Blogging for Dollars

bikevig01I’m finding myself nostalgic once again for the Rockwellian days of my youth, you know those golden times when the average 10-year old had to pay for the things they wanted out of their paper route money, or more amazingly that many ten year old’s like me were actually working…

Today, it’s hardly simple.  I cannot even get my kids to keep their own rooms clean for more than four days at a time, even for compensation.  Presumably, they’re conserving their energy for their stated trip(s) to the NHL by 18 – my offspring of modest goals.  Never mind the fact that neither can skate yet…

We’ve long since become a nation (world?) of convenience seekers, those for whom corners need to be cut, the least amount of work put in, all though with the expectations of large gain.

Case in point, another excellent post by Steve Heimoff – consistently in my opinion the best wine blogger out there.  If content is king in this internet age, the guy needs a crown and velvet cape – who wrote today about a WSJ story unearthing the fact that some bloggers out there are basically paid shills in the guise of simple, stay at home moms, et. al,  just looking to dispense some maternal wisdom for those who can’t figure things out for themselves.

This prompted Steve to ponder the idea of a wine blogger’s seal of authenticity, some public declaration that the wine they receive to review  comes unencumbered with something akin to a few $20’s affixed to the bottle with a rubber band.  And it’s hard to disagree with this logic.

But one point missed in Steve’s piece is that I think the onus most importantly falls upon the winery who might send out their wine to a blogger (with or without bribe), knowing full well that anything said may be used against them in the court of public opinion.  For if it’s one thing the blogosphere has taught us is that there is no transparency – at least in the same way we all hope/wish it still exists for print journalism.

I think we can all agree that paying someone to write nice things about your product is something for The Ethicist to tackle from a moralistic standpoint.  But again, the blogger who accepts that wine, car, trip, etc, with strings attached is only being enabled by those companies willing to take the chance at having their practices exposed.  If no one finds out, well, no one finds out.

Conversely, the whole nature of criticism also allows for the opposite effect, for some movie reviewer blown off by a big director at Cannes, to trash the filmmaker’s latest work, whether he paid for a ticket or was invited to a screening.   And surely we must realize that a movie reviewer who writes glowing things about some Hollywood crap will eventually find all his expenses covered for that press junket in St. Lucia to promote Lost: The (Inevitable) Movie.

The same holds true for the many, many wine bloggers out there.  In fact there was a debate amongst them several months back, those who will write bad reviews and those that won’t – even though the wine is sent free.  So what’s my point, exactly?

To fall on a cliche – you can’t please everyone – but by this same token, nor will you disappoint everyone.

I suppose the point, for those of us that make consumer goods, is to simply make the best product you can and let the chips fall where they may…

Your cliches may vary.

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Published in: on April 27, 2009 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

My Life on the D(ull wine) List

370Lets go back a few years, okay 25, to my first Spring Break – Ft. Lauderdale 1984.  Ah, those were the carefree days of hitching a ride and cruising the strip, drinking at Penrods and of course, meeting the high school girls (who told us they were in college) in the room next door and “hanging out” – where are you Lydia Rudnicki – if that was your real name?

This year was a little different.  My room was just as messy, clothes strewn everywhere, but instead of empty beer cans the trash was overflowing with empty water bottles and juice boxes, the copy of Hustler was replaced by the latest in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series and the TV was not tuned to MTV playing Motley’s Crue’s, “Home Sweet Home” but rather the soothing sounds of Sponge Bob (what else?).

The goal here though is is not to take you down the wonderful, magical memory lane of what Spring Break used to be – though if any mad scientist out there has some sort of go back in time formula, a la “17 Again” I’m your guinea pig – but more to discuss a topic that burns a hole in my brain everytime I swagger up to a bar these days to find a nice wine by the glass to enjoy.

Unfortunately it seems, the further up the food chain you go, the further down the ladder of interesting choices to be found BTG there seems to be.  Granted, at a big resort I don’t expect the Food and Beverage Manager to be able to buy wines directly from the winery, nor do I suspect that they are authorized to use anyone other then Enormo Wine Distribution, Inc. but please, if I have to look at another chalk board with a Ravenswood or Coppola or Kendall Jackson or Stonestreet or even Kim Crawford (whose wines I really like) only to order a beer instead…

As always, let me say that none of the wines I roped into one block above are bad, all are enjoyable, but they’re more enjoyable at $10.00 a bottle, not $10.00 a glass (the general rule of thumb for by the glass pricing).

I’ve paid more and would continue to pay more for an interesting glass of Tempranillo from a small producer in Spain, or better yet a boutique CA winery making great Syrah, Riesling or Cab.

Full disclosure:  we sell a lot of wine by the glass and its helped enormously to build our mailing list with people who took the suggestion of ordering something they’ve never heard of, paying $20.00/glass and loving it.

So for all the wine buyers out there, give a small shop a chance to wow your customers with something other than the wines being forced upon you.

It would have made my recent Spring Break trip about as sweet as a high school sophomore named Lydia…

Published in: on April 17, 2009 at 1:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

This Cab’s for You

rubegoldbergI’ll admit from the outset that I’m somewhat of a technophobe.  It took me awhile to get a cellphone that had e-mail capabilities, I fumble around with Excel like Garo Yepremeian in the ’73 Super Bowl and need my eight year old son to help me set up a password on my computer.

But with all this said, can we please, please slow down when it comes to wine innovation?

So now some resourceful restauranteurs are using a keg system to serve wine by the glass, making it not only cheaper but less wasteful, as the wine can last far longer than it would with a corked bottle behind the bar.  Yes, all these things on the surface are good – it’s hard to complain when the wine being poured into a glass you have purchased is as fresh and flavorful as if the bottle was just opened and yet, at the same time, part of the allure of wine is the ancient way its rituals have been passed down for thousands of years.

In some ways, I want my friendly neighborhood bar keep to grab that bottle of Pinot from behind him, pull the cork and pour my glass right in front of me instead of having to put on a Hazmat suit, flip the carbon filtration system to the ready position – which can only be done together with another co-worker who must turn his key at exactly the same moment, set the pour spout to “ON” and wait for the wine, forced by nitrogen, to make its serpentine journey from wherever, into a glass to be served.

I know I love my Petite Sirah cut with a little N.  Don’t you?

Now you may ask, “Okay, Daddy Traditionalist, what about screw tops?”  Okay, I like them.  Not to replace corks but just to assist in my laziness.  I love the feeling of going to open a school night wine and finding a screw top.  Means I’ll be drinking sooner.  But I prefer when I buy wine at a restaurant, to enjoy the whole experience of having the wine presented to me, the cork being pulled by the sommelier or server and having the wine come to my glass that way.

Call me old fashioned, call me a curmudgeon, heck call me about to turn 44 (hopefully that explains some of my charming contradictions).

For me, wine is one of life’s pleasures that does not require updating with fast aging swizzle sticks, Wine Pod’s (is Apple suing?) or any other Jetsons-esque machinery for getting me my glassful of vino.

Just pull and pour, baby.

Published in: on April 9, 2009 at 10:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Grape Madness – The Championship

# Team                           Spread       Money Line      Total Points
101 Bodega Norton       7.5(-110)     +305                  153.5(-110)
102 Chateau Chevalier -7.5(-110)    -370                 153.5(-110)

sportsbookThirty-two wines started this competition a few weeks ago, all with a chance to win the first year of Grape Madness, but there can only be one winner.

The tournament was filled with upsets, interesting observations about our own palates, controversy and of course many purple stained teeth.  In fact, I hereby give a shout out to Crest White Strips as a sponsor next year!

When it came down to the Final Four though, I don’t think any of the wines were a complete surprise.  Regardless of their price point (and subsequent initial ranking) all four finalists had the pedigree, if not in brand, then in region and varietal.

So Marc and I went into our final tasting expecting both wines to show well.  The Chevalier was my pick to win it all, and admittedly my mind set for this pick could be misconstrued as “insider trading.”  You see, the Chevalier is a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Spring Mountain appellation of Napa.  So was the 2002 Waugh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, our first Cab vintage and a wine that exhibited such wonderful tannins and soft fruit right out of the gate, that I’ve been a fan of the region and its Cabs ever since.

As for the Bodega, well, not only did I pick it out of obscurity and into my shopping cart but it stormed through the Cost Plus bracket with authority, making it (in my mind) a slight favorite, even though you’d have to consider it the underdog.

(1) Chateau Chevalier versus (3) Bodega Norton Malbec

The Chevalier came out tentative, and I could not help but wonder whether or not its completely blank cork was indicative of an imposter (read: a shiner) – wine biz speak for a wine bought pre-bottled but unlabeled and then branded by a third company.  There is nothing wrong with this very common practice but perhaps the big stage was too much at the start.

Meanwhile the Bodega came out with a big spicy, jammy nose with a touch of Menthol.  The fruit wasn’t there, which was surprising and the wine was noticeably tannic but you could tell it would open up.

The game was close.

In the second half, the Chevalier was displaying a nice nose of musty apples (okay, that doesn’t sound pleasant – but it was) and a great balance, something I look for in all the wines I drink (instilled in me by talented winemaker – and fellow Grape Madness participant – Ryan Waugh.)

The Bodega, so impesssive in earlier rounds wasn’t going anywhere though, its ever present fruit muted in the confines of the big game.  Could nerves be playing a part for the young Argentine too?

Before unveiling the wines from their paper bags, Marc and I compared notes and both agreed that the wine on the left had prevailed, narrowly, by buzzer beater like margins.  And we were a little disappointed because we really thought the Malbec was going to show better and it just came up short to the tougher and more expensive opponent.

We arrived at a score of 87-86 for the winner and Champion in the first annual Grape Madness…

…And then we ripped open the bags…

ncb_g_mens_ncaa_trophy_2001Bodega Norton Malbec

Amazingly, after spending the whole blind tasting believing the Chevalier was the more impressive wine, and frankly exhibiting characteristics not normally associated with Cabs, we now knew why, it wasn’t the Cab after all.

And on the flip side, the Bodega, which had been so fruit forward and unbeatable in the previous rounds tasted like a different wine, one that we preferred by a hair despite its showing.

Once again, the real winner in Grape Madness was the process of blind tasting.  You never know what you might discover.

It was a blast taking part in this event and with a little discussion, taking into account what worked well – and what didn’t, I’m sure the head to head tastings each March will become a favorite, one that I hope will garner more and more readers and participants.

For those that did fill out brackets, you have my thanks.   See you next time!

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 8:03 pm  Comments (3)  

Grape Madness: The Final Four (aka Don’t Cry for Me…)

argentina2Throughout the course of Grape Madness, there have been charges lobbied from all directions at the blind tastings, some educated, others basically the rantings of the oenocologically challenged.

But one fact that cannot be overlooked whether you are Robert Parker or someone with the initials DG is that we each go into the evaluation of any wine with our preferences on our palate.

For me, over the years I’ve become more accustomed to, and enjoy more, those wines that exhibit strong upfront fruit, not a “bomb” per se but certainly not an austere, trust me this will be good in fifteen years kind of wine.

So heading into the Final Four this weekend, I felt I knew a lot about the wines I was tasting and like RJ in the Northern California brackets, I too went into my first final four matchup with a certain expectation of what was going to happen, even if I did not know what wine was in what bag.

(3)Talus Pinot Noir versus (3) Bodega Norton Malbec

Both of these wines deserved to be in the Final Four.  Talus, a sure fire early exit pick of mine got through its part of the bracket against two more expensive challengers and showed its worth in a close but sure handed victory over the Rawson’s Retreat.

But like an aging fighter visited in the locker room by an Atlantic City mob boss and told, “Sorry kid, this ain’t your night.” the light and airiness of the Pinot, so pleasant in the Elite Eight, really did not stand a chance against a gamer challenger in the Norton.

From our first sips of each wine, Marc and I looked at each other and knew.  Well I looked at him, I think he was writing down his estimated brix at harvest for each wine as part of his scoring system.

The Malbec was big and jammy on the nose, yes, but as I’ve said ad naseum before, big fruity nosed wines often disappoint on the palate, not living up to what you anticipate from having your olfactory glands massaged by some big, brassy broad.  What impressed about the Argentine was its structure, that balance all the way through that to me is the hallmark of great wine, at any price point.

The Talus hung as close as possible but found themselves down by 16 at the half, 55-39.

The second half was more of the same, each time the Pinot got close with some mild and enjoyable fruit, I’d take a sip of what I had surely indentified as the Malbec, and heard Patti Lupone singing in my ear.

The game was never really as close as the final score:

Bodega Norton 84, Talus 74

So the plucky wine from South America has made it all the way to the big dance on Monday.  And earned its trip every step of the way.

Published in: on April 4, 2009 at 2:52 pm  Comments (1)  

Future(s) Shock

crystal-ballWine Futures, or put another way, paying for  the privilege of owning a wine years before it will ever see the inside of a bottle, have been taking a hit lately, as more and more people (noticeably cash poor) are foregoing this practice in favor of, oh, what’s the word…sanity maybe.

For years the major French wine houses – and even some cult brands here in the States –  have sold their wine to willing consumers well before their release date as a way to not only raise capital for these expensive wines but I say also as one more example of snobbery in belonging to an elite club of folks for whom money was clearly no object.

And now that the economic landscape continues to flow along with the speed of continental shelf drift, suddenly the idea of spending one’s money on something that doesn’t quite exist, no longer seems like such a good idea.

Shockingly perhaps, I’m amazed that other industries did not catch on to this practice and use it for their own gain.  You know,  walk into a Best Buy ready to plunk down $1500.00 on a new flat screen and as the helpful salesman rings you up for the full price he says, “Here’s your receipt.  We hope to be shipping these TV’s by 2013.  And boy is it going to be worth the wait.”

You’d go for that transaction right?

What I love about this story is that once again this financial mess is righting the world on its proper axis.  Or am I the only fool who expects to physically get something when I buy it?

Yes, wine does take time to mature properly, even to merely allow it to attain a quality that warrants it reaching a consumer’s hand.  And yes, many of these wines are of the blue chip variety that are sometimes bought and sold like stocks (and we all know how good that’s going).

But there’s a certain arrogance that comes from profiting on your product, a cash advance if you will, on simply the promise that said product will deliver everything its advertised to be.  Again, imagine not  being able to test drive a car before you drove it off the lot.  Wouldn’t happen. Couldn’t happen.

As a wine consumer I have expectations that a certain wine in a certain year will be of great quality.  Hey for many of these fine wines and their equally fine winemakers, the wines in question will be decent in even sub par years.

So I’ll tell you what, I’ll buy your wines when they’re released.  As for the cash you need to make them, well, that’s going to have to come out of your pocket.  And I’m happy others are starting to feel the same way.

Published in: on April 2, 2009 at 10:55 am  Leave a Comment