Because Some Of You Still Read, Right? (November 2016 Wine Products Roundup)

I’ve been inundated with wine book samples this month (which I’ll not is November 2016, for posterity’s sake, and for those of you still sobering up from Thanksgiving), both the electronic and the good, old-fashioned dead-tree varieties. And so, I’m going to use this edition of the wine product roundup to give you a little taste of the current wine book scene (all prices noted are for hardcover editions). Hugh Johnson Pocket Wine Guide 2017Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine 2017: 40th Anniversary by Hugh Johnson ($16.99, Mitchell Beazley) Bottom line: highly recommended. Every year for the last several years, I’ve received a sample of the latest edition in this series. Every year for the last several years, I think that this insanely useful little gem cannot possibly get any more insanely useful. Every year for the last several years, I have been wrong, and 2016 continues the trend. The high bar that’s been set for ...
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Why journos SHOULD accept freebies

There has been much chatter, and Twitter, about the payment and potential corruption of critical journalism recently. George Monbiot on 29 Sept 2011, performed an ethical striptease that has shaken the journo tree to its roots, and I can assure you he did not leave his hat on. Hacks’ public reputations as bad as derivatives traders, or even MPs?

Tim Atkin and Jamie Goode have led reasoned arguments on behalf of wine writers, whilst Jim Budd is ethically fuming, if not yet fully unclothed.

I don’t consider myself a journalist since my bills are paid courtesy of a “day” job in software, but I do post my views on a public website and pass comment on wine, food and the like. So I thought I better put my size tens into the debate and share my thoughts.

Firstly in the interests of my own personal disclosure, this is dead simple. I make no money out of Confessions of a Wino. I accept no advertising. Running the site costs me less than £100 per year. I do get sent wine samples and invited to wine tastings although it is clear from my posts where this is the case. I would estimate that I buy over 90% of the wine I review, and I have paid for my meal in every restaurant I have ever written about.

But enough about me. Wider and more professional journalism is really what is on trial. The relationship between reader and writer has changed since the internet became ubiquitous. Nobody wants to pay for content any more. Once it was possible to find information about, say, fine wines, only by paying an expensive subscription to some glossy magazine or other. Nowadays, you can follow the winemaker on Twitter, and read about his wines from every Tom, Dick and Alastair online, and for free.

Where does this leave the poor journo who cannot afford to write about an expensive subject like wine, because their customer, the media, cannot afford to pay their expenses?

Advertising and independent journalism have always been uncomfortable bedfellows, and since Moses was a lad, there has been the suspicion (and indeed evidence) of backhanders, bribes and other means of influencing the opinion whose readers believed was uncompromised. But, whilst the internet has made it harder to make money out of “straight” journalism, equally it has made it more difficult to hide illicit practices. If Wikileaks doesn’t get you, The Daily Mail will.

So, if the internet has spannered traditional media, where does journalism go from here? As a reader, I still value expert opinion and good writing. Equally I do not have unlimited resources so I need to choose wisely where I spend my money and time, so I am happy to receive advice.

The idea of free samples is age old, not just for the press, but for the general public. Getting people to try your product is a fundamental principle of business – ask any marketing director. It is not bribery. You put your samples out and if the product is good, and people perceive it as fairly priced, you have a recipe for success. As if proof were needed of the importance of this, a subset of marketing, the PR industry, has made a fortune out of enhancing the chances of Joe Public trying products by enticing mainstream or specialist thought leaders to give them oxygen. Imagine how many BMWs Jeremy Clarkson has driven. Does this really influence him to write more positively about the brand? I am sure he has driven as many Vauxhalls by way of free samples, and look at his views on them. It is hard to imagine that a wine journalist can possibly have their opinion “bought” with a glass, or even a bottle of wine.

Problems arise when payments are made, or excessive gifts or hospitality are offered that are not clearly disclosed. In wine terms, reviewing a bottle of Tesco’s latest Pinot Grigio that was received as a sample, or tasted at a press event, is not worth disclosing in my opinion. Attending a gala dinner hosted by a leading wine merchant with vertical tastings of Château Latour going back to 1855 warrants a mention. But I still want the journalists that I read to attend such an event so I can enjoy it vicariously. Providing I know who paid.

You do not have to look very far to find blogs that are merely records of freebies that the author has solicited to fulfil their lifestyle aspiration. I don’t object to that as long as I know. Clearly any opinion in the article has to be taken with a pinch of salt, but the experience can nonetheless be described by the writer and appreciated by the reader.

Furthermore, whilst it is possible for a critic to evaluate the taste, quality, style, beauty, ambience, service and report the cost of something, I believe that it is wrong of reviewers and writers to comment on value unless they have felt the pain in their personal wallets. This includes restaurant critics who expense their meals to their employers.

The internet has offered us aggregated opinion. Reading more than one report of an event, a wine, a play, a restaurant is so easy my dead gran (RIP) could do it. This offers us a defence against undue influence. Easily spotted are those who regularly post sunny sentiment against the tide.

I think a bigger threat to ethics in the media is presented by the owners and how they are influenced, notably by advertisers and by politicians (where troublesome influence flows in both directions), and how this turns into editorial guidance, or the power to simply close a title down to protect the rest of the empire. But these are large, juicy worms that will not be escaping from today’s can.

At journalist level, if we want our press to remain free, in all senses of the word, the new model has to be based on a new level of trust. As long as we know how our media content is influenced and paid for, as a reader I feel mature enough and intelligent enough to make a judgement on whether I trust the opinions offered. The unpalatable alternative is that average people will be priced out of reading as the “broadsheet” media retreats to an elite, albeit more independent, niche where quality journos go largely unread.

London International Wine Fair 2011

 
session 261x174
 

The 2011 London International Wine Fair was fabulous, an extremely well-orchestrated event with many simultaneous tastings, presentations, and lectures that took place in theaters, 'Access Points,' and even 'freestyle' in high-topped chairs within the display of a geographic region or winery.

Masterclasses

Arriving on Tuesday, I started off with the Circle of Wine Writers looking at a series of vertical tastings of Roederer properties including Pichon Lalande. Sylvie Cazes (recently appointed Managing Director of all Louis Roederer properties in Bordeaux) and Mark Bingley MW (Director of MMD) who I met at the Master of Wine "Forging Links" conference in June of last year gave an excellent presentation. Very energetic presentation with some real vintage gems.

Later, I attended the Masterclass called "Chenin & Pinotage—stars of past, present and future"

Johan de Villiers, Senior Winemaker for Stellenbosch winery Spier, took us through mini verticals of top selection Chenin Blanc and Pinotage from their super premium Private Collection range. The seminar revealed many 'winemaker secrets' Master of Wine students crave, and focused on how the quality came to be in the glass. 

John Radford, who is a fabulous Decanter magazine writer, gave an illuminating Masterclass  presentation on Rioja Alavesa & Txakoli wines, and the day finished off with yet another Masterclass presentation on Yarra Valley & Mornington Peninsula wines from Australia, comparing the differences.

This is really the only seminar where people hoping for an open spot on the waiting list  appeared overtly anxious to get in. And in tasting the wines, one could see the excitement in both the winemakers present, and the crowd who clearly was eager to learn more. Why? As Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula pinot vines reach their 3rd and 4th decades, the wineshave lost their puppy fat and have emerged with greater elegance, structure, power and length than ever before. Tannins are firm yet fine and the fruit profiles include berry and cherry fruit with savoury earthy complexity. Watch for these wines in the months and years to come.

More Excitement ...

Richard Bampfield, MW, led some fabulous tutored tastings, including Chateau Sociando-Mallet concentrating on the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages, the three which are currently of the greatest commercial importance.(yet with many library gems included).

Respected wine writers Stephen Brook, Anthony Rose, Beverly Blanning MW, and others led a series of seminars on the wines of  Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy’s premium white wine producing region.

The "Access Zone"

Brintex teamed up with the recently established Vrazon, brainchild of social media aficionados Rob McIntosh, Gabriella and Ryan Opaz, to manage The Access Zone this year, which was sponsored by leading UK independent wine importer, Thierry's.

Now this was real fun -- the zone was absolutely packed with people waiting to hear the latest on social media from the Opaz's, Jamie Goode, and other key players on the social media scene. The Zone also had short sessions on how winemakers can make better web sites, more youth-friendly labels, and even 10-minute "speed" advice from the experts.

Just Walking the Floor ...

Every inch of the fair was fun ... look to the left, and there is an MW giving an impassioned talk on Gamay from Beaujolais, with servers handing out each glass in a flight. Or an MW giving a talk on wine from the Loire valley. These scheduled, yet very casual, tastings are welcome because it was not particularly necessary to sign up (one must for a Masterclass) or even schedule it into one's day.

While I'm fortunate to live in Manhattan and have the wine world come visit on a regular basis, it is interesting to spend three days at a wine fair to see the pulse of the international wine world. Until 2012!
 


 

Oral Oscars: Pros and Cons

As with most things in SA wine, the decision whether to enter the latest wine competition, Top 100 SA Wines, the Oral Oscars, has become a political hot potato. Some thoughts on whether to enter or sit this one out: Ten reasons to enter Top 100 SA Wines: 1. If a Ukrainian nurse, Elizabeth Taylor sunglasses and [...] Related posts:
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Top 100 SA wines: further developments

Today is the closing day for early bird specials for the controversial Top 100 SA Wine competition/wine guide/retail opportunity/wine exposition/what-have-you and sees a response to the bad-tempered Platter attack earlier this week by one of the judges, UK blogger Jamie Goode. Scribbling on his facebook wall, “Dr.” Goode writes “Very excited about being part of http://www.top100sawines.co.za/ [...] Related posts:
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Su’s Dodgy Dossier

In a departure from her usual negative attitude which calls a half full glass half empty, WOSA CEO Su Birch put a welcome positive spin on the future for wine exports in a presentation to UK importers in London this week. A brave strategy indeed in a market which experienced a 16% volume collapse last year. [...] Related posts:
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Trojan Chickens

Bashful billionaire Dick Enthoven was lunching at Societi Bistro on Wednesday and I didn’t dare look to see if chicken was his choice. For roast capon just has to be his favourite bird, given the stellar performance of Nando’s in which he’s a major investor. It has now spread to 32 countries and [...] Related posts:
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Can A Wine Blogger Make A Living Blogging?

One of my predictions from 2010, as yet unrealized, is that a wine blogger would figure out a financial model that would make our efforts more than just a labor of love. Fellow blogger Joe Roberts at 1WineDude is blazing the trail on this at the moment but Tyler Colman, who blogs as Dr. Vino, looked at this question in a thoughtful post yesterday and has concluded that side gigs (books, speaking, consulting, teaching) are the only ways to make a living wine blogging. Later in the post he speculates that app stores might be a way to make some money but is somewhat skeptical about this opportunity.

Drawing by Hugh MacLeod, gapingvoid.com

Drawing by Hugh MacLeod, gapingvoid.com

Tyler may be right but in the comments is a link to Jamie Goode’s blog and a post about this subject from a couple weeks back. Jamie starts off with similar conclusions of giving away content to boost his personal brand and reputation to get side gigs but then compares wine blogging with the plight of the newspaper business. And while it is true both need to figure out new business models I don’t think wine bloggers will find the same path as newspapers and, by extension in the same financial quagmire, magazines.

That brings me back to Tyler’s “ray of hope”, mobile apps. The success of Apple’s app stores for iPhones, iPads and more recently Macs shows that consumers are willing to pay for convenience. And they will tolerate some level of advertising even after paying a dollar or two for the app. So for wine bloggers, making our content available on the app store opens up some interesting opportunities even if the app is free. The trick will be to make the app experience better or more useful than just hitting your site on the mobile web browser.

Another way to make money is to go down the path of Allen Meadows, the publisher of Burghound, and to develop a niche for a newsletter. In order for this to work, however, the wine blogger would have to spend a considerable amount of time (and probably money) tasting and writing up thousands of wines each year. And if someone did this, there is no guarantee an audience would develop for their paid content. Sort of a ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma. That said, I think fellow bloggers like the teams at Catavino and New York Cork Report are best positioned since they have established brands and credibility in their respective niches.

The bottom line for me is wine blogging is in the early silent movie making period of development. There have been some successes but we have not yet established the new language of digital wine writing. Once the wine blogging equivalent to a zoom and tracking shot are invented, we can see if wine blogging can actually be a business. In the meantime, I’m experimenting with different monitization strategies to see if they work. For the past 6 years, the “side gig” has been the only thing I’ve found personally successful.

via Dr. Vino’s Wine Blog

Can A Wine Blogger Make A Living Blogging? originally appeared on Winecast. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Top Ten South African Wine Stories for 2010

Judging by the counters on www.winenews.co.za, 1000 hits seems to be the quantum for best-seller status in SA wine reportage, although winenews does allow multiple hits from the same IP address. Using this measure, the Top Ten best seller stories on Pendock Uncorked provide a fascinating insight into which ishoos were perceived important by [...] Related posts:
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Swartland Revolution: The Aftermath

Bumped into Grande Roche head sommelier Josephine Gutentoft at Bar Bar Black Sheep this lunch time. Josephine reports that over 600 people attended the Real Men Ferment Wild tasting I hosted yesterday. I’m sure the explanation was the R50 entrance fee rather than my participation (which turned into a damp squib when the [...] Related posts:
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WOSA with peri-peri

My call for Nando’s to take over marketing SA wine in die buiteland from WOSA in the Sunday Times yesterday has earned me many e-mail bouquets and only one brickbat via SMS so far. Let’s hope the Letters to the Editor are in the post to ignite a public debate – something sorely missing [...] Related posts:
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Abstraction vs. Context: How do Toro Wines from Quinta Quietud Measure Up?

A couple of months ago, wine writer Jamie Goode and I disagreed over an abstract approach to wine assessment. I took the deconstructive stance that one does not need to know any information about a bottle of wine to be able to rate it or appreciate it. Jamie argued that context (where it was made, from which grapes and by who) was all-important. To be fair to both of us, I think we didn’t view our approach from the correct angle, namely: who we were talking to.

If you (and by ‘you’, I mean you the reader) want to know whether a bottle of wine is good or not, an abstract approach is key. A fair (underline ‘fair’) assessment of a wine can only come from the removal of all outside factors. It is, in a sense, reductive, but it works. The wine has to do its work to please you. If, however, you wish to do the work, if you want to ignore the qualitative and try to ‘understand’ the wine, more information will be required.

I cannot find a better illustration of this than tasting two vintages of one of my favourite Toro estates: Quinta Quietud (or Quinta de la Quietud if you read the cork). The 2004 wine from the quinta is one of my favourite, all-time Toro wines. Taste or drink it and I get that lovely, juicy quality that I find in some of the best wines. It doesn’t happen on the back-palate, or on the finish – it’s all the way through, from the lip of the glass to the gullet, it’s fantastic. Big, juicy and fruity, warm but not hot, all with an elegant finish. It’s ageing a bit now (and showing some signs of Brett, but I’m English and I don’t mind a bit of horse in my wine) although it’s just as lovely and lip-smacking as it was when I first tasted it over two years ago.

The 2005 Quinta Quietud is rather different. It’s a beast. Tasting it is like being waterboarded with a berry compote that’s been macerated in the finest homemade Polish vodka. If you want to know what it’s like to receive a punch in the face from Robert Parker, try this. It’s a massive wine. It goes beyond hedonism and into drug abuse. The finish is like a glue-sniffer’s burp and would be just as pleasant if there wasn’t the unbelievable whack of Toro tannin to give the substance some kind of structure. Structure it’s got, but everything, from the foundations to the roof is huge. It’s a totally different beast to the 2004.

Now, to return the abstraction vs. context debate. I have no hesitation in telling you that I think the 2004 is the better, more enjoyable wine. If I tasted 2005 on its own, I would find it difficult to recommend. If you like huge fruit and high alcohol, it’s for you. Otherwise, stay away.

But I’ve met Jean-Francois Hebrard, the man who makes Quinta Quietud, and I reckon he’s a decent bloke. Anyone who made a wine like the 2004 must know what they’re doing. So why is the 2005 such a different animal? I can only imagine that Hebrard is letting the vintage play its hand. 2005 was a very hot year in Spain with fantastic weather and a perfect growing season. If we want our wines to display vintage variation, to mirror the climate, the terroir, the soil, then we have to accept that wines will be different year-in, year-out. This, I can only assume, is what Hebrard is doing. If he’s simply chasing points from Jay Miller to Penin (I’m curious to know what they give this wine – it should not, objectively, be scoring highly) he can chase them, but he’s running away from me. But as a wine that illustrates what Toro is about (high fruit, tannin and alcohol), and one that tries to tell us about the year in which it was grown, then it’s difficult, in context, to find fault with it.

Quinta Quietud, Toro, 2005

A heady nose, displays its idiosyncratic Quietud aroma that’s a bit herbal, gamey and cow-pat all at once (it seems to be developing already). On the palate, a good dose of dark (and relatively elegant) fruit but the sensation of alcohol is readily apparent, and just as it slips down there come the tannins. And don’t they just come, almost overwhelming the mouth before the heat and the fruit try to claw it all back. There is acidity here, but not much (which I don’t mind with Toro – it took me a while to understand this, but I’m happy with it this way – better that than winemakers try to add acid to appease those that don’t like low-acid wines). I hope, owning a case, that this wine ages well, but the alcohol level is a worry in this respect.

Oliver Styles

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World Cup Wine Flop

SA shipments of bottled wine to its largest market, the UK, are in serious trouble according to new figures from SAWIS. Exports tanked from 38.2 million to 30.7 million litres between January and June, a period in which the SA wine category received unprecedented publicity thanks to the World Cup. Imagine what the [...] Related posts:
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Memories of Lake Como

What a dizzy, busy life Garry Cotterell leads! This “editor and creative director” of Wanted, the Business Day version of the Financial Times How To Spend It supplement, reports today on “the sheer joy of driving when he was invited by BMW to attend a gathering of the finest classic cars in the world [...] Related posts:
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FT labels Pinotage “too often hideous”

SA wine marketers still have a mountain to climb to overcome entrenched predjudice in the UK. Take the FT world wine map published yesterday. Pinotage producers will wince at the description of their grape: “Alongside Gewurztraminer, Pinotage is possibly the world’s most controversial grape variety. Grown mostly in South Africa, it is [...] Related posts:
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Corked Competitions

One week away from the deadline for submissions for the “SA Wine Writers Prize” and two of the three judges are revealed: Ton Vosloo “(Chairman of Naspers and previous Afrikaans journalist)” and Tim Adkin. Hopefully this is not the infamous freeloader Tim Atkin who had this to say about me on Jamie Goode’s blog [...] Related posts:
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My blog has moved home!

A short while ago, Blogger, the medium by which this blog is currently published, announced that they'd no longer be supporting publishing by ftp. For the non-technical, let me explain. Currently, I use blogger to compose and organize blog posts, and then I publish them to my own web space, on my domain name, www.wineanorak.com. Having the blog...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

My blog has moved home!

A short while ago, Blogger, the medium by which this blog is currently published, announced that they'd no longer be supporting publishing by ftp. For the non-technical, let me explain. Currently, I use blogger to compose and organize blog posts, and then I publish them to my own web space, on my domain name, www.wineanorak.com. Having the blog...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

A lovely northern Rhône Syrah from Maxime Graillot

This is a really lovely northern Rhône Syrah, made by Maxime Graillot, son of Alan (the most famous grower in this appellation of Crozes-Hermitage). It's quite an edgy, polarising sort of wine, though: with its high acidity and bold, striking flavours, some will fall in love while others will find it a bit too much. It's just my sort of wine. I'd...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

A lovely northern Rhône Syrah from Maxime Graillot

This is a really lovely northern Rhône Syrah, made by Maxime Graillot, son of Alan (the most famous grower in this appellation of Crozes-Hermitage). It's quite an edgy, polarising sort of wine, though: with its high acidity and bold, striking flavours, some will fall in love while others will find it a bit too much. It's just my sort of wine. I'd...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]