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The top 10 wine things we need less of in 2010


It’s been an awful ten years of tumult and disappointment, a decadus horribilis. Time to get rid of what doesn’t work and concentrate on what does. Here is a list of things we don’t need during this second decade of the 21st century. (Except for rosé, I’m not including general varietal criticisms. There is always room for improvement across the board.)

10. Hard, faux-wax plastic seals you need a chisel to chop off. I’m tired of them. One of these days I’ll cut my hand and sue the submitting winery, or else stop reviewing them entirely. The wines are usually plonk; after all that effort, you find an indifferent wine not worth the price, much less the work involved.

9. Imitation plastic corks that are hard to extract and then swell up so they’re impossible to cram back into the bottle. They are abominations. I give credit to them for trying to avoid TCA, but sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. A decent fake cork that pulls out with roughly the same effort as a real cork and then re-enters is okay, but those cheap rubbery ones are a mess, especially when they’re purple. Even a screwtop is better.

8. Styrofoam packaging. Environmentally unclean, huge carbon footprint, and messy. So many hypocrites out there who talk green and then play with this fossil fuel-derived stuff. Get rid of it. I’ve been on this crusade for years and one of these days I’ll win.

7. Ugly labels. Rule #1: the human face should never, ever appear on a label. Rule #2: Repeat Rule #1. Also [personal point of privilege], if the grapes are from a single vineyard then don’t put “vineyards” [i.e. plural] on the label.

6. Bad rosé. Sorry, Rosé Avengers and Producers, but Provence and the Loire don’t have to be afraid. Almost nobody here is making rosés that are dry, crisp and complex, which three attributes surely are essential for world-class rosé. We have the terroir and the right varieties for rosé, but varietal wines get far more money than a blush ever could. This financial imbalance prohibits California from being a great rosé wine producer. Tant pis.

5. Excessive by-the-glass fees in restaurants. If a bottle of wine retails for $30 then I shouldn’t have to pay $12 for a little glass of it. Not even close. Some of these restaurants are gouging their customers, and 2010 would be a good year to bring sanity to restaurant wine practices.

4. Snarkiness in wine blogs. Can we agree that snarkiness is sooo 2008?

3. An end to the hemorrhaging of wine writing in newspapers. Now the Wall Street Journal has lost Dorothy and John. This is a great loss and I hope it’s the last one of its kind we’ll see in any American newspaper, anywhere. The media needs wine (and food) coverage at least as much as it needs sports or comics (and much more than it needs astrology or bridge columns).

2. The idea that anybody can be an instant wine critic just by deciding they  are.

And finally, the Number One thing to get rid of in 2010:

1. Stupid, pretentious French names. “Rhapsodie de la Lune a Nuit” and that kind of phony stuff, especially when the wine sucks but even when it doesn’t. We have got to get over this worship of the French language when it comes to wine, and the funny thing is that the best producers almost never fall prey to this nonsense. It’s usually arrivistes who think they can charge extra bucks. Can you imagine any reputable French producer naming a wine after anything in America? Sacre bleu.

Tomorrow: The top 10 things California wine needs more of in 2010.

  1. Snarkiness is timeless. Embrace it.

  2. Steve

    Sorry to learn about your decadus horribilis – may the next ten be better.

    How about a list of what went right in the last decade?


  3. Interesting list . . . and I certainly agree with you on some of these . . .

    Others that I would have put on the list:

    Corked Wines!

    Lack of Civility on Wine Boards and Blogs – come on people!

    Lack of Respect on Wine Boards and Blogs – once again!

    North Coast bias on many blogs and wine publications

    I think that’s a good start!!!!


  4. #2, of course, is completely self serving and would seem to show, though we know this isn’t so, that a certain Wine Critic may be threatened by the democratization of writing about wines. It is also the trend that stands the least chance of going away, indeed of only growing in numbers and scope.

    B.I.. before the Internet, the cost of entry to wine writing and publishing was relatively high; now “anyone” can post their opinions about vino. But the beauty of a market economy is that cream rises to the top. Many are called to try out the new technology, but few are chosen by readers. To throw in another hackneyed figure of speech, if a tree falls in the forest…etc.

    The term “instant wine critic” is really a straw man. I suppose in this sense anyone who tastes a wine, no matter how much a novice, and offers a “feeling” about their tasting experience is an instant wine critic. But the new online wine critics that consumers pay attention to are uniformally grounded in experience of tasting many wines and forming their likes and dislikes over time, not in an instant. Those who write well and tap into their varied experience to illuminate their observations will pick up readers relatively quickly, its’ true. Having access to Alder Y, Dr. Vino, 1 Wine Dude, Ken P, and yes, Gary V, to pick a few of the best of the New Amateurs enhances wine enthusiasm among the public. And there are bound to be some more thoughtful commentators coming down the pike.

    Oh, and have I mentioned on this board that I came across a site that assembles millions of wine notes in digestible form from thousands of citizen wine critics for public consumption… 😉

  5. Carlos Toledo says:

    Hello. The next decade begins in 2011, Jan 1st. Am i so alone on this prime quest?

    There was no year 0.

  6. What went right in the last decade: “W” was voted out of office… oops. Wait, this is a wine blog so perhaps I should say something about wine? Uh, Steve, you said “Snarkiness in wine blogs…” but didn’t actually say we should stop snarkiness? Does this mean you are for snarkiness? I mean, “the top 10 things we need less of” could, through a technicality, be termed “snarky.” One would assume – sure there must be people who study “snarky” and could offer an expert opinion… Though, on second though, perhaps it doesn’t reach the level of “snarky” and only the level of “opinion.” Oh, oh! I hope I don’t sound snarky?

  7. Steve,
    Regarding #7, why shouldn’t the human face ever appear on a label? BOND/Matriarch and Adelsheim all seem like good packaging to me. Original Dominus label, maybe not so much. What about Harlan – is that a face, or a form? Where do you draw the line? This is just something you don’t like or you have some marketing research to back this up?

  8. I generally agree, Steve. Yet I don’t see a problem with choosing to become an instant wine critic. After all, uttering any kind of exclamation after taking that first sip out of the bottle is an instant opinion of some sort. But if one is going to share one’s opinion broadly, one could become an instant wine critic after, say, exclaiming after a few thousand sips.

    Sorry, was that too snarky? 🙂

  9. I must disagree with points 10 and 6. Regarding wax sealed bottles, two outstanding wineries come to mind: Westbrook Wine Farm’s Fait Accompli and Pax Wine Cellars. Each is more than worth the effort. And the effort is minimal. You don’t need to chisel the wax off. Just insert your cork screw as if the wax wasn’t there and remove the cork. The wax cap pops off quite easily.

    As for rosé, I do agree that almost all California rosé is plonk, regardless of price point. As regions go, Tavel is king. But Westbrook Wine Farm makes a rosé that is superior to any I’ve tasted anywhere in the world at any price. It is structured, balanced, complex. Gorgeous fruit with delicious wet stones throughout a rather long finish. Amazing and from California.

    A votre santé!

  10. It is indeed sad to see the end of Dottie and John’s columns in the WSJ, but you have to admit that they fit right into the category of instant wine experts. One minute they are WSJ financial reporters and the next minute they have one of the cushiest gigs any winewriter has ever had.

    Like the financial reporter at the LA Times who decided he would write about wine or the social columnist at the Contra Costa Times who decided at she liked wine so started a wine blog and then convinced her publisher that she knew enough to write a newspaper column, Dottie and John moved into winewriting without a soupcon of experience or training.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. Seeing and opportunity and making the most of it is the way the world works. And when one can then write a uniquely friendly, personal and inviting column that is widely enjoyed, the issue of credentials or experience becomes totally moot.

    So, if we are in favor of the democratization of wine, I think we also have to welcome every new voice to the scene. The good ones, the ones who have passion, insight, a unique voice and and ability to be fun to read will succeed. After all, almost every established wine writer did not study wine and journalism and set out to make a living in this field. We all migrated from something else. And if we have succeeded, it is because someone wanted to listen.

  11. #1 must have an exception for the great Randall Grahm. I believe insulting his work is illegal in California.

    #8- Can I pretty please have your hypocritical, messy, unclean, earth killing wine shippers so I can reuse them to ship my wine and save the planet?

    Excellent list, looking forward to tomorrow’s

  12. Me, I dislike plastic capsules.

  13. Paul, most of these wax capsules go right over the lip of the bottle, so there’s no place to rest the claw of the corkscrew. No wine in the world is so precious
    that the user should have to struggle to open it.

  14. Winehiker, a little snark is okay!

  15. Dear Slaked, it’s just something I don’t like. I’ve hated the Adelsheim label for 20 years.

  16. Richard, I’m bringing your comment to the Foreign Languages Dept. at UC Berkeley for translation. Hopefully they have a specialist in Snarklish who can help.

  17. Carlos, I know. But everybody is treating this like the next decade so I’m doing it also.

  18. I’m with Carlos- this decade has one year left!

    Booooo on #2. but Hoooraaay on #8.


  19. Morton Leslie says:

    Regarding this rather snarky blog…for nit pickers like me when a small, single vineyard winery puts “vineyards” to their name, it makes you wonder about the subtlety elsewhere, particularly in their taste in making wine. And domestic rosé producers? I don’t think it is a financial issue that causes them to over extract and sweeten. I think it is just a lack of appreciation for the wine type. Regarding Dottie and John, while I don’t think they know much about wine, I do appreciate the concept of buying wine off the shelf for reviews. And going forward, I will continue to host an “open that special bottle night” every February. Regarding wines by the glass, the restaurateurs who really should be ashamed are the ones that “host” a special night for a winemaker, require him to provide his wine at no charge to them for the evening, and then charge the customer $10 a glass to taste it. But they always seem to find someone desperate enough to do it.

  20. I’m with you and Larry, Steve, about civility becoming a bit of a lost art.

    I stopped writing on years ago, because I was quick to learn that the Internet’s super highway has a lot of road rage. I do believe, however, that Web 2.0 has brought back a bit of civility, since we’re now slightly more out of the closet and exposing who we all really are… with faces to match the handles/avatars.

    Happy New Year, Steve, to you and all your readers! I like your list and can relate to all of it.

    [When I get snarky, you can all begin to worry.]

  21. If Jo Diaz ever gets snarky it means the world is coming to an end.

  22. Agree with #5 – and to add a bit more as my personal pet peeve – restaurants who charge 3 times the retail bottle price – pay the winery late and complain that nobody is buying wine – do they think their customers are fools? Charge a fair price, pay for what you buy, move more wine and have happier customers…seems simple enough.

    Question / Struggle with #8 – everybody agrees that styrofoam is not great – however are pulp shippers really the right answer? Do they protect the wine as good or better than styrofoam… now that more consumers want to ship ground (save money)- would you trust your $50/bottle wine to pulp or styrofoam?

    As for wine-writers, bloggers, etc…everyone has an opinion (good, bad or indifferent) – doesn’t mean it’s gospel. Take it for what it is – entertainment, selling advice, wine recommendations or simple ego strokes.

  23. Steve,
    I beg to differ. The claw catches just fine. Really, if you pretend the wax isn’t there, there is no problem at all. I’ve done it twice in the past week. A wine buyer in Montreal suggested I remove the cork this way and I’ve had no problems at all ever since. Paul Richard

  24. Denise, I get wine all the time in styrofoam, pulp, bubble wrap, etc. and I haven’t had any problems that I know of.

  25. 10. Hard, faux-wax plastic seals you need a chisel to chop off.

    As a wine reviewer – this would be #1 in my book. We have to get the whole thing off to truely taste the wine blind.

    The base of screw caps are also a pain. You have to tape them up to make them truly blind.

    8. Styrofoam packaging. – I agree. I prefer the cardboard stuff that I can recycle.

    Snarkiness – I could not find a meaning on I presume Steve wants everyone to play nice. I believe and play by the following rule, your mother taught you. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t anything at all. That is why I don’t post negative reviews. Only reviews on wines I feel my readers would enjoy.

  26. nice work, steve. great list. the thing that continues to alude me in the wine blogging world is snarkiness. i think it undercuts what all of us are doing. looking forward to your “more of” list

  27. RJ, I couldn’t come up with a “more of” list for tomorrow, as you’ll read. Maybe I will in the future. I didn’t just want to make a list of “more” great wines. Anyway, thanks for your kind words.

  28. Fine column, and I have nothing of substance to add. Something insubstantial, though: sacre bleu. An editor I worked with who spent many years in France tells me the French do not use that expression. They do not understand that expression. I said to her, doesn’t it mean, like, “heavens!”? and she said, no, it doesn’t mean anything. Perhaps one of your commenters can illuminate. Happy new year, all.

  29. From wikipedia: “It is often considered in the English-speaking world as a quintessential French phrase [citation needed], even if it is not used in France, Belgium or Switzerland anymore. Written as two words (‘sacre bleu!’), it was popularized by Agatha Christie’s fictional Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.”

  30. Jarel Parker says:

    Evidently you have not found a wine that has a waxed cap that is worth the effort to open. Generally you make a valid point, but when you find a rare bottle of Fait Accompli from Westbrook Wine Farm, which is just south of Yosemite NP), you will not only be stunned by the complexities and the beauty, you will be looking for the next opportunity and excuse to work through the next wax cap. It is a treat well worth the minimal effort. Your comment shows a true lack of depth and a very narrow experience. You need to get out more.

  31. With you big time on #5, but don’t understand the thought behind #2

    How about instead of less snarkiness, less use of the word “snarky” or these other phrases that I feel got overused in 2009:

    “gets it” – as in he/she gets social media
    “navel gazing”
    “gnashing of teeth”

    just to name a few — Happy New Year!

  32. Regarding #10. There do seem to be wines worth drinking that have a wax or faux wax capsule but that makes it even more frustrating and annoying because you actually are anticipating enjoying the wine. The sealing wax, such as found on many older vintage ports, is brittle and breaks into tiny little pieces that end up all over the room. The plastic faux wax is, like the impenetrable plastic shelf hangers so many consumer goods come in, virtually impossible to open, with the attendant possibility of slicing off some portion of your anatomy when you slip.

  33. John, you are so right. I’ve told this to many producers who use the damn things, and they’re shocked, shocked. They always tell me how easy it is to open them and that they’ve never had any complaints, blah blah. I call it the triumph of marketing over common sense.

  34. Hi Steve,
    A tangential comment here: Glad to see you’ve used “varietal” as the adjective it’s supposed to be and given “variety” back its proper place in wine discussion.

  35. In addition to #8, may we also add ridiculously heavy bottles and those useless pine boxes that cost so much to make and ship and that a customer almost never sees? Neither add value to a wine, just extra cost.

  36. The last one made me laugh, good point, its true that sometimes you need to have a closer look at such wines. Also in France using foreign names hasn’t always helped the producers to reach foreign markets.

  37. Snarkiness? What’s wrong with snarkiness? In fact, I thought your post had a bit of snarkiness… That’s part of what I liked about it.

  38. You have an intriguing writing style and are an inspiration. Tell us all what you really think! I agree with you. Now can we get on with the new decade of mindless social networking? It’s geeky but fun!


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