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Day 2 at the Wine Writers Symposium

41 comments

Random notes

Eric Asimov and Karen MacNeil had a panel on “Sensory Analysis vs. Wine Reviews” in which Eric reprised an earlier topic about “the tyranny of the tasting note.” He calls tasting notes “pernicious” because it makes wine seem “unambiguous,” which it isn’t, and “rips the heart of out its mystery.” Well, yes…and no. Yes, because it’s awfully hard to summarize the experience of a wine in words. No, because if you’re reviewing a wine, you have to say something, so all you can do is your best. That is, after all, what writing is all about: doing your best.

Eric is right on about the laundry lists of descriptors many critics use. It’s too often pretentious, precious and downright silly, all those olalaberries and grilled asphalt and so on. I myself have vastly simplified my metaphors over the years, and moved more toward writing about balance, structure and elegance (or the lack thereof). My problem with some young bloggers is that they’re going back to the use of obscure fruits, flowers etc. Maybe they have to; maybe that’s something the novice wine writer has to do.

Earlier, my old colleague Jeff Morgan had a panel called “What wine writers need to know about wine” that was particularly welcome, I’m sure, by all us writers. There’s been much discussion, including here on my blog, about how much technical knowledge a wine writer should have. A little? A lot? Obviously, some knowledge is desirable, but I’ve always thought a lot is unnecessary and can even be a hindrance. A move critic doesn’t need to know all about digital film technology or lighting manufacturers or Dolby sound. If technical knowledge made for a better wine critic, the best of them would be viticulture and enology professors — which is patently not the case.

Jeff raised the question of watering back wines or musts to combat high alcohol — which he said 80% of Napa vintners routinely do. He said although this actually improves the wines, the winemakers are loathe to admit to writers that they do it. “It’s because some powerful columnists lambast anything they perceive as interventionist, and the public buys into that,” I said. Jeff, or course, agreed. I personally am not bothered by so-called “interventions” to make better wine. Everything about winemaking is interventionist. It’s a bogus controversy ginned up by some writers who don’t actually have to make wine themselves. If a winemaker waters down, or acidulates, or sulfurs, or uses R.O. — whatever — who cares, as long as the wine is good? So next time you read a critic ranting about “intervention,” understand he’s just looking to pick a fight.

Later that day, we did a blind tasting of 5 Napa reds with Ms. MacNeil and I completely wiped out. We all did. I don’t necessarily feel bad abut guessing Barbera when the wine was an old field blend, and so on. The important thing in these useful exercises is for your logic, your deductive process to be correct. I understand that in the M.W. tests they don’t care if you guess the wine correctly, they want to know that your reasoning was accurate.

In the evening Bill Harlan hosted a few of us for drinks, and then it was on to the Restaurant at Meadowood. The food was obviously great but for me the highlight was sitting (and drinking) with Eric Asimov and Alder Yarrow, both of whom I got to know much better than ever. Such smart guys, so savvy and brilliant in their own unique ways. Easy to see why they’re both where they are in their blog careers. We had what easily was the greatest conversation about blogging, social media and where it’s all going that I’ve ever had. (And I was so pleased to discover that Eric and I share a martial arts education.) Now, this morning, it’s on to the two big panels, Alder’s on Monetizing your new media writing (which I’m on) and mine on Wine writers, ethics and income streams. This is going to be hot stuff. I’ll report tomorrow.

  1. In 2008, some 30 billion dollars changed hands in the sale of wine (http://wineinstitute.org/resources/statistics/article122).
    And you want those doing consumer product evaluation (and subsequent rating/recommendations) to NOT know TOO much about the technical side of the product?
    The argument Eric makes that technical knowledge makes wine seem “unambiguous,” and “rips the heart of out its mystery” is the very essence of anti-intellectualism about which he occasionally complains.
    Again, as commentators on a product on which the public collectively spend 30 billion dollars, all wine writers should posses robust technical wine knowledge, good sensory skills and an acute awareness that people will be spending hard-earned money on these products.

  2. Steve,

    Thanks for the update – much appreciated. The concept of ‘interening’ in the wine process really is an interesting topic, and one that I think you should address in another blog . . .

    But that said, let’s get it started now . . .

    You mention that winemakers do not ‘come clean’ because of fear of backlash from from powerful columnists . . . but I believe it is also because of backlash from consumers. These consumers have been ‘programmed’ over the past three decades that ‘conventional wisdom’ is that filtered wines are not as good as unfiltered wines; that it’s not okay to ‘manipulate’ wines because it’s not natural . . .

    As you and I both know, the concept of using de-Volatile Acidity or de-alcohol machines is now a rule with many many wineries around the country – and certainly around many ‘known’ brands in CA,

    This brings up the real question – does the end justify the means??!!?!?!?

    If you have not been out to visit Vinovation or Wine Secrets, you really should – to see what they do and what the results are. I am not condoning or condemning the use of these technologies – just mentioning how widespread these techniques are being used . . . .

    Cheers.

  3. Since you are covering ethics and wine writing perhaps you can comment on this paragraph from the homepage of the Symposium: “In order to maintain the editorial caliber of this conference, the Symposium has solicited no outside sponsorship.”

    It then goes on to say: “A portion of the cost of the program is underwritten by the Napa Valley Vintners, a non-profit organization representing more than 300 wineries and by Meadowood Napa Valley. Meadowood, which is also the annual home to Auction Napa Valley, continues its twenty-eight-year tradition of service to the Napa Valley winegrowing community by providing a venue for the conference.”

    How do you reconcile these statements. The PWW may not have solicited this wining and dining by the Napa Vintners and Meadowood, but doesn’t it raise ethical issues? Why not meet in SF on neutral turf and take no gifties.

    And why would Linda Rieff, Ex. Director of the Vintners sit on the board of the Professional Wine Writers and serve as a panelist?

    I suppose it’s all very innocent, but worth some discussion, just as it was when the Bloggers were hosted in the summer.

    I do hope the hosts get their quid pro quo.

  4. Steve – thanks for standing up for all of us “interventionist” winemakers out here. Man and nature conspire to give us imperfect fruit and none of us is perfect in our craft, but our employers, owners and investors accept nothing less than perfection. I do believe that the best wines are made with the least tweaking – just like a doctor must feel the perfect patient is the one you never have to treat. But it is my JOB to turn out good wines, and I am thankful when I have the means at my disposal to do so.

    So when some writers, marketers and consumers start to put a premium on doing nothing, when I know I can be doing better by doing something, all I can do is shake my head and wonder if they really understand what they are drinking. Sure, I have tasted some wines that are “endearingly flawed” but the pro in me recognizes the flaw nontheless.

    BTW – my take on what wine writers need to know? First and foremost is how to write well. The joy one takes in wine and the passion one feels for it mean nothing if one can’t write well, and engagingly. Spelling and grammar count too. Personally, I am further engaged if the writer shows a sly wit and a bit of self-deprecating humility. Technical knowledge is a plus, in that one of the goals of wine writing is to educate – and one can’t teach what one does not know. Plus, if one commits something truly ingorant to print, know-it-alls like me are ready to pounce.

    Finally, experience counts – not just the experience of tasting thousands of wines (a compulsory prerequisite) but also an experience of the industry and an acquaintance with the people who make it happen: from vineyard workers to winemakers to accountants and lawyers to owners to distributors, brokers, retailers and restaurateurs, to other tastemakers. One needs experience to be able to say more than something along the lines of “This balanced mouth-filling NZ SB smells and tastes like grapefruit and cat pee, and goes great with goat tacos: 92 pts.” Sheesh – we’ve heard it all before already. It takes experience, technical knowledge, personality and superior writing skill to syntehsize something greater, which will grab your audience and shake them until they cry “uncle.”

  5. John thanks for getting a plug in about good writing!

  6. Tom, I can’t comment on behalf of NVV or Meadowood, obviously. But here’s my take. Between the 2 of them they put together a very high level event. I’m sure Meadowood takes a financial hit in the end. I think both organizations do it mainly out of a devotion to wanting to foster a great new generation of wine writers. Clearly, NVV’s members get some PR and so does Meadowood, but I really don’t think that’s their motivation. Sometimes, organizations really do things because they believe in them, not because they want to make money.

  7. Larry, I fully understand how widespread these techniques are. If I was a winemaker, I’m sure I’d be using them too. It’s going to take education to teach consumers that “intervention” is not a bad thing but often a necessary one. I’m trying to do just that.

  8. Arthur, you misunderstood a couple things. Eric did not say that technical knowledge makes wine seem unambiguous. He said that tasting notes do that. It’s not an anti-intellectual argument. For Heaven’s sake, Eric is a full-blown intellectual, the farthest thing from a knucklehead you could know. And I stand by my assertion that extreme technical knowledge is not relevant for wine reviewing. Some is. But I don’t know how you get around my statement that, if technical knowledge is so important, then the best wine writers would be V&E professors. You’re not saying that, are you?

  9. Tone Kelly says:

    I may be a bit off topic, but I have a problem with watering wines back to decrease the alcohol and the fact that this is required to keep alcohol levels at a reasonable level of 15+%. Wow. I wonder if we wouldn’t just be better off with Cabernet Ports (like the late harvest Zins of the 1970s)! I realize that everyone has their own taste preferences, but I actually thought that the very early 1990′s Cabernets actually were competitive with Bordeaux in terms of flavor, balance and ability to age gracefully (I still have some of these Cabs in my cellar). Unfortunately I cannot drink these modern monsters with food. Too big, too heavy and too much.

  10. Steve, perhaps we should start with separating skill and talent in writing from skill and talent in wine evaluation.
    I think being a good writer is not a substitute for skilled, knowledgeable product evaluation and putting writing talent before skill in evaluation is putting the horse before the cart.
    One does not have to be a PhD in V&E to be a skilled (or even competent) evaluator. One does have to be able to correctly identify sensory characteristics of the wine and connect the dots of those features and what they mean about the wine in the context of typicity, longevity, quality, breadth of appeal, etc.
    We had a discussion about credibility (and by corollary, expertise) a few years ago. Returning to that topic: I’d say that proficiency in evaluation is the first requisite. Ability to coalesce the essence of the evaluation into coherent sentences is a subsequent requisite. The ability to do so in an interesting and engaging way is a plus.

  11. I forgot to add: RE: “extreme technical knowledge is not relevant for wine reviewing”. We’d have to be on the same page what you deem “extreme”, but my suspicion is that my “requisite” is your “extreme” (only speculation).
    Nevertheless, I continue to argue that there are some 30 billion reasons for setting the relevance cutoff for technical knowledge as high as possible.

  12. Arthur, give me a few examples of wine writer-critics who possess the requisite technical knowledge you refer to.

  13. Tone, maybe the wine world is divided into those who abhor the big Cabs and those that like them. I happen to like them, when they’re well made and in balance. But I hear from a lot of people who just cannot deal with them, especially with food. At one of our panels today, a speaker said there is evidence that both wine writers and consumers are moving away from high alcohol wines. We’ll see.

  14. Unfortunately, Steve, the list is VERY short.

  15. Well, Arthur, I guess in that case, you’re going to have to be the person you wish existed but doesn’t!

  16. Actually, those people do exist but I’m trying to be delicate about who they are and are not. My comment is less a reflection of some unattainable standard and more an indictment of the very low standards in wine criticism.
    As for me, I am trying, but I hope to find others who are willing collaborate and build a body of knowledge and understanding from which we all can benefit.

  17. Arthur and I agree on many things, but this is not one of them. A wine writer is still a writer first, a journalist. The guy reporting on the rocket launch does not have to know everything about how to build the rocket. It helps, but if the reporter’s writing is crap he’s out of a job.

    I spent a decade of my professional career working with talented wine professionals to develop tasting panels that could generate results I could correlate with experimental manipulations in the vineyard and winery. Even with targeted training, the inability of individual tasters to produce consistent evaluations ALWAYS accounted for 30%-40% or more of the spread (variation) in the dataset.

    Consequently I no longer expect or require a high level of consistency in wine evaluators. The wine evaluators I read, I do so for the quality of their writing, not the quality of their evaluations – with which I frequently disagree.

  18. In my initial comment I made make an incorrect attribution in saying: “The argument Eric makes that technical knowledge makes wine seem “unambiguous,” and “rips the heart of out its mystery” is the very essence of anti-intellectualism about which he occasionally complains.”

    To Eric, I apologize for conflation.

    Nevertheless, the notion that wine can’t be “unambiguous” and somehow possessed of mystery rejects the fact that wine (and it’s appreciation by humans) *can* be understood with technical knowledge as the basis for that understanding. So while Eric is not known to me to be one to promulgate flagrant anti-intellectualism, the implications of the idea that wine should be ambiguous and mysterious are troublesome. I feel that this attitude hinders understanding of wine and that it stunts a wine culture and the development of any individual wine enthusiast.

    Superfluous descriptors of wine should not be seen as a nuisance. The pursuit of the sensory nuances and intricacies of a wine are the first step to understanding it. To understand something – an object or a phenomenon – you have to describe it first: how it looks, what it does, how it behaves, etc. That is the “what”. The understanding is the “how” and the “why”. I think it’s actually a good thing that people try to identify the elements and complexities of a wine and this should be fostered and channeled into further study that will, hopefully, lead to a deeper understanding of wine.

  19. Arthur, so you can understand the mystery of, say, a 40 year old Barolo through technical knowledge? That’s like understanding the mystery of the Mona Lisa’s appeal through an analysis of its paint.

  20. Arthur, it is so easy to criticize criticize criticize, never have been in the arena. If you’re so unhappy with the lamentable state of wine criticism, get out there yourself and show us how it’s done!!!

  21. # steve Says:
    February 19th, 2010 at 7:11 am

    Arthur, it is so easy to criticize criticize criticize, never have been in the arena. If you’re so unhappy with the lamentable state of wine criticism, get out there yourself and show us how it’s done!!!

    Steve, can you appreciate the humor in this comment, coming as it does from a critic? ;)

  22. Thomas, actually I don’t see the humor. Can you point it out to me?

  23. Joanna Breslin says:

    “…if you’re reviewing a wine, you have to say something, so all you can do is your best. That is, after all, what writing is all about: doing your best.”

    So any lousy writer can justify stilted or florid language, bad grammar, inadequately researched information and lack of inspiration by saying it was the best he/she could do?

    This sounds like an exhortation to a grade-school sports team.

  24. I agree with John. Good writing is the most important thing.

    There are many so-called technical issues that should be interesting to wine writers. My feeling is that there is a correlation between alcohol and scores, and between oak and scores. Generally, the more the better. Is this a good thing?

  25. Of course you can’t comment on behalf of the NVV/Meadowood, but you can comment as a journalist on what would be a blatant conflict of interest in any other area of journalism.

    We’ve had many exchanges here and elsewhere on how variations of the junket compromise integrity. When your job is reviewing the realm of tasting and touring, you simply shouldn’t take gifts, even if you’ve paid for part of the experience.

    The medical field is grappling with the involvement of big Pharma in reporting, so is every other field of endeavor. Your idealism is misplaced.

    While they support solid professional wine writing, first and foremost Napa wineries + Meadowood want coverage and positive coverage, so they host the programs. Classic quid pro quo or at the very least the appearance of such. The writers better do their part in back scratching or, ironically, they are acting unethically.

    Your naive justification reinforces my views about why we are shifting to user oriented commentary.

  26. Arthur’s point of view is classically academic. It is like the difference between the musicologist and the music critic. There is a role for each, but in the end it is the market that decides what a journalist will be reporting in the public domain outside the ivory tower. And actually, it should be anti-intellectual, since the intellect has little to do with sensory assessment (vs. analysis). All such assessments boil down to – how delicious is this beverage and how well does it enhance my gustatory experience. The chemical components of the beverage are irrelevant. Yup, preference.

  27. “It’s a bogus controversy ginned up by some writers who don’t actually have to make wine themselves” Or grow grapes.
    How true. I recall one well known ‘natural’ wine writer who, on her first attempt to make natural wine, when faced with the reality of high brix, after much heartache, opted to water down on the advice of the winemaker. Decisions, decisions. Choosing between high alc. syrup and a well balanced wine is a no brainer.
    I look forward to more informed wine writers, who understand the tradeoffs and do not attach stigmas on such benign activities.

  28. As a winemaker, I would say that the interventionist/non-interventionist argument should be viewed as a canard, as Steve says. Take a look at any respectable vineyard. Take some time to learn what goes into making it look and perform the way it does. We are not wandering the wilderness picking wild grapes here.
    Winemaking IS intervention. Every step of the way, every one of thousands of decisions to do something or not. Wine does not ‘make itself’ just because the grapes are great and no, wine is not ‘made in the vineyard’ (although the quality ceiling is defined by the starting materials).
    The best winemakers realize that every technique or technology is a tool, nothing more, and that the correct use of that tool needs to be learned and proper judgement needs to be used in deciding whether to use it.
    The worst winemakers are the ones who don’t fully understand the impact of the tools they use, and/or focus too much on correcting flaws instead of making the best wine out of what they have, which is certainly easier said than done.
    As for wine critics and technical knowledge, I would say that a little knowledge being a dangerous thing I would rather the critics have none and pair that with a healthy skepticism of winemakers spouting technical speak, or using explanations of their wines to influence the writer’s opinion. Even long time industry veterans can at times be baffled by another winemaker’s bs, so I would not expect a wine critic to really be able to sort out fact from fiction when hearing the winemaker’s story and he shouldn’t have to. Everything he needs to know should be in the bottle.
    Good winemakers will understand the effects of their winemaking techniques on how their wines taste and if wines made in certain ways are panned by honest critics and reviled by the drinking public the winemakers will change what they are doing. Market rules are very much in effect here.

  29. John

    A journalist’s job is not only to report the ‘what’ but the ‘how’ and ‘why’. How can they do the latter two if they are ignorant of the subject about which they write? Certainly, it is preferable (from the point of view of wine producers and sellers) that those who write about their product do not question it. A journalist has an obligation to analyze and evaluate things with the reader’s benefit in mind. If they don’t, they become mouthpieces and hucksters (see: Jim Cramer).
    I do not dismiss the value and place of good writing, but uninformed good writing is just blather. Writing ability must come after knowledge and skill.

    What good is a critic who lauds a single example of a beverage when they have no experience with the category?
    How reliable is a critic who cannot tell the difference between, say, a chardonnay and a viognier?
    How useful are the tasting notes and recommendations of a critic who tastes off the first one or two pours of a bottle without recognizing that fermentation esters can dissipate quickly after that?
    What consumer service is an evaluator performing when they do not decant a wine to see if it opens up or changes in any way?
    What good are the age worthiness recommendations of a critic who does not re-taste the same bottle the next day (because after their rudimentary tasting of the line up, they re-cork all the bottles and save what they liked for their dinner and tossed the remainder)?

  30. Arthur or Tom–

    Can one or both of you guys finally say what you mean by technical knowledge? What factors of technical knowledge? How measured? How defined? Is there judgment involved in analyzing wines against technical standards? Whose standards?

  31. Uzi, hah! Made me laugh. It’s easy to pontificate if you have no real responsibility, isn’t it.

  32. Tom, you choose to take a very purist ideological point of view toward such matters. I am relatively purist, but not inflexible. Just because a writer accepts something, somewhere from a winery she is covering does not make that writer suspect. One must look at specifics and also at the writer’s reputation for integrity. Wine writers don’t make much money. I don’t begrudge anybody for taking a junket, or accepting lodging at the winery guesthouse or a nearby hotel, or a free lunch or dinner. My gosh, if you think that a writer who does so automatically is tarnished, you have a very suspicious nature. Maybe I’m more forgiving.

  33. Brad, speaking only for myself, I don’t know if there’s such a correlation because I never tried to figure it out. There probably is with the California wines I review. However, that doesn’t mean that high alcohol and high oak equals high scores. There are some high alcohol high oak monstrosities out there. It’s all about balance.

  34. Joanna, yes, any lousy writer can justify anything he or she writes. However, no lousy writer will be able to make a living writing. When I talk about wine writing, I’m talking about good writers who aspire to earn money. I don’t care about lousy writers.

  35. Love the Symposium notes. I especially enjoyed part 2 and can take away a great deal from it. You make some wonderful points about specious arguments. I wish I could have been there, but there’s always next year (hopefully.)

  36. Steve,

    I’d be more forgiving too if I were on the receiving end of the trade association or winery largesse. I’ve always been fascinated with conflicts of interest, mostly of the sort where the provider of information stands to gain from the opinion eg. the mechanic or doctor or the big accounting offices. The state of CA did a good thing when they stipulated that those who provide smog tests couldn’t also repair engines.

    And yes I do have a suspicious nature, but not to the degree of someone, say, who attributes all sorts of nefarious political activity to anti-gay attitudes.

    You seem to be saying that because wine writers don’t get paid much they should be able to accept the goodies (and I’m not talking about a meal or an overnight, though all these gestures are compromising to some degree). Fine, but don’t expect readers to trust their critiques as disinterested.

    Charlie Olken avoids the issue by refusing any “bribes”. Good for him.

  37. I’m not certain that Charlie never accepts free submissions for review. You’d have to ask him to elaborate.

  38. My memory may be wrong, but I think CO made this statement in a previous related thread (I wasn’t referring to samples, but dinners, overnights, etc.).

  39. I, of course, am flattered to be considered one of the most honest and independent wine writers. A very large part of that reputation comes from the fact that I started writing in an era when the rules were a lot clearer.

    In those days, publications that took advertising did not review wine. Publications that reviewed wine bought all their wines and tasted them blind.

    Simple rules that basically said you had to be above suspicion, and there was a simple way to achieve that honored state.

    But, even in those days, there was never a question about attending events that were group events. All writers attended those luncheons if they made sense for content.

    Because of that, I find it amusing that attending such events is now questioned by purists. I have always done it when it made sense and will continue to.

    The wine sample issue is more complicated. There was a time when Connoisseurs’ Guide did not accept samples and would send them back if they arrived. It was no real problem for us because our competition did not take samples. Simply against the rules. And virtually all wines were available at retail, even limited production wines of the day like Chalone, Joseph Swan, Mayacamas, etc.

    Then three things happened which changed the world. The number of wineries got so large that there was no way to find all the wines in the market the way we used to be able to do. That turned out to be not only a problem for us but also for the wineries. They started complainng that Connoisseurs’ Guide was ignoring them.

    At the same time, the publications that took advertising and thus had a very different cost structure, began to review wines. Whereas the subcribers were in essence paying for the wines at my publication, the advertisers were paying for the wines at those other publications through their advert payments.

    And finally, even the newsletter publishers began to accept samples, and eventually to solicit them or even to only taste solicited samples. It was at that point that our policy changed.

    We still purchase lots of wine, but we began to accept samples. If not, our subscription cost would have risen, in our case, about forty dollars higher than the other newsletters.

    So, while I appreciate the kind words offered by Tom Merle, they are not accurate–as Steve Heimoff so tactfully pointed out.

    And now for what I consider the real issues in any event.

    Samples by themselves are not the problem, in my opinion. The real problem is what the writer does with those samples. I am an outspoken propenent of blind tasting. It is my strong view that all but a few types of recommendations ought to be derived from blind tastings in peer to peer comparisons. Anything other than that allows bias to slip in. It helps, in my view, that Connoisseurs’ Guide has large numbers of purchased samples in those peer-to-peer comparisons, but that is less critical than tasting wines blind against their peers.

    The other thing that I prefer is to limit the amount of wines tasted in a given tasting. In our case, we taste sixteen wines broken into two flights of eight.

    The bottom line for me is not a about accepting samples or going to events that give me more information that helps me do my job, but the manner in which my recommendations are derived. It is in the rigor of the Connoisseurs’ Guide methodology that independent, unbiased recommendations are guaranteed to my readers.

  40. Charlie,

    Glad you drew the distinction between individual and group junkets. I agree that I merged the two and shouldn’t have.

    But I don’t see where my comments about you were “inaccurate”. I did not state that you would not accept samples.

  41. Tom–

    I feel better already. Thanks for the kind words.

    I admit that I am a bit old-fashioned in my attitudes, but I believe my subscribers deserve as much objectivity as I can muster. One of the important operative words in that sentence is SUBSCRIBERS.

    These folks pay the bills. I make promises about how we will carry out our business, and they (thankfully) send money–and then seem to like what they read because they come back.

    I do recognize that the free blogosphere is a different place. I don’t see how even the most important, intelligent and well-informed voices in the blogosphere, whose financial support is simply not substantial at this point, can be expected to taste thousands of wines, of which they buy a high percentage.

    They have neither the time nor the money to employ those levels of rigorous methodology. I get that, and now having spent time with many of them at the Writers Symposium, I understand their limits and plights in greater depth and with much sympathy.

    But, from that group of emerging commentators is going to come the next generation of writers. Some will find a way to make money online. Some will write books and some will get jobs with traditional mags.

    Yet, as I indicated above, I think some lines ought to be drawn. And one that I did not mention, because I was responding to the question about Connoisseurs’ Guide and its policies and procedures, is TRANSPARENCY. You may have seen my comments about Vinography over on Ron Washam’s Blog (Hosemaster of Wine) a few weeks back. I used to fret over the fact that Alder Yarrow would go to large public and trade tastings and come back with ratings on 100s of wine–essentially taking one to two minutes per wine in rapid fire order while fighting through crowds, trying to find a spit bucket, etc.

    No longer. My shtick is my shtick and I offer (for sale) long, detailed, hopefully thoughtful descriptions and ratings for the wines I have tasted. Alder does something else. And while he is “selling” his blog, in the sense that he is developing a substantial following, he is not charging individual subscribers.

    So, his rules of engagement must of needs be different. The only thing I would ask of him or anyone else wherever they write is transparency. Connoisseurs’ Guide is transparent because we sell subscriptions based in large part on our methodology. The blogosphere ought to be transparent because any review, whether in long paragraphs or in single numerical scores without explanation, constitutes a recommendation. And I believe that readers deserve to know how those recommendations were derived.

    Thanks again for the kind words about Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine.

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