subscribe: Posts | Comments      Facebook      Email Steve

When familiarity breeds…well, awards


Wine  & Spirits Magazine is out with their annual poll of the most popular restaurant wine brands and to no one’s surprise here’s the list:

1. Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards
2. Cakebread Cellars
3. Jordan Vineyard & Winery
4. Silver Oak Wine Cellars
5. Ferrari-Carano Winery
6. Robert Mondavi Winery
7. Veuve Clicquot
8. Chateau Ste. Michelle
9. Rombauer Vineyards
10. Kendall-Jackson Vineyards

It’s essentially “Same as it ever was…same as it ever was…same as it ever was…” as David Byrne sang once upon a time.


These are good wineries; they produce wonderful wines, and if you think I’m being disrespectful in my following remarks, just go to my reviews in Wine Enthusiast’s dabatase. You’ll see how much I like most of what these wineries produce. But the fact is that there’s a reason why, year after year, they end up on this list: They’re familiar, proven, household names. The public likes and trusts them (as well they should), and so restaurateurs put them on their wine lists.

Are they the most interesting, adventurous wines out there? Not necessarily. Proven commodities don’t ordinarily take risks. They know what they do well, and like the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This is the way awards work. The Oscars likewise favor the familiar. Kate Winslet just won not because she gave the performance of a lifetime in The Reader, but because after a whole bunch of nominations the Academy turned to a familiar, beloved face.

Which brings me to the nominees for the American Wine Blog Awards. Like Wine & Spirits’ restaurant list, it’s pretty much the same as it’s been for years now. I was an AWBA judge last year and many if not most of this year’s nominees were last year’s nominees. Many of them also happen to be among the oldest wine blogs. They thus have the benefit of time-proven familiarity, which I have to assume is why they garner votes every year. People are comfortable with what they know, not with what they don’t. It’s not that these are the best wine blogs around. It’s that they’ve been around for a while.

Sour grapes on my part? I don’t think so, although something tells me some people will differ with me. Sure, I wish I’d been a nominee. I wish some other wine blogs I love had been nominated. But as good as my blog is, it’s only been around since May. I realize I’m going to have to work harder to get onto the “A” list.

Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town, San Francisco

Thursday, March 26

This really is a nice event. It’s held in the War Memorial Opera House, in Civic Center. We take over the whole building, 3 floors of restaurant food booths and tons of wine, not to mention a young, good-looking crowd. I’ll be there, and look forward to seeing friends, both old and new. Click here for details.

  1. Steve,

    Like Ron Washam’s blog, I think your blog is a shoe-in for best original graphics….

    Your points and observations about the nominees are spot-on.

    It’s important to recognize excellence in wine blogging. Prerequisite to that is actually nominating blogs which meet the criteria for each category and for the awards in general.

  2. Steve,

    I’m nominated, but clearly in the wrong category. It’s as if Osama bin Laden were up for a Nobel Peace Prize.

    Your points are well-taken. I was surprised anyone even reads my baloney much less nominates me. Tell you what, if I win, I’ll give you my award!


  3. The most popular wines found at California Cheesecake Factory. Congratulations on your long journey to the middle.

  4. Gee, thanks, Ron. What can I say?

  5. <>

    With all due respect to all bloggers and writers everywhere, your blog is brilliantly written, insightful, accessible and fun to read.

    I know. I print it out and throw darts at it every day. Just kidding.

    It is great work, Steve. Keep it up.

  6. Yeah, right, Steve, like I’m gonna win. Don’t start making room in your trophy case. Do I seem like one of those ol’ cronies you were talking about? Who’s going to vote for me? Lenndevours or Alder Yarrow? Even the Surveymonkey dissed me.

  7. The rather lazy “copious vs judicious” wine list mentality and
    practice is often facilitated by the prowess, purchase incentives and delivery requirements of the controlling distributor. My experience is that frequently the selections on these tedious, cookie cutter wine tomes are, in great measure, but window dressing and always “temporarily” out of stock.

  8. Morton Leslie says:

    I would much prefer a wine list with those popular ten brands than a wine list composed of wineries I have never heard of and which I suspect the restaurateur has chosen solely because no one has heard of them and, therefore, no one will know how ridiculously he has marked them up.

    Regarding your blog and awards, is there an award for being the most tolerant of curmudgeonly commenters?

  9. RUSH has yet to win a Grammy, or be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

    So, I think we can agree that awards in general are a bit broken and severely biased, seeing as how RUSH is the greatest band in the history of humankind.

    Oh, wait… was I just being biased and therefore undermining of my own argument?


    …never mind…

  10. Morton: Yes, there is such an award, and you just presented it to me.

  11. In the case of the top restaurant wineries, they clearly have not only time and experience on their side but more importantly, marketing dollars.
    And those dollars pay for more advertisements and for sales ‘feet on the street’ than smaller wineries can afford.
    The nominated blogs are all excellent and most of them have time on their side, which tends to have an accumulative effect on readership stats.
    One blog even has nudie pics on its side, which always sells.

  12. I know the one with nudie pics. Cool blog.

  13. @ Morton – Not that the unknown wine with ridiculous markup syndrome does not occur, but it’s rare when I run into it and suppose I know enough to sniff out that rat. A fine example was my recent dinner at Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale where I stumbled into a delicious Aussie Riesling flight that absolutely blows away any of those ubiquitous McWines on the aforementioned award winning restaurant list.

  14. Thanks for the “cool blog” comment, Steve. Notice I have only a few blogs on my blog list and yours is one of them. For a slight fee I can remove it…

  15. Steve,

    Why not ask readers for their 10 wineries they’d like to see on wine lists?
    Here is a quick list I’d love to see on a list…
    Milbrandt vineyards
    Owen Roe
    Andrew Will
    K Vintners
    Alexander Valley Vintners
    Joel Gott

    anybody else?

  16. Steve,

    Wonderful blog as usual. The top restaurant wines are no surprise, as you’ve said, because there is a ‘comfort factor’ in the eyes of both the consumer and many restaurants with regards to ‘known entities’ in the wine business.

    Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the general public is as adventurous about ANYTHING as we may give them credit for. Why do you think Consumer Reports is as popular as it is? New York Times Best Sellers list? People are ‘comforted’ knowing they are purchasing things recognized by others, whether it be independently or not, and generally will gravitate to these things first. Many somms I’ve spoken with lament the fact they ‘have’ to bring in certain brands . . . but people ask for them by name, they sell, and therefore they’re needed to generate the cash to purchase the other things the somms really want to carry . . .

    Just my $.02 . . .

    By the way, will you be at WOPN this year? I will be pouring for Fess Parker on Friday – stop on by and say hi!


  17. Larry, I will be at WOPN. Leaving today. I’m also moderating an event at Fess Parker later this month.

  18. Larry makes a good point- The general public isn’t adventurous (especially when it comes to wine.) Something about wine scares people- They are afraid to ask questions for fear that they’ll look stupid, and would rather just pick a name they know.

    Re: The blog awards- almost all of the nominees are great blogs, but like you said, most were very safe, conservative, and mainstream choices.

  19. Steve, the W&S restaurant poll has always ONLY been about distribution, and to a certain extent, entrenchment. Not quality. Not sommelier savvy. In short, these are the brands that have been pushed on to enough wine lists that they come out as sounding like the most “popular” but in truth they really represent the most easy to find. And then again, they are the most easy to find at the restauarants surveyed, not all restaurants.

  20. Steve,

    I’m going to miss your moderation at Fess Parker as I’ll be up at Rhone Rangers taking part in a panel moderated by Jon Bonne on rhone blends . . . bummer!

    Stop by and say hi on Friday!


Leave a Reply


Recent Comments

Recent Posts