HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >

Discussion

Open Letter to Editors of Magazines Featuring Wine Articles

  • j

I’m getting a little annoyed with these articles. I read Food & Wine and Saveur and they both are guilty of employing this formula with astonishing regularity. I submit to you the following outline of an average wine story:

• Writer hears rumors of a ‘rogue’ winemaker. This winemaker is, invariably (and not to their discredit) doing something innovative with regard to one of several things: growing a varietal no one grows, growing a varietal in a certain region that no one else grows that varietal, growing anything where no one else grows anything, and so on. Usually a hearsay anecdote is supplied here; indicative of how wacky this winemaker can be.
• Writer meets wacky wine guy or gal. Anecdotes about wacky winemaker ensue. If wacky winemaker was formerly of a different occupation, that is discussed here.
• Writer tours winery and vineyards with wacky winemaker and wacky winemaker lets slip brief bits of wisdom, leading writer to conclude that the wacky winemaker is secretly a genius. Typically, the brief bit of wisdom is uttered thoughtfully and quietly as winemaker holds either grapes or dirt in his/her hand. Wacky winemaker stops being so wacky and briefly looks contemplative and ennobled by tradition.
• Writer gets to eat a meal I would punch kittens for, made by endearing caricatures of family members (cue the affable grandmother, the heir apparent child with innovative ideas, the pickled aunt). More family anecdotes ensue, mostly about the food and the recipes, e.g., great-grandmother brought this recipe from some far-off land and she once cut off a man’s hand when he forgot to blanch the almonds.
• Writer gets to drink wine from the wacky winemaker’s personal cellar. Lots of anecdotes from the winemaker about what a great year 1978 was. More tidbits of wisdom from the winemaker about the state of wine today. Again, if you need me, I’m punching kittens in the face at this point. Vigorously.
• Writer is utterly incapable of saying a critical word about this winemaker. And neither would I after that meal and that wine.
• Article ends with names of some wines to look for from this wacky winemaker.

Here’s where I get irked. I CAN’T FIND THESE WINES. Do I try very hard to find them? No. But, for the average wine drinker (and I count myself as magnificently average), they might as well be selling this stuff in Uzbekistan. I’m not gonna call my wine guy in London and have him import me a case of this stuff. I don’t import cases. I don’t buy cases. We’re not the Gatsby’s here. Or, I can find stuff by this winemaker but never the exact ones the article lists, so their tasting notes do me no good.

I ask the editors of the magazines to remember these points:

• Most of us might enjoy the article, but are unwilling to go to great lengths to find the wines. I put myself in this category.
• Are you familiar with the draconian rules regarding shipping wine from state to state? If so, why do you bother torturing me? I’m sure the guy with guts enough to grow Gewurztraminer in North Dakota is making some interesting stuff, but I’ll probably die never knowing for sure.
• Please, stop writing stories that just highlight one vineyard (or at least do it much less). Why is this an unending trend? Or maybe I simply read the wrong magazines.
• Or, say you need to write one of the aforementioned articles focusing on one vineyard, give me some generalities. What characteristics are usually present in the wacky winemaker’s Cabernets? Granted, the vintage makes a big different, but can you give me some broad starting points in the event I can’t find that vintage? Also, can you give me a hint where to find these wines?

I’m not attacking the editors for these articles, I’m just saying that I grow weary of the formula, and that there are a lot of articles that can be written that aren’t being written. I do enjoy these articles, but there are entirely too many of them. I read to learn and, less often, to vicariously experience the writer’s trip that I could never hope to take. I offer the following alternatives:

• Be more general. Ok, I read the whole article about Lebanese wine and I’m sold. Lebanese wine sounds very promising, BUT, your article only focused on one guy. Odds are, I’m not gonna find HIS wine, but I’ll fine SOME Lebanese wine. Give me a run down of what’s what.
• What about technical stories? I’d love to read a story that analyzes three California Sauvignon Blancs, and three French Sauvignon Blancs. I’d like the article to speak in generalities about their differences, and what typically causes those differences, and then break down exceptions to the rule. Or Riesling. I don’t know crap about Riesling except that whenever I buy it off the shelf I end up with something awful and cloying, but some of it is allegedly dry, crisp, and pairs well with choucroute (sp?). How do I stop buying crap? Honestly, if I was walking by a magazine rack and I saw the headline, “How to Stop Buying Crappy Riesling!” I’d snatch that baby up.
• More on technical stories, what about articles about things like heat and elevation? I’d be wildly curious to read stories that tell me what happens to the taste when you grow the exact same grape in Oregon and in Australia. Or frost. Why must the article focus on one vineyard or varietal? Why can’t we have an entire wine article about frost?
• This is going to seem like I’m asking you to dumb down the content but really I’m not. Talk to me about my mass-produced options in the supermarket. Sometimes I’m 30 minutes late to a party and I need to quickly pick up a bottle of wine and my options are limited. I am aware that Yellowtail sucks. What would help me would be if you could explain to me WHY Yellowtail sucks, and, perhaps, if Yellowtail happens to offer a diamond-in-the-rough varietal that ain’t bad, please let me know what it is. If I’m armed with the specifics of what makes sucky-wines suck, maybe I can get somewhere (unless, of course, and quite possibly, being in a supermarket is what makes sucky wines suck). Let me know what wines – at my supermarket – are decent (or suck the least). Yes, I’m aware you can get great village wines from France at $10, but, again, say I’m stuck at the supermarket where French village wine is hard to come by, what the heck can I buy that’s decent with my limited selection?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Hear, hear! Bravo!

    1. Quite the rant.

      I will have to read it again to make sure I got it all, but for me the best part about it was the phrase about punching kitties in the snout.

      That was funny as hell.

      1. Joypirate, I agree the formula for these wine articles is as tired as the average romance novel. (I especially like the fall harvest articles where they burn the vine cuttings to cook sausages for the workers and serve it all with French bread and, of course, endless wine for lunch because dining with the peasants is so much fun....) In France, this joy is diminishing as they have 38,000,000 unsold bottles of wine and no orders coming in. However, if you actually live in a state with significant wine production, the wacky winemakers can be found and are worth seeking out. I am really amazed at the difference between their offerings the supermarket shelf stuff. I suggest you do some stealth research in your region; you'll be amazed at what you find. In the meantime, we'll all be stuck reading those same wine articles and marvel at how they get paid for formula writing.

        12 Replies
        1. re: Leper

          38,000,000 unsold bottles? I assume that is not a real figure, but instead a figure of speech?

          Source?

          1. re: Pappy

            Pappy, This news was virtually overlooked except for NPR on a Saturday morning. Wine growers bombed two city halls in France in protest about three weeks ago. (One was Carcasonne, I cannot recall the other.) The growers want the French government to purchase the wine at retail and convert it to industrial alcohol.
            38,000,000 is an accurate figure and indicitive of the trouble the French wineries are in with no help coming from anyone--including their government.

            1. re: Leper

              This glut has been an ongoing story for quite a while. I keep waiting for it to lower French wine prices in the US, but that hasn't happened as far as I can tell. Trader Joe's could use up the excess quickly with a French version of Charles Shaw. ;o)

              1. re: Midlife

                Midlife, Costco Wholesale could move their inventory in weeks. Obviously the French continue to be stubborn. Personally, I have moved on from overpriced French wine to finding the regional crazies that make great boutique wines. (And I choose to financially support their madness and the genius of their work.)

                1. re: Leper

                  I've never been into expensive French wines myself, except when a guy I used to work for would spring for Chateau Margaux at dinner.

                  Could you share some details on "regional crazies"? I am always on the lookout for small producers at good value price points (there are literally hundreds of them in California, Oregon and Washington alone). A few of my favorite everyday wines are under $10, though unfortunately my enjoyment level starts to broaden too widely at $20 and above

                  1. re: Midlife

                    Midlife, Check out Baerwinery.com. (The perfect example of wine off the commercial radar.) Also, go to
                    northwest-wine.com/washington-wineries.html. They list some of Washington's best boutique wines. I can recommend K Vinters, DeLille Cellars, Januik, Kestral and L`Eole. Then I suggest you become a client of garagistewine.com. Even if you never order any wine from them, their updates will inform you of terrific wines at great prices. They do ship, it depends upon your state's laws. In addition to small U.S. wineries, Garagiste works directly with many small European wineries that normally don't export. (He is very, very eccentric but you asked to go there, remember?)

                    1. re: Leper

                      Leper,

                      Do I dare ask what you mean by "eccentric" enough to warrant such a warning? I've heard of something called the "garagiste movement", which refers (I think) to the artisinal winemakers who craft unusual wines in small production, as well as extraordinary versions of the more usual varieties. Luckily for us, there are reasonably-priced examples as well as the Screaming Eagle level in the group.

                      And thanks for the winery tips. I have several relatives in the Tacoma area, so I might be able to get there sometime soon. Do you happen to be familiar with Kalamar (Sumner, WA)? It's owned by a friend of my cousin, who sent me their Syrah last year. Very memorable.

          2. re: Leper
            b
            bob oppedisano

            A million cheers for a terrific post, and a short course in why so much food (and wine) writing is worthless. It's the same self-serving fantasy, recycled over and over, thanks to generous junkets.
            In part, the fantasy rests on a lie--that small, "artisanal", avocational, garagiste or whatever such wine is necessarily better than the presumed (only) alternatives--Margaux of Yellowfrog (or whatever). Tell it to Kermit Lynch, Michael Skurnik, David Rosenthal, Leonardo LoCascio or other importers/distributors who have been working assiduously to bring in authentic, serious, well-made, and moderately priced wines from every corner of the globe. And do it proudly as a well-run business. Unlike some of the garagiste stuff I've tried, none of their products are ever skunky. Finding a tasty and distinctive Pic St Loup Mourvedre, say, for $11 is to me more thrilling than having to wonder why some $32 Idaho Sangiovese was ever made in the first place. It's also the cloud of hype around the word "winemaker", pretending that all those smiling folks in the Napa Valley are only about overalls and dirty nails, and not the hedge fund dilletantes so many are.Next step--take on those endlessly recycled food theme articles!

            1. re: Leper
              b
              bob oppedisano

              A million cheers for a terrific post, and a short course in why so much food (and wine) writing is worthless. It's the same self-serving fantasy, recycled over and over, thanks to generous junkets.
              In part, the fantasy rests on a lie--that small, "artisanal", avocational, garagiste or whatever such wine is necessarily better than the presumed (only) alternatives--Margaux of Yellowfrog (or whatever). Tell it to Kermit Lynch, Michael Skurnik, David Rosenthal, Leonardo LoCascio or other importers/distributors who have been working assiduously to bring in authentic, serious, well-made, and moderately priced wines from every corner of the globe. And do it proudly as a well-run business. Unlike some of the garagiste stuff I've tried, none of their products are ever skunky. Finding a tasty and distinctive Pic St Loup Mourvedre, say, for $11 is to me more thrilling than having to wonder why some $32 Idaho Sangiovese was ever made in the first place. It's also the cloud of hype around the word "winemaker", pretending that all those smiling folks in the Napa Valley are only about overalls and dirty nails, and not the hedge fund dilletantes so many are.Next step--take on those endlessly recycled food theme articles!

              1. re: bob oppedisano

                Just to clarify........ is your issue with imported wine vs. domestic US, in general, or do you beleive the 'poseur-to-legitimate' quotient is significantly higher here than in France or Italy or ?? I certainly couldn't argue with the point that a lot of the $25-$50 US "artisanal" wines I've tried are not as good as many of the imports at half the price, but I don't think I could make that a blanket statement.

                There certainly are a ton of those "hedge fund dilitantes" you speak of . A friend, who sells products to CA wineries told me that there are now over 1,100 winery 'brands' in the Napa/Sonoma area. When I first started visiting there, 30 years ago, there were something like 30. No question that a whole bunch of those wines are not worth what their 'makers' think the market 'allows' them to charge. That's why I go to a lot of tastings and read a lot of wine blogs before I plunk down $40 for some wine I've never heard of. Having a really trustworthy local wine merchant is a big help too. I'm a sucker for the shop that says "we don't stock that wine, because I haven't had a chance to taste it yet"

                1. re: Midlife
                  b
                  bob oppedisano

                  I suppose I should have admitted that I just find myself drinking French, Italian, Greek, Argentinian, and Spanish red wines almost exclusively--throughout the price ladder they offer so many more high value choices that are to my taste: relatively more complex, less alcoholic, less show-y, easier with food than Californians (or Aussies)at the same price points. I'm not a fan of solo cabernet sauvignon or merlot so I suppose, too, that I cut myself out of the best-value new world loop. There's junk from everywhere, of course, but for me, for everyday drinking, I usually find more interesting wines from the old, not new world.

                  1. re: bob oppedisano

                    Would you share with us some of these wines from France, Italy, Greece, etc. that you enjoy and would be available in a metropolitan area?

            2. Maybe you're the next great wine writer. Love your writing, why don't you start researching and start a blog (or submit articles to magazines) for the average joe? I learned much of what I know from a sommelier who was a student of Kevin Zraly. Check out his book "Windows on the World, A Complete Wine Course". The 2005 edition has additional coverage of US wines. I also like Oz Clarke's "Encyclopedia of Grapes".

              1. j
                Joan Kureczka

                Good points and great post.

                With respect to your last one, that's why I enjoy the Friday wine column in the Wall Street Journal. They have done just that -- one recent piece was on why to avoid Chardonnays under $20. In tasting over 50 straight off the shop shelf, they found about 4 that were acceptable. They said why in great detail.

                A lot of serious wine geeks don't seem to like the John and Dorothy's articles, but they are a good read -- and useful -- as far is I'm concerned.

                1. Absolutely brilliant. Please tell me you mailed this post to Food & Wine and Saveur? :-)

                  1. w
                    wine ubber alles

                    I check wi my wine guy in Jersey who sends wine across the free fire zone border to PA in the dark of night and it come to my house in rusty trucks wi no names on. He does not have Punching Kitten label, but he can get wine from Bekuzstan but not from Uzbekistan. No wonder you annoyed.

                    1. r
                      Rodger Parsons

                      The problem with most wine writing today is that it does fall into the cliché zone and as time goes on it gets worse. It may be that many of the so-called wine reporters are better writers than eoenphiles and fall back on their story telling skills - rather than their knowledge about or love of wine. There is also the follow the leader trend, where a major publication drones a little ditty and everybody else thinks they have to pick up the tune. But I think the main reason why there is so much dreadful nonsense in wine reporting is because there is an intellectual rather than an aesthetic take on the subject. After all, wine is art, drinkable art - but no less graceful than a fine piece of music. It exists for the moment and, even if repeated, is never quite the same the next time. There also seems to be a lot of people writing about wine that are uncomfortable with the subject and fail to catch the subtleties. What's truly amazing is how much is missed, not just for the writer but the reader. Let us hope that Bacchus is somewhere listening and can whisper in the ears of editor everywhere, we would enjoy better coverage of wine.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Rodger Parsons

                        "After all, wine is art, drinkable art - but no less graceful than a fine piece of music. It exists for the moment and, even if repeated, is never quite the same the next time."

                        Wow!!! I don't think I've ever heard that sentiment expressed quite so beautifully. I'd love to be able to quote you in some material I'm writing that's wine related.

                        One of the best, though sometimes frustrating, things about wine is that very point. You can get very noticeable subtle differences between different bottles of the exact same wine, different sized bottles of the same wine; not to mention the same bottle at different temperatures, aeration, and after different lengths of time in the bottle as well as the glass.

                      2. With the thousands and thousands of wines that are out there, your best bet is to find a good wine shop with knowledgable people and let them help you find wines you like that are in your price range.

                        For the more determined, use winesearcher.com It will tell you who has the wine for sale.

                        Also, go to some of the wine boards, lke vinocellar.com, winespactator.com, and erobertparker.com for advice and tasting notes.

                        1. Fantastic. Right on target, and excellently written.

                          Here's a link to a recent Dara Moskowitz article that comes a heck of a lot closer to what I need, and perhaps what you are seeking.

                          Ms. Moskowitz was recently nominated for a James Beard award. The kicker? I get to read her every week in my free weekly circular -- yes, the one where the personal ads are as explicit as they are concise. It's MILES better than dropping $6.00 every month for the oh-so-precious oenophile oozings about bouquet accents I can't yet discern and vineyards I will never recall.

                          http://www.citypages.com/databank/26/...

                          1. And you are supprised? Food magazines are not wine magazines, even ones like Food and Wine. Most magazines that are not dedicated to wine are lifestyle magazines and their wine writing is from that point of view. Even such publications as Wine Spectator have gotten to be "lifestyle", thought they do focus on wine and have lots and lots of tasting notes and articles about the wine.

                            Let's face it, there aren't that many folks out there who are really "into" wine to the point where the magazines are going to focus on their needs.