Posts tagged ‘Wine Spectator’

January 18, 2017

Read Decanter Magazine. Just Do It.

d-cover

Decanter is the bomb.  It’s almost impossible to find in Canada (paper, you can always get digital) but what a great, inspiring magazine, a wonderful homage to people who enjoy wine, whether collectors or bottle shop regulars.

 

I can wax poetic on its myriad merits but I will just point out a few.  First, the reviews trump the Wine Spectator 100 times over.  The picture of the bottle (the label) is always uber clear.  They use a general description, then tasting notes from a panel.  This is a bit like the old Siskel Ebert film reviews without the patronizing condescension.  Someone says complex, someone says weighty, another says textural: you get the picture, but you appreciate that wine reviewing is subjective, and they highlight that right on the page.  The price is right there, no mincing about.  And then they organize these reviews by points (so people who don’t necessarily need the 92 point wine can focus on what in the end will be available and not as costly).  And (this being the UK, a different market) they list stockists.  Check, check, check.  So, in short, the reviews are brilliant.

 

The regular columns are written by people who seem to, wait for it, actually like their jobs.  They always include a paragraph on “what I’ve been drinking” which is I think not just relevant but touching.  Reviewers rarely seem to do anything but sips and spits and contemplation but Decanter has columnists who are actually drinking wine.  Shock of shocks.  Here are two arbitrary examples from a recent issue: “A great example of the pleasure to be found in the sub-90 point space is…”  Now how about a phrase like that Wine Spectator!  The article accompanying it actually defended the points practice (which this blog doesn’t really support) but in an eloquent fashion and pointed out that it’s the vintners who dismiss an 89 point review not the drinkers.  Well, not the everyday drinkers.

Transparent and User Friendly Reviews

Transparent and User Friendly Reviews

Keeping in mind that Decanter reaches a mostly UK readership, and that BC wines although not rare are uncommon in the shops, I nearly spat out my Culmina Hypothesis when I read one columnist write about the wine he’d been drinking with this phrase: “I’ve also been enjoying the Sperling Vineyards, Old Vines Riesling 2009, grown in the Okanagan Valley.”  Well pop my Prosecco.  That’s someone who’s looking out for interesting wines from the farthest reaches and how beautiful to see a nod to the brilliant Ann Sperling.  Ever seen the Wine Spectator even acknowledge the north-of-Walla Walla marketplace?  Too esoteric I imagine.

 

Decanter awards retailers.  Retailers!  Decanter goes highbrow, visits the great estates, has notes for collectors, but also has a (hard to believe) “weekday wine” column.  That I really love.  They somehow just perfectly balance their content without ever falling prey to either snooty indifference or ranting hysteria.  [NB: This blog could take a few pointers, I know, I know…]

d-ages

Of especial note was a wonderful essay I read recently on how our lack of storage and “drink it now” culture is losing the ability not just to store and drink aged wine but to even appreciate it.  Listen to this ridiculously beautiful phrase on early approachability versus aging: “It is sad that many wine lovers rarely have the opportunity to appreciate the more complex hues of age.  They miss out on the ethereal scent of a mature Nebbiolo, the oak-leaf earthiness of evolved Pinot Noir, the tobacco savouriness of aged Cabernet; likewise the heady camomile lift of seasoned Riesling, or even the softest mousse and honeyed languor of long-aged Champagne.”  Christ, Aaron Spelling couldn’t have done it better.

 

Well I can go on and on but there really is no comparison.  It’s goodbye WS and hello Decanter.  Check it out.

Weekday selections.  How novel!

Weekday selections. How novel!

January 12, 2017

I love the Wine Spectator. I’ve cancelled my subscription.

Relationships sour.  What can I say?  First, there are so many things to love.  Most imposing is the ridiculously oversized pretension of it.  Some of the feature articles are genuinely spectacular.  The pictures are decent, the reviews OK and the organization of it all is above par.

wine-spectator-covers

Of course you have to accept the whole air of WASP entitlement inherent in the enterprise; of those almost, at, or eventually going to place in the top one per cent being the core readership; of the verging on disdain manner they take when it comes to “value” or the unprecedented way they focus on wine as if it was a precious metal, in exceptionally limited supply, and as rare as beryllium.  Reading the feature articles it’s hard not to think of the De Beer’s diamond monopoly, and their efforts to control stock and prices during the 20th century. I mean you get this narrow wine focus at the exclusion of reality over and over.  And get this: Subscribers don’t get the free points app.  I mean their point system is so esteemed and blessed and on high that they treat it like King Wenceslas crown, a bejeweled prize for the few.  Talk about self-endowed self-importance.

Yes that is the real thing, King Wenceslas' crown.

Yes that is the real thing, King Wenceslas’ crown.

The worst part of it for me is that the regulars write as if they called it in.  Most of the columns are uninspired and dull.  Every second week in the Sunday NYT The Haggler writes a column; his droll wit and mix of ego and self-deprecation bring a whole new slant to consumer advocate.  What could be the dullest of “ombudsman style” columns is always light and often sardonic.  The WS editors tend not to rethink things; there is a format, and the format is repeated; if you find a joke, trust me, it will be incidental.

 

But if you drink wine, and if you’re interested in wine, there are plenty of tidbits that tell you about the wine world, the vintners, craft, and so forth.  To me it’s never as interesting as the old Hugh Johnson videos, but it’s decent.  If you need to know more about Sting and his grapes (and his refreshingly shocking indifference to the prestige of wine) the WS is the place to go.  Their chef issue, with Grant Achatz on the cover, was particularly good.  And perhaps one for the archives was the cheese issue with recipes and matching wines.

 

The most depressing thing about the WS as a Canadian though is that their recommended wines are rarely available in Canada at about (to my diligent guess, by Googling for years to find bottles) 10 per cent tops and in BC, in particular, maybe five per cent tops.  So you will get excited about wine and never drink that wine.  Which puts a huge damper on all their voluminous tasting panels and points and so forth.

 

My favorite regular, though, is Matt Kramer, who always writes as though he enjoys wine.  I know nothing of him, but he comes off on paper as the least possible wine snob imaginable.  And yet, and yet, he is probably why I let the sub lapse.  Here’s what happened.

 

Two totally discrete articles, which highlighted the absolute worst part of the WS and the best part of being a person interested in drinking wine.  One, the NYT ran a glorious piece on natural wine in October 2016 called Bring on da Funk, by Jeff Gordinier.  It was short, succinct, and particularly on the money.  And Matt wrote an article in the WS (in the cheese issue, in fact) called Impeccable Radical Credentials, which basically debunked the natural wine movement as something faddish and maybe even tinged with fraud.  So this is the crux of the problem with the WS; they can be as out-of-touch and irrelevant as career politicians who, around the world, seem somewhat surprised that people are bored and disgruntled with the status quo.

 

The NYT focused on the sensation of wine, the experience of wine; it juxtaposed what we’ve come to accept as wine, good wine, and pitted it against something extraordinarily different.  It talked about how certain types of wine have come to dominate the shelves, and how wine is manipulated.  It quoted a Master of Wine whose mission is to let the world know that when we drink wine we are not drinking fermented grape juice but grape juice “and a bunch of other stuff.”  It noted that top restaurants (Noma, Amass, 108, Relae, etc.) pour almost exclusively natural wines.  The bottom line with the NYT article was that people are passionate about wine and are interested in integrity.

matt-kramer-and-jeff-gordinier

Matt Kramer gave a nod to those of us who would like more transparency in the industry. [Hey WS: Why no editorial on ingredient labels?  I mean if the WS wanted to really come out as relevant, they’d focus on something consumers really, really want…] But in the end he talked about craft (which is synonymous with manipulation, but is the industry way of, wink wink, noting that craft trumps the naturals) and that too many natural wines are unclean.  He is sort of right: Last November I sat in a wine bar in Covent Garden and the bartender poured me over half a dozen natural wines, fresh wines, new wines.  And I didn’t swoon over every taste; some were chillingly exciting and invigorating, but some were so funky as to be crude.  Still, this was SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING THAN ANOTHER ROBERT PARKER 90 POINT 16% RED.  Kramer also addressed the sulfur issue.  Again, cause he’s a pragmatic guy in print, he noted that sulfur isn’t the enemy as long as it’s kept low.  But here, again, why doesn’t the WS take a bold approach and demand sulfur levels end up on labels?  Why don’t they boldly go where the establishment fears to tread?  Is it pure fantasy to ask the wine industry to list how much sulfur in PPM there is?  Christ, my water has a nutritional sheet, what’s with the wine industry?

 

I think the fact that a broad sweep, an unabashed rejection of natural wines as in the majority being unclean is simply incorrect and paternalistic.  And, worse, it misses the true intent of the natural winesters (as I like to call the zealots because, trust me, some of them are): Honesty on the bottle would go a long way to acknowledging wine isn’t simply a WS investment/commodity.  There are actual people who actually drink it and actually enjoy it.

 

Two final notes: Live in BC and want to try some sensational natural wines?  You will unfortunately pay through the nose, but get on the Sedimentary Wine email list and chat with them.  Also, a shout out to Ridge, the first US major player to voluntarily put ingredients on their labels.

 

What’s next? A rant about Decanter.  The most incredible, informative, exciting and relevant wine publication on the planet.

An ad from the very first Wine Spectator.  I am old enough to remember ordering B&G at a restaurant and it was considered "a fine choice."

An ad from the very first Wine Spectator. I am old enough to remember ordering B&G at a restaurant and it was considered “a fine choice.”

April 5, 2016

Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo, 2013

The last in our brief foray into high pointers from the Wine Spectator et. al.  I should be criminally charged for opening this in early 2016.  And James Suckling should be shot for recommending this as a 2016 bottle.  And the 95 points on the label is a misnomer; it was an Italian wine competition…  At any rate, a wine with this much heft should be sold (so young) with a chastity belt around the cork.  It is simply not ready for the glass; lord knows how the reviewers can “predict” but they do.

Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo, 2013

A rather simple berry (cherry, cranberry) slips across the tongue, deceivingly smooth, and not much else.  You’re dismissive.  Then it hits you, big time.  The finish on this is Nadal Djokovic Australian Open long.  Deeply nuanced.  With air it opens beautifully, a low smoky evocative red like a Billie Holiday ballad. But still, you can tell, you can feel that this is not the wine it could be, should be, in another three years.

 

If you got it in the US, for, what? $23?, then, OK, try a bottle know, to compare down the road.  But if you’re shelling out over $40, as you will in BC, then this is a cellar companion.  Buy two.

 

Price: Under $40 before taxes, over $40 with. Ouch.

 

Market Liquidity: A prodigal now, it will return home given time.

 

April 2, 2016

Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay, 2013

For Christmas I was gifted with wine related subscriptions; Wine Spectator, Decanter, that sort of thing.  Exceedingly generous, fun to browse.  But, alas, there is a flip side.  The WS, e.g., is a bit of a tease; lauding wines largely not available in BC, labeling some wines as good value, which could only be brought into Canada by paying taxes and levies to make them, effectively, the tip of a Ponzi scheme.  You could never hire the WS to be a consultant on cellar development in BC.  What would they recommend?  Lindeman’s and Cono Sur?  So while the writing can be tantalizing, and exciting, and encourage you to face new varietals and vintages, it’s also distressingly complex to find the wines.

Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay, 2013

There are a few, here and there, you can source.  Witness this Rodney Strong (and a couple of others we’ll try this week), a so-so with the WS, a 90 pointer over at Parker.  With an objective view it’s quite palatable: The lemon/grapefruit acid balances well with the standard California root beer float cream oak.  It seems more refined than cheaper cousins, although a glimmer against Grgich or Ridge.  Still, at the price point, quite OK.  Here’s the rub: This will be $60 in a restaurant.  And that is criminal.  Because it’s good, not great, outstanding or brilliant.

 

Price: $24.50 at BCL (just over $28 with taxes).

 

Market Liquidity: Typical, in a good way.

October 3, 2015

Trivento Golden Reserve, Malbec, 2012

This is an incredible 89 point wine, an OK 90 point wine and a mediocre 91 point wine. But who am I to argue with the pointsters? Gismondi went so far as to call it “truly hedonistic.” Cool yer jets there!

Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012

Let’s all take a deep breath and agree that this is a wonderful bottle of Malbec, evocative of the varietal, extremely easy to drink, and unlikely to offend anyone. The dense fruit flavours mingle with a charred burnt chocolate that is both tangy and soft. Splurge for a dinner party. As a host gift the hosts will thank you to your face and later behind your back and probably invite you back hoping for more. But it is a bit like a joke in the Simpsons in 2015; the same joke you heard 20 years ago. The WS has been lauding this sort of red for too long to be taking its 91 points seriously. This wine may not be boring, but it sure as heck isn’t interesting.

 

Price: A sensational $23 value at BC Liquor no less. On that score alone I agree with the WS.

 

Market Liquidity: How to impress without being impressive.

89 Points and loving it

89 Points and loving it