insert one. I wonder what Lo Hai Qu thinks about links?)

I quote Wine Spectator's online "Overview":

"Thank you for your interest in Wine Spectator magazine.

"Published 15 times per year, Wine Spectator offers an exciting, insider's view of the good life, including fine dining, wine travel, and entertainment. With more than 3.05 million readers (MRI), Wine Spectator reaches business leaders, trendsetters, epicureans and connoisseurs. Our readership also comprises the billion-dollar trade – the key buyers in the wine and spirits industry.

"Consumer readers who participated in a Luxury Brand Status Index Survey [*] had this to say about Wine Spectator:

. . .

"About our subscribers:

"-- Wine Spectator is #1 in dining and affluence
"-- Median HHI $164,667
"-- 96% took a recent trip
"-- 90% have a valid passport
"-- 77% enjoys cooking for family and friends
"-- 66% visit food and wine festivals
"-- 65% feel comfort and service are worth paying for when traveling
"-- 58% have a wine cellar

"Our readers are influencers and brand ambassadors not only for wine, but for the luxury products they enjoy and consume. To put it simply, those who enjoy wine and spirits, food, travel and the good life read Wine Spectator.

"[* The Luxury survey, conducted online, consists of a national sample of wealthy American consumers with an average income of $293,000 and an average net worth of $2.9 million.]"

Here is a link to the online "Wine Spectator Magazine Readership
at Glance":

Scroll down to page 4 for the MRI Spring 2014 reader survey.

The magazine boasts 8 readers per copy, or 3 million total.

3,000,000 readers ÷ 8 readers per copy = 375,000 subscribers.

Robert Parker had around 50,000 subscribers prior to the onset of the Great Recession. (I recall reading somewhere his subscriber base had fallen to around 40,000.)

Speaking as an ad agency veteran who has run countless consumer magazine ad campaigns, I question that "readers per copy" metric of 8.

That assumes that each and every subscriber lends out his/her issue to 7 "pass along" readers.

How many Wine Spectator subscribers have 7 tightwad wine enthusiast friends who don't subscribe, and habitually bum a free read of each issue?

Bob Henry (Los Angeles wine industry professional) said...


All these holiday greetings! I've never read in you in such a jovial mood. Reconsidering giving UP the blog?

Unknown said...

Bought a bottle of Bitch for a bachelorette party and they loved it. Feel sorry for that one's fiance...


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Tom,
Perhaps we need to start Scores Anonymous, wean poor, dependent score addicts from numbers one loser at a time. "Hello, my name is Ron, and I'm a score whore." "

I smell a piece in here. Thanks for the inspiration! And Happy Holidays, Tom, glad you're finally a common tater!

Wine Spectator has always claimed, with no foundation or evidence, that each issue is read by 8 people. Man, if you're the eighth person, how do you read the scores when all the pages are stuck together?

I always think about retiring, almost every day. It's the nature of the creative beast. That said, Happy Holidays, Bob!

I'm guessing most of Bitch is sold to women for other women. Maybe a few pimps buy it for their girls, but, otherwise, you'd have to be nuts to drink that crap. And if I tell my wife we're having Skinnygirl with dinner, she thinks I invited Kate Moss.

Thomas Matthews said...

I thank Lo Hai Qu for her perspective on Wine Spectator, and Bob Henry for posting data on the magazine's readership.

I realize this comment is out of tune with the general hilarity, but since the subject came up, I would like to add two additional points of information.

First, it's not Wine Spectator claiming that eight people read each copy; that's from MRI, an independent firm that's considered authoritative in the publishing industry.

Second, MRI estimates our readership at 53% male/ 47% female. So Lo has plenty of company.

Thomas Matthews
Executive editor
Wine Spectator

Bryan Scott said...

And who pays MRI,Thomas Matthews,
Executive editor,Wine Spectator?

"Follow the money," said Deep Throat, a wine country resident in his later years.

Cui bono?

Bryan Scott said...

A few years back America had independent, authoritative firms evaluating the creditworthiness of financial instruments.

How did that turn out?

Not too well, as I recall, Thomas Matthews, Executive editor,
Wine Spectator

Bob Henry (Los Angeles wine industry professional) said...


It is not my intent to cross swords with you on Ron's blog.

You work behind the proverbial "Chinese wall" separating editorial from ad sales. So this issue doesn't directly affect your service as Executive Editor.

But by publicizing that metric in its media kit, Wine Spectator is tacitly endorsing that questionable MRI reader survey metric.

And every member of your display ad sales team is out there flogging that metric to ad agencies and their luxury lifestyle clients.

I invite Miriam Morgenstern, your VP Associate Publisher overseeing ad sales, to address the question.

~~ Bob

gabriel jagle said...

I never quote one of your lines back to you, but the "ads don't buy scores, scores buy ads" line really killed me. fantastic

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hello Mr. Matthews,

It's a mere distraction to talk about the 8 readers per copy. That wasn't Lo's point, it was one of my common tater's. None of that marketing hooey ever bothers me. It's done for advertisers and revenue and has no meaning for me.

Lo's point was more about he decidedly misogynistic feel of Wine Spectator. Whether she's right or not, I leave to my readers, all of whom are either male or 50% female. Most are both.

I confess to being surprised anyone at WS reads my foolishness, or cares what I write. But thanks for chiming in.

So you erase your first comment and leave that?

Way to go!

Truly, my friend, that is how it works, though most folks might believe it's the opposite. That's how advertising works, and always has. Go where the eyes are and see what your dollars can do.

It's always the ring of truth in comedy that makes us laugh.

Happy Holidays, Gabe! Thanks for being such a loyal common tater.

About Us said...

Hey Ron, Thanks for the ripping on the scores and/of mags Spot on!
And I love the "nadir" bit. Never seen that word but I work for a small winery and totally get it now that I know the definition. Rock on Lo!