Here’s my weekly offerings of what’s worth reading on the wine blahgosphere – and boy, this week’s a doozy!
We begin with “Campogate” – the controversy over the resignation of Jay Miller from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. It seems little-known and not-so-rich Spanish wine regions were being charged impressive sums – upwards of 40,000 euros – for the pleasure of Jay Miller’s company and his palate. Who cares? Well, wine writers do, because Parker and his publication are the ne plus ultra of our profession. We all want to be him (or them), and we all want to get away with whatever they get away with. We obsess about these things because we have standards, by golly, and we need to decide exactly what those standards are.
There’s really too much to link to here, but you can start with the post on Jim’s Loire, a UK-based blog that ignited this fracas. There are several more on this blog that follow the day-to-day denials, admissions and denouements. There is also some interesting commentary by Blake Gray, Alder Yarrow, and Dr. Vino, including thoughts on what the change of critics will mean for various wine regions. As the Wine Advocate is based in Maryland, the Baltimore Sun has done a good job of covering this from a slightly ironic, not-entirely-disinterested viewpoint, including a perhaps futile explanation by Pancho Campo, the somewhat scandal-plagued Spanish wine luminary at the center of the controversy.
If you’re so inclined, you could spend hours reading about this scandal and sucking your thumb over its implications for …. what, the future of wine writing? Well, at least it will take your mind off the Republican nomination race for awhile.
But two questions come to mind:
- If Pancho Campo, the Spanish Master of Wine and president of the Spanish Wine Academy, is accused of pimping Jay Miller to various Spanish wine regions for obscenely high prices, why are all the incriminating e-mails in English?
- Do you ever wonder why so many wine bloggers waste so many bits, bytes, and gigadrools writing about other writers/bloggers, instead of wine? It’s not entirely irrelevant, because such navel-gazing can make us better writers, but come on …
On to more important things:
On the scatalogical front, Australian authorities have approved a new additive for wine – sodium carboxymethyl cellulose, which is widely used in laxatives. Now, if you’re reading this blog, you probably realize that wine does not require any additional laxative properties. Apparently, this chemical is known for its “anti-bulking” properties, but scientists have discovered that in “small doses” it can thicken liquids and foods. Ironic, eh? Okay …. and that leads into our next item, also out of Australia …
Scientists down under have discovered that feeding grape skins, stems and seeds – the dregs left over from red wine production - to cows … wait for it … reduces their methane output. This is another reason to insist on drinking only unfiltered, unfined, “chewy” red wines ….Your family members, neighbors and colleagues will thank you. But what if those dregs were treated with that laxative chemical thingie … ?
Virginia’s Secretary of Agriculture, Todd Haymore, is an enthusiastic and vocal advocate of the state’s wine industry. Having interviewed him, I wonder how he manages not to hyperventilate when talking about how wonderful Virginia wine is. You can get a sense of that enthusiasm in his interview this week with The Drinks Business. He talks of the growth of the industry over the past decade, plus its push into exotic markets like the UK, India, Israel and China. Hey Todd, what about DC?
Jeff Siegel, aka “The Wine Curmudgeon,” rides to the defense of cheap wine. Responding in part to me and other writers who have critiqued George M. Taber’s new book, A Toast to Bargain Wines, Jeff argues that Americans don’t want to drink (or read about) high-falutin’ furmintid grape juice:
The United States is not a wine drinking country. We are a soft drink country, and most of us don’t know anything about wine. What most of us do know is that wine is confusing and expensive and reserved for really special people who can talk funny about it.
I still find myself reacting with, “Yes, but … ” Just because “most of us don’t know anything about wine” doesn’t mean there aren’t a significant number of us who would like to know more, would like to cut through the confusion and explore the wonderful variety of wine. If our argument boils down to “Don’t worry about your ignorance, enjoy your cheap wine and ignore those funny-talking snobs,” aren’t we just reinforcing that confusion and snobbery?
Having been pilloried with hate emails from artisanal wine producers who have nothing better to do than scour the Internet while their 2011s are going through malolactic fermentation, Jeff posts an update repeating his lament that the “mainstream wine media” doesn’t write about the wines most people drink. He cites statistics showing that 20 percent of US adults account for 90 percent of the country’s wine consumption, and wonders why the media ignores the other 80 percent. Hello?
Why doesn’t the wine business pay more attention to the 80 percent of us who aren’t interested in wine? Why isn’t more effort made to bring them into the fold? After all, if Proctor & Gamble discovered that 80 percent of the country wasn’t using laundry detergent, don’t you think they would do something about it?
The business doesn’t pay attention to those 80 percent precisely because they aren’t interested. So why should wine writers focus on the least-common-denominator wines, just because that’s what most people who drink wine actually drink? They already know about Barefoot and Two-Buck Chuck, so why should we publish tasting notes on those wines?
Anyway, we’re getting back here into the incestuous nature of wine writers writing about other writers. As a professional PR type, I can spin this to argue that we are dedicated to improve our craft to better serve you, our loyal readers …