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Wine Spectator alternatives?

Are there any publications out there with good wine information aside from Wine Spectator? I have subscribed to it for years but I find that it often focuses on wines that I will not likely ever be able to afford. Same with restaurants and travel destinations. I drink wine regularly and would consider a publication that focuses on "bang for the buck" wines along with food/wine pairings.

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  1. Peter,
    The Wine Spectator is really not a "wine magazine" but rather a lifestyle magazine. If you want good unbiased review read magazines /newsletters that do not take advertising dollars. The best examples are Robert Parker Jr.'s "The Wine Advocate", Claude Kolhm's "Fine Wine Review", and Steve Tanzer's ??? escaping me now..

    2 Replies
      1. re: Winer

        Unbiased? Ummmmm . . . no. I'd say "not influenced by advertising dollars," yes -- but not unbiased.

        Cheers,
        Jason

      2. I much prefer the British wine press; more interest in wine and less on ratings and hype. Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson are as good as they come. Check out Decanter:

        www.decanter.com

        I

        1. Decanter, the British magazine is a nice choice

          1. There's "The Wine Advocate" and there's everybody else:

            http://www.erobertparker.com/info/Win...

            1 Reply
            1. EVERY publication has its strengths and its weaknesses.

              Nearly all will cover high-end wines that mere mortals cannot always afford. One exception is Arthur Damond's "Wine Discoveries" -- http://www.amazon.com/Wine-Discoverie...

              Decanter is excellent, but it's also British, so some of the wines may be hard to find in the US and/or Canada. Nonetheless, I find it much better than the Speculator. http://www.decanter.com

              Jancis Robinson is an excellent writer, both in her Financial Times colum and in her own "Purple Pages" -- http://www.jancisrobinson.com/

              Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine is another excellent choice, but limited as to its scope -- http:www.cgcw.com/

              So, too, is Allen Meadows' "Burghound" -- http://www.burghound.com/

              Roy Hersh's "For the Love of Port" covers, obviously, Porto but also some table wines and other fortifieds -- http://www.fortheloveofport.com/

              Winestate covers Australian wines better than anyone, and a more than decent job with NZ -- http://www.winestate.com.au/

              And so on and so on and so on . . . .

              Jason

              4 Replies
              1. re: zin1953

                I though this was a better link to Arthur Damond's Wine Discoveries but it appears to be a dead end
                http://www.damondswinediscoveries.com/

                1. re: The Chowfather AKA sobe

                  I'm probably the odd man out here, but I actually like the Spectator. I appreciate its breadth--heck, it is one of the few international wine magazines I have read that reviews wines from Canada (I am Canadian, so admit a bias). Not to mention Uruguay, Israel, and Greece.

                  I don't agree with all of the opinions in the Spectator, but I like Matt Kramer and think he is one of the more thoughtful wine writers out there today.

                  I also like some of the food writing in the Spectator...the column on coffee is interesting, as is Sam Gugino's food column. I have seen some complaints from readers about the amount of attention paid to food, but I conceptualize wine primarily as an accompaniment to food.

                  I must admit I do not like Robert Parker's website/newsletter, if only because I so frequently disagree with him and find some of his 90+ point ratings to be baffling (this happens more frequently for me than with the WS).

                  On the whole, I am not that enamoured with wine writing. It is usually either superficial or just plain preposterous (i.e. describing a wine as having "accents of ocean spray"; "flavours that echo on the persistent finish"; "hot stone notes"; "pudding flavours" (without saying what kind of pudding). You all know what I mean.

                  1. re: anewton

                    Hello anewton. Don't worry! You are not alone!! I too enjoy the Spectator!! In fact, I sometimes find the food and restaurants write-ups very interesting, concise and informative.

                  1. re: waffleman

                    Thanks, zin1953. I actually know a lot about Canadian wines, as it is a small world, but I always feel that our wine scene, particularly the red wines of the Okanagan Valley, are overlooked on the international front. Of course, that has a lot to do with the scant volume of wine we produce, and in a way it is a blessing because if our premium wines do get discovered, they will be even harder for us locals to lay our hands on!

                    1. re: anewton

                      The only wines Canada has that can compete on a international level are ice wines and a few white varietal (Pinot Gris being the top).

                      The main reason that Canadian wines, especially those from the Okanagan Valley, get overlooked is because of the absurd prices that the wineries sell them for.

                      Take a bottle of Burrowing Owl Merlot at around 30 dollars in BC (which is absurd). Now if you ever wanted to export that wine, you would have to add on this and that and everything else, and all of sudden, that bottle is 50 dollars and competing with Napa Cabs.

                      If Canadian wines were half the price (or more) they could be considered on the world market. But, until then, it's just not going to happen.

                      1. re: Cancuk

                        While I don't disagree (for the most part), I would also add that much of Canada's production is in grapes most of the world doesn't care about: hybrids.

                        I've had some excellent old vine Foch from Malvoie, for example, but living in California, the majority of wine drinkers here have never heard of it, let alone attempt to seek it out. And I have a hard time finding it in BC, which is naturally more focused on wines from the Okanagan Valley than from Ontario, so bringing it back to the States is problematic, at best.

                        Yes, Canadian ice wines DO get widespread coverage in the US press, and elsewhere, and there is a good selection available in wine stores -- at least here in California. AND they deserve it -- the wines can be stunning! But aside from them, a tiny handful of Pinot Noirs and some Pinot Gris . . . there are, in my experience, better wines available for less money.

                        But with global warming, who knows???

                        1. re: Cancuk

                          "The main reason that Canadian wines, especially those from the Okanagan Valley, get overlooked is because of the absurd prices that the wineries sell them for."

                          I wouldn't consider the Osoyoos Larose overpriced. At around $40, it bests many a Meritage-style blend from California, Austalia and South Africa that cost half again as much or more. The 2003 I tasted last week was definitely not outclassed by the 2004 Clos du Marquis (Léoville Las Case's second wine) and Château Beychevelle tasted a few days later, and they run $10 and $15 more a bottle respectively.

                          On the whole, though, I agree, that the whites are better than the reds and, one or two exceptions aside, the ice wines are where Canada's most competitive.

                    2. Lot's of good recs already: Decanter, Gambero Rosso, Wine Advocate (Parker), Jancis Robinson (on line). If time and money aren't an issue, getting information from more than one source has worked well for me. Tanzer's International Wine Cellar is another excellent publication.

                      Also suggest you check out the Wednesday Food Sections in LA Times and NY Times for FREE wine news and recommendations.

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: ibstatguy

                        Also Friday's wine section -- a separate section from "Food" -- in the SF Chronicle

                        1. re: zin1953

                          I stand reminded, SF Chron does a very good job

                          1. re: ibstatguy

                            I would vigorously defend many Canadian wines, particularly those from the Okanagan:

                            A few examples: Nota Bene (quite reasonable at $40/bottle given the quality)

                            Cedar Creek Estate Select wines (i.e. Syrah, Pinot Noir)

                            Quail's Gate Family Reserve wines (esp the Pinot)

                            Fairview Cellars (Bear's Meritage)

                            Jackson Triggs Grand Reserve series (esp the Shiraz and the Cab-Shiraz blends)

                            Osoyoos-Larose (meritage)

                            Golden Mile's Black Arts Syrah and Chardonnay

                            Mission Hill Oculus

                            All of these wines are regularly impressive to stunning. I have tasted some of the best from Washington (i.e. Leonetti Cellars, Sheridan); Oregon (Ken Wright, Penner-Ash) and California (Phelps Insignia; Shafer wines; Caymus) and while BC wines are not as popular or as heralded, they are getting better all the time and the best are certainly not far off the mark.

                            Also, from a value perspective, BC wines are not unfairly priced when compared to their American counterparts.

                            One thing I must disagree with is the assertion that a lot of the best BC wines are made from hybrid grapes. Most of the hybrid vines were torn out in the early 1990s. There is the odd Mariechal Foch (sp?), but most of our quality wines are from vinifera grape varieties, with the best results produced from Riesling, Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir. Must say that BC S-Blanc has been consistently disappointing, though.

                            1. re: anewton

                              I applaud your patriotism, but I fear you didn't correctly read what's been said so far.

                              Canada has two wine industries -- BC and the Okanagan Valley, where Vitis vinifera rules, and Ontario, where there are still a number of hybrids planted. Never did I say "the best BC wines are made from hybrid grapes." Malivoire is, in fact, in Ontario ( http://www.malivoirewineco.com/ ) -- I apologize for misspelling it earlier.

                              Additionally, you -- in part -- answer your own argument when you write "they [BC wines] are getting better all the time and the best are certainly not far off the mark." Being "not far off the mark" is still off the mark. Leonetti (which is waaaayyyyy over-oaked, IMHO), Phelps "Insignia" (the one specific wine you mention), Shafer, Caymus (also over-oaked) -- all these are wineries famous for their Cabernet Sauvignon. (Insignia is a Cabernet-based wine.) I've never had a decent Cabernet Sauvignon from the Okanagan Valley, and you don't cite one.

                              Please note: I haven't had the Osoyoos-Larose, but have read good things. I wasn't all that impressed, to be honest, by the Mission Hill Oculus (overwhelmingly Merlot-based), nor the Fairview Cellars. But that's me; YMMV.

                              The best Okanagan reds, in my experience, have been Pinot Noir (Quail's Gate and Blue Mountain). But this doesn't mean they are world-class. There IS, however, the very real potential to achieve world-class status in the future, as winemakers get more experience, as the vines get older and, let's face it, with global warming.

                              I think the Okanagan is one of the most exciting areas to watch -- for what is and, more importantly, what will come from this up-and-coming region. (But aside from ice wines, I don't think it's there yet.

                              )

                              Just my 2¢.

                              Jason

                              1. re: zin1953

                                I would have to agree that most of the good Cab-Sauv dominated wines from the Okanagan are blends--Meritage. I don't know that I have tasted a good 100% Cab Sauvignon from the Okanagan. That varietal tends to produce green, herbaceous flavours in the Okanagan, yet somehow those flavours are not noticeable in meritage blends.

                                The real yardsticks of quality among BC reds (and Canada, for that matter) reds are Nota Bene from the Black Hills winery; the premium reserve wines from Cedar Creek; the grand reserve wines from Jackson-Triggs, especially the shiraz (their entry-level wines are undrinkable swill); the family reserve wines from Quail's Gate; and the "black arts" series wines from Golden Mile. 2005 was a great year in BC (good vintages for all of the above wines).

                                I guess I feel that unless a person lives here and regularly drinks the wines, it is hard to comment on the quality. I regularly drink Australian, American, French, Chilean, and Spanish wines, and I find that for the money (in the $30-$40 range) I am generally most impressed with our local wines.

                                But bear in mind that due to our oppressive tax system on imported wines, a $20 American wine becomes a $40 American wine. That factor alone means that I can buy only entry-level Californian or Washington wines for the same price that I can buy premium BC wines.

                                1. re: anewton

                                  >>> I would have to agree that most of the good Cab-Sauv dominated wines from the Okanagan are blends--Meritage. I don't know that I have tasted a good 100% Cab Sauvignon from the Okanagan. That varietal tends to produce green, herbaceous flavours in the Okanagan, yet somehow those flavours are not noticeable in meritage blends. <<<

                                  Merlot ripens more fully in cooler climates without the herbaceousness.

                                  >>> I guess I feel that unless a person lives here and regularly drinks the wines, it is hard to comment on the quality. I regularly drink Australian, American, French, Chilean, and Spanish wines, and I find that for the money (in the $30-$40 range) I am generally most impressed with our local wines. <<<

                                  I have no doubt that you taste more Okanagan wines than I, but a) I have family in Vancouver, Richmond, and Edmonton, and while in Canada, I only drink Okanagan wines; b) I do taste a number of Canadian wines -- both from BC and Ont. -- at various wine competitions that I judge; and c) I can only voice my opinion based upon my experience -- which I would describe as more than "slight" and less than "thorough."

                                  Cheers,
                                  Jason

                              2. re: anewton

                                UPDATE

                                Was in Vancouver three weeks ago. Tried the Osoyoos-Larose for the first time. I'd describe it as "good" to "very good" wine -- especially so for something that's Cab-based from the Okanagan. But it didn't live up the hype it's received -- at least not for me -- and it didn't "wow" me. Like I said, "good" to "very good." Nothing more.

                            1. re: byrd

                              . . . which I find good on a somewhat basic level. (Just my 2¢, and no doubt worth far less.)

                              1. re: zin1953

                                but "good" nonetheless; I frequently recommend the Friday WSJ to people for the wine column. wouldn't likely push it to very knowledgeable types but I still find it to be well written worth reading.

                                1. re: ibstatguy

                                  i'm lucky 'cause around here, there's good access to their selections (i'm sure where zin and ibstat are is the same) and the ones i've picked up have been right on the money.