I don’t hear from my readers very often, but when I do, they typically begin, “I enjoy your columns. However … ” Two recent emails were so nasty that I thought I’d post them here in their entirety, along with my responses. The first exchange became the basis for today’s column, so at least I got material out of it.
From: Michael Greene <xxxxxx>
Date: 06/12/2013 12:05 PM
Subject: McIntyre’s Phantom Wines
Dave – After reading your review in today’s (6/12/13) Food section, I tried to pick up a bottle at Unwined in Belle View. None of the reviewed wines were in stock. This is the third time I have attempted to purchase a wine you recommended in your column only to find that one or more of the locations you identified as carrying the wine was listed erroneously. The proprietor at Unwined, who indicated that she is not consulted prior to reviews appearing in the Post, was understandably chagrined and assured me that it does not represent a “bait and switch” tactic to get people in the shop. She assured me she would attempt to get the wine, but I do not to make the trip again.
You should keep in mind that journalists, even wine critics, have an obligation to provide current and accurate information to their readers to maintain their credibility and that of the publication. As for me, I will ignore your reviews in future since the prospect of actually obtaining the wine is remote.
Michael Greene, Alexandria, VA
And my response later that evening:
Thank you for writing. I am gratified that you enjoy my wine columns and that you want to taste the wines I recommend. I am chagrined you have trouble finding them. We list stores carrying the wines as a reader service – the information comes from the distributors, about a week before publication, when I ask them where readers may find the wines. I have no control over the information the distributors give me. Some check their sales records for three months, or a few weeks; others to be honest probably name stores by memory. I do occasionally hear from readers who can’t find the wines, as well as from retailers who either are listed but don’t have them – or, more frequently, who have the wines but are not listed. Unfortunately, I do not have time to call the stores and verify the information the distributors give me. I have to trust its reliability.
Since you went to Unwined today looking for rosés that I recommended, I assume my column made you thirsty. That’s good. I hope my columns get readers salivating, eager to try new wines and explore beyond the comfortable, familiar bottles. The wines I recommend are merely suggestions – ones I find worthy of pointing out with a “Psst- hey buddy, try this!” but by no means the only good ones out there. The stores listed, even if they don’t have the specific wines recommended when you walk in the door, are the type of stores that carry the wines I like. If they don’t have that particular wine they probably have something similar, maybe even better. If you trust me enough to walk into the store, you should trust them enough to walk out with a bottle, even if not the one listed in my column.
I am sorry you had a bad experience today. And I regret that your unsuccessful efforts to find wines I recommend have you questioning my credibility as a wine writer and a journalist. The only palate that matters is yours. I merely hope my recommendations can help you expand your horizons to try something new. The next time you go to a store and they don’t have the wines I recommend (and yes, it will happen again), ask them what else they have new and exciting. That’s the adventure. If you like it please tell me, because I want to let people know about it.
All the best in wine and life,
And then, just a few weeks later, came this missile – I mean, missive – in response to my column on Moet & Chandon’s new style for Champagne:
From: “Scot Bryant” <xxxxxxx> To: <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Date: 07/11/2013 12:07 PM Subject: “Champagne”
Hello Mr. McIntyre,
As a reader of your weekly Wine articles in the Washington Post’s Food section, it has seemed that you delight in trying to broaden horizons and enlighten folks about the wonderful world of wine. (Same here, though I’m no pro.) So I cannot help but write to ask why in the July 10th champagne article did you grossly perpetuate the far reaching misconception that any ol’ bottle that pops and bubbles when you open it is champagne and why only two out of your five “Recommendations” following the article were champagne? I note no reference to sparkling wine (cava, or any other style) in the article itself.
If this is merely another common instance of dumbing down everything nowadays, that would be very disappointing. It is no wonder that many fine people become too intimidated to open a restaurant’s Wine List or to even cross the threshold of a wine shop when a column from what should be a trustworthy source, including insights from the chef de cave at Moët, misguidedly includes in its “Recommendations” a bottle of pear cider (from Maryland!). The three suggested sparklers may be tasty to some, but I believe that including them in this article is a disservice to those in your audience who do not know Moët from Korbel and it mushrooms the too-often heard, “Ugh, I don’t like champagne,” from people who may have never had a sip of “champagne” in their lives.
Apparently I should not venture into Alexandria, Va., without an alias and disguise, at least not at lunchtime. Anyway, my response to Mr. Bryant:
Hi Scot – Thank you for writing, and for being a regular reader of my column.
I’m dismayed that you would think my column this week was “dumbing down” anything, or perpetuating any misconception that bubbles = Champagne. If you read me regularly, you know that I have made that distinction repeatedly. However, if I were obligated to digress into the “Champagne is only made in Champagne” discussion every time I write about it, then I would not be able to discuss the very interesting things Benoit Gouez had to say during his recent visit to DC. Far from “dumbing down” anything, I assume my readers are intelligent enough that they don’t need that Champagne 101 discussion every time.
As for the recommendations, I said in my intro that Champagne is unfortunately too pricey to be an everyday wine, and that in addition to the Moet wines I was including some others that can add sparkle to our summer more affordably. In the review of the Cava, I specifically said it was not to be mistaken for a Champagne. As for the Bosc & Bartlett pear wine – well, forgive me for enjoying a beverage produced from fruit grown less than five miles from my house. If you read my feature article on Virginia cider last year, or any of my features and columns on Virginia and Maryland wine, you know that I believe local wines and ciders are worth celebrating. I hope you might get over your bias and give them a try. I never said the sparkling pear wine was Champagne or even on the same level as Champagne – only that it is delicious and fun. Tonight after receiving your email, I finished a bottle that had sat on my counter since we opened it on July 4 – a week without refrigeration (I had used a VacuVin to preserve it). It was still delicious. And yes, it tasted like pears, not Champagne.
All the best in wine, cider, and life,