Monday, April 6, 2015
The Five Essential Wine Words
Most people are uncomfortable talking about wine. They think they lack the vocabulary to speak about wine and, therefore, they sound stupid. They are correct. There is no subject that has people sounding so incredibly ignorant as often as wine, unless you count poetry. So much stupid has been said about wine you’d think it was climate change, or something even more complicated, like the 100 Point Scale (neither of which is real). But it doesn’t have to be that way...
My shortcut guide to being able to speak authoritatively about any wine is available now at Tim Atkin's site. Those of you versed in wine, well, maybe marinated might be a better word, will already know and have used these magical five words. For the rest of you, read and learn. You can sound exactly like an MS in no time. Well, you'll need to learn fake humility, too, but we'll get to that another time. Jump on over to Tim's, and feel free to leave your brilliant commentary there, or drop it like a blind drone strike here, and hope no innocent civilians are injured.
TIM ATKIN MW
I’ve been writing this idiotic blog for about six years now, not including the many hiatuses (hiati?) I’ve taken, and I cannot remember a larger response to a piece than the one I received for “California’s Dear Jon Letter.” I once received a huge response to a piece I wrote parodying Alice Feiring many years ago (called, if I recall, “Mis(s) Feiring”). A lot of people then felt that it had crossed a line, though I have no idea what that line might have been. Another post insulting the Canadian blogger Natalie MacLean who writes the blog “Nat Decants,” entitled “Nat Defrauds,” created a lot of feedback, most of it supportive. And then there was the original, 3-Part exploration of the Jay Miller scandal, “Parkenstein.” I heard from all over the world about that particular parody (and it marked my return, after a long break, to writing HoseMaster of Wine™ again). Other posts have generated a lot of response, but none like the response I received to my Dear Jon letter.
Much of that response came by way of my personal email, as well as comments from friends and strangers at the recent Rhône Rangers tasting in Richmond. All of that stuff is off the record, and will stay that way, but I can say that, honestly, I was surprised by the vitriolic and angry edge to people’s comments about Jon. It’s a funny business, the wine business. It is perhaps a testament to the power of the press that there’s not a single winemaker or wine marketing professional who would have dared to express their opinions about Jon publicly, even though it was often discussed off the record. Even a few whose wines Jon praised in print were not especially kind in their opinions of how he operated. Don’t get me wrong, no one accused him of being unethical. That was never the subject of the conversations. Rather, most felt that he brought an agenda to California and to his critical thinking. As one correspondent put it, I thought quite eloquently, “He didn’t want to report on key influencers and tastes makers. He wanted to be the key influencer and taste maker.”
I wrote the piece because the conceit was irresistible to me, not because I bear Jon any ill will. It struck a nerve, which is what satire does best. There’s a lot fascinating about the whole episode, about the interesting chemistry between winemakers and the press, a chemistry unique to wine, and a complete mystery to the people who read the reviews and buy wines based on them. Most winemakers I know are not that bothered by lousy reviews as long as they feel the critic was open-minded, educated and gave them a fair shake. Jon is nothing if not educated.
Of course, if a critic leaves the building and his subjects are universally sad to see him go, that speaks poorly of him. His job isn’t to win friends. It’s also interesting that the two most disliked wine journalists in California wine country that I know of both worked for the Chronicle. Seems I should apply for the job.
John Cesano, who runs the tasting room and seems to be a John-of-all-Trades at McFadden Vineyards in Mendocino, recently shipped me six bottles of wine. Unsolicited. They just showed up at my door. Many wine bloggers receive countless wines from wineries and marketing people and distributors, some solicited, some not. I do not. Brian Loring once sent me 20 different bottles of wine, a bit of overkill, but much appreciated. When I sent John a thank you, I mentioned that I certainly couldn’t promise I would write about the wines. He didn’t care. He wrote, “…the wines are like my subscriber’s dues…” What a lovely sentiment.
There was a time I was also sent a lot of wine books from UC Press. Not any more. I guess my Blind Reviews scared them off. Instead, they send the books to people who write specious reviews of them, bloggers who claim to have actually read the books, but don’t seem to have a clue about how to write book reviews. Wine bloggers writing book reviews is like blind people reviewing movies. They sort of get the gist of it, but lack the proper sense. The book business is as screwed up as the wine business.
I’m not looking for free stuff, not at all. Not wine, not books, not junkets. I have many friends at prestigious wineries in Northern California who get countless emails from bloggers asking for samples, and, for the most part, anyone who has to ask for samples is unlikely to deserve them. I used to work at a winery where I would see the list of bloggers who were being sent samples and I would laugh. You may as well send the wines to chimpanzees. The chimps, seated at typewriters, would be able to write the same reviews, randomly, in about a week. I think those sorts of samples are drying up for bloggers, except the top ones, whoever they are. But people get paid to send samples, and wineries get a report from their marketing company about where the wines were sent, and everyone feels like it’s Mission Accomplished. It’s the George Bush in Iraq syndrome.
OK, I got sidetracked. Thank you, John, for the thoughtful gesture. I like McFadden’s wines—their sparkling wine seems to me vastly underrated. I’ll write about the wines if I’m moved to. Meanwhile, wineries, want to waste wine? I’m as good a place as any.