Worth Reading This Week: Wooooooo Boy! Expensive wine critics, cheap wine, and tons and tons of methane …

Here’s my weekly offerings of what’s worth reading on the wine blahgosphere – and boy, this week’s a doozy!

Jay Miller, who used to cover Spain, Oregon, Washington, South America, Australia, Greece and Port for The Wine Advocate

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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 …

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About Dave McIntyre

Wine columnist for The Washington Post, co-founder of DrinkLocalWine.com, and blogger at Dave McIntyre's WineLine (dmwineline.com).
This entry was posted in Australia, Current Affairs, Humor, Parker, Rants, Uncategorized, Virginia, Wine, Wine Humor, writers and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Worth Reading This Week: Wooooooo Boy! Expensive wine critics, cheap wine, and tons and tons of methane …

  1. Tom says:

    Regarding cheap wine and wine writers: it’s kind of a chicken and egg thing, isn’t it? Do wine writers not write about the wines that most people drink because “most people” really aren’t their audience, or do “most people” not read wine writing because they just aren’t that interested from the start?

    Your column in the Post has to straddle being interesting to wine-o-philes and the general public at large because the Post wants to appeal to a broad readership. But this blog probably doesn’t have the same readership and the content isn’t the same. The whole Jay Miller/Pancho Campo thing isn’t all that appealing to the everyday wine drinker at large, right? (I mean, you can’t get the general public all that interested in the pay-to-play that goes on in government, so why should they care about this?) The fact is that a lot of wine writers (to quote Anna Russell) are “great experts, [writing] for the edification of other great experts” (be sure to roll the r in great for best effect). Nothing wrong with that, We’re a self-selecting group that seeks out really wonderful wines (almost) regardless of price and difficulty of finding them because we love it.

  2. Mary Ann Dancisin says:

    Hi Dave!

    Two things: It’s “only” 60% who aren’t interested in wine, according to stats from Wine Institute last year.

    And, two, here’s another AMAZING factoid: England’s Daily Mail reports: “We have created the ultimate hangover cure in a pill (just in time for Christmas), claim U.S scientists”

    Guess what’s in it? Aspirin, caffeine, antacid. Wow! Who woulda thunk?

    Happy (hangover-free) Holidays!
    Bonne Mare

  3. Neil Glaser says:

    Virginia wine in London? I just asked the Virginia Wine Marketing office the same question yesterday. “What about DC?” Great minds think alike ;)

    • DC doesn’t have a “Circle of Wine Writers,” though we certainly have enough of them to form an organization like that.

      • Mary Ann Dancisin says:

        I think it comes down to the distribution issue again. The trade missions to UK, China, India (!!!) garner some media buzz, but likely will not do much to improve sales or increase demand here. VA wineries are mainly built on a full retail model, and many see selling wholesale as losing money. I’m not sure there’s a way around that at today’s volume.

        Re Circle of Wine Writers, has anyone tried to get a group together? Wash Wine Academy, Society of Wine Educators, Flavor Mag, anybody?

  4. Well their is the Washington Wine Academy. They do a pretty good job promoting VA wine.

  5. Ted Picard says:

    I note a recurring stream of comments about Virginia Wines not being made avilable in DC or perhaps it’s a statement on a lack of marketing effort by the state of Virginia. At JW Sieg Wines Wholesale Company we are trying to get more Virginia Wines into DC. We represent AmRhein, Afton Mountain, Cross Keys, Keswick, La Grange, New Kent ( winner of this year’s Governor’s Cup White Wine ), North Mountain, Old House, Paradise Spring ( winner of last year’s Governor’s Cup White Wine ), Sugarleaf, Tarara, Veramar, and Vint Hill. We find DC licensees open to at least try the wines , sometimes more open than Northern Virginia accounts !

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