Sunday, November 22, 2009

Myth Communication

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!


Andrew Ross said...

Beloved HoseMaster. Just tell us what you've been drinking (and reading).


Anonymous said...

Oh I love these "which one doesn't belong" games! Hmm, 1 or 4? 1 or 4? Hmm... I'm gonna have to go with 1!

Samantha Dugan said...

Okay, "Nose Boner" should come with a warning sticker, "Do not read while sipping coffee at 7:00 AM". I guess the occasional nose douche is what comes with reading the HoseMaster....

Anonymous said...

While I'm of the opinion that Adverti$ing doe$ affect the rating$ of publication$ such as the Wine $$$pectator, the rating abilities of Consumer Reports are even worse! Maybe Consumer Reports should start taking advertising so they'd know how to rate their products "better."
Hosemaster, sir, your Myth #2 in today's edition mentions something about how wine critics smell. I would say, given some of the ratings, it's clear that some critics stink .
Parker, when he was alive, wrote an article indicating how various cellar treatments adversely affected the numerical ratings. Being such a skilled winemaker, Mr. Parker was able to taste wines and know with certainty, precisely what had been done to a wine (or not) and precisely what score it should have. I visited a North Coast estate whose wines I don't much care for, in hopes of seeing where I've erred, since Parker routinely gave high scores to these wines.
As we walked through the winery, I spotted a filter off in a dark corner. The winery owner remarked "Oh, that's the filter Parker doesn't know we own."
I'm fairly certain I saw Marvin Shanken having a glass of wine with Aunt Jemima at Ferry Plaza last weekend. I can tell you, he's no Mister Clean! They were debating the relative merits of Kongsgaard Chardonnay and how much is Mrs. Butterworth.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Erwin Dink,

Sorry, should have gone with 4. But thanks for playing!


It's my little blog. I kinda get to do what I want, which is inflict my inane opinions on those foolish enough to read it. And now fishing for free samples with "What's the HoseMaster Drinking?"

I'm reading Lapham's Quarterly.

My Gorgeous Samantha,

I am honored to have caused you to perform the classic Danny Thomas spit take! Wish I'd been there at 7:00 AM to see it...

I adore you.

Anon 1,

Wineries try to fool Parker?! Heavens to Betsy Wetsy! This is madness! You cannot fool the King! Hiding filters, doctoring barrel samples, why, it just isn't done! Ah, doesn't matter, he's dead anyway.

Anonymous said...

Hosemaster, sir...Once again, you're correct: Parker is/was a fool.


Puff Daddy said...

The problem of ascriptions in wine writing is that they are guesses if one is tasting blind, and when ascription leads to assumption, it also frequently leads to eructation posing as erudition. And that is not the worst of it. It can also lead to head in the analation position.

Charlie Olken said...

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. The magic verification word for this post is "tryst". Am I missing something?

Samantha Dugan said...

Jesus Puff Daddy, gonna make us tards pull out the dictionary and junk. Tryst?! What ever could you mean?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Puff Daddy,

No fair eructing when you're adjudicating unless you're checking for frizzante. And, while my head may be in the analation position, I am merely admininstering my annual prostate self-exam.

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Look that up in your Funk and Wagnall's. I tryst you own one.

I love you.