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A little bit of this, a little of that


Twitter as washing dishes

This little snippet from Reuters will probably pass unnoticed, but it’s really terribly interesting and relevant.

“Old media executives too busy, private for Twitter,” the headline says. Go ahead, take 2 minutes and read it.

Any one of the Twitter-phobic quotes could apply to me. My critique of Twitter runs along these lines:

– I’m busy enough with everything else, so I don’t have the actual or mental time to follow a constantly changing Twitter feed.
– Twitter is a very limited form of communication. I’m a writer. I like crafting phrases, sentences, paragraphs. Twitter doesn’t let me do that. This blog does. So does Facebook, to a lesser degree. Not Twitter.
– Most of what I see on Twitter is so superficial as to be ridiculous. I don’t wish to join the chattering classes who apparently have too much time on their hands.

I will gladly concede Twitter’s importance. When students are rioting in Tahrir Square, Twitter gets the news up first. It’s the most awesome media ever invented for instantaneous sharing of breaking events, complete with video. That is truly historic. But I don’t have to tweet in order to “get” Twitter. As one advertising guy said, in a delicious quote, “I understand how to wash dishes. I don’t do it regularly.”

I also understand why celebrities like Twitter. If you’re Lady Gaga, it’s a great way to reach out to your fans and keep them bonded to you (although Aston Kucher apparently grew bored with it). But I’m not a celebrity and I don’t think anyone cares about my every move.

I’ve been predicting a Twitter meltdown for years now. I just don’t think it has legs–at least, to continue its explosive growth. I don’t think it’s just “old media executives” who can’t embrace Twitter. More and more people are discovering that actually living in the real world is better than constantly tweeting to a bunch of “followers” you don’t even know. It’s called “get a life,” and if you’re living on Twitter, you don’t have one.

Robert Lawrence Balzar has died

I’m sure that a younger generation never heard of him, and that’s fine. But he went where no American had gone before, and helped launch the modern era of wine criticism, especially in California. It’s important for today’s new crop of wine writers and bloggers to understand that this stuff didn’t just happen sui generis, like Athena springing full-blown from the brow of Zeus. There are roots. Roots are important. Balzar was roots.

That Jay Miller thing

I’ve refrained from writing about the Jay Miller “payola” allegations in Spain, not through any kindness of heart on my part, but because I don’t know the facts, don’t have the time to dig, and refuse to speculate on matters of which I’m fundamentally ignorant.

But I did read this report yesterday, which contained an interesting paraphrase and quote from Parker himself:

…with Parker referencing the tediousness of tasting mediocre wines that can “burn out the best of us…”

That caught my eye, and I want to explore some thoughts of my own, which aren’t entirely clear even to me. I do taste a great deal of mediocre wine. Vast quantities, you might say, a tsunami of boring wine that comes in every day. It is tedious, and I have wondered what effect this has on my palate. Parker suggests tasting tedious wines can “burn out” the taster. This is a scary thought, because the worst thing that can happen to any professional is to be burned out.

I’ve often fantasized of tasting only the great wines of California, but, of course, that’s impossible. A popular, consumer wine magazine needs to review as widely as possible, and that necessarily involves tasting mediocre wines as well as great ones. Still, I’m of two minds here. I like the fact that I can review inexpensive wines, because that’s what most people can afford, and I feel a great sense of duty toward the average consumer, who’s just looking for a decent everyday bottle. I don’t think Parker has that same motive. He’s more geared to the high-end collector/consumer.

At the same time, I do think that tasting mediocre wines can have a dulling effect on the palate, even for “the best of us.” How do I counter-balance this nefarious effect? I have a method, but as you’ll see, it’s not perfect. I try to arrange daily flights so that (let’s say) inexpensive California reds are tasted only against each other, while another flight might feature only Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, most of which are necessarily expensive.

Every so often, I’ll throw a ringer into a flight: a cheap wine with a bunch of $100 Cabs, or a $100 Cab with a bunch of cheapos. I acknowledge that my system has flaws, but so does every other system in the world. I also maintain excellent health, eat right, work out religiously, keep my weight under control and get plenty of sleep. Those things help to keep me sharp and prevent palate burnout. But palate burnout always must be something the professional taster guards against.

  1. 1. Twitter is now part of the “real” world. If you’re not using Twitter, you’re not fully communicating with “real” people…

    2. You use the words mediocre and inexpensive as synonyms. They are not. Both you and I have had plenty of mediocre expensive wines. While not as consistent as higher priced wines, inexpensive wines can be good to exceptional. I understand your method for tasting within peer groups, but as you set up your own tastings and taste singles blind (at best, as per your own admission in previous posts) your mediocre/inexpensive bias unduly influences your evaluation. Why don’t you try having someone else set up a flight (so you don’t know the individual wines) of 10 cabs with one wine from each category (<$15,$15-$30, $30-$45, $45-$60, $60-$75, $75-$90, $90-$105, $105-$120, $120-$135, and $135+) and report back with your findings. I would also urge you to do something similar, but with cabs from CA, WA, OR, NM, CO, AZ, ID, and TX. See if you can pick out the CA wine(s) and how much of a noticeable difference you find amongst the regions.

  2. Steve

    If you’re “busy enough with everything else” why did you go out and get a dog? Feeding, playing, walking, cleaning up – that has to be done several times a day and takes a lot longer than reading a tweet….
    I hope you’ll be able to find time to taste wines…..

  3. Kurt Burris says:

    You can’t spell twitter without twit.

    If Mr. Parker says you get burned out tasting mediocre wines, who is the gatekeeper to determine if a new wine is worthy of consideration. Payment perhaps? I would hate to be so jaded that I can’t enjoy a nice glass of vin ordinaire. I don’t eat truffles every day. I don’t need to drink expensive wine every day either.

  4. Steve: You “refuse to speculate on matters of which I’m fundamentally ignorant.”

    Since when?

    Not that I don’t do the same thing, it’s a huge part of what blogging is all about. But, my fellow pontificator, know thyself.

  5. Blake, the case of Miller is based on fact and law. I am ignorant of both, in this case, so I choose not to point fingers. In general, as a journalist, I refrain from taking a side unless I’m aware of the facts. That doesn’t mean I’m not opinionated. Obviously, I am. But opinion is different from speculation.

  6. SUAMW, Gus is pure pleasure! If I found tweeting pleasurable, I’d do it more often.

  7. Steve, I too like to stick a pricey wine in a flight of less expensive stuff, and vice-versa, just to see if it stands out. In an ideal world (meaning staff) we’d not only taste blind, but have people to select, open, pour and clean up after us. Wouldn’t that be loverly? But as far as getting burned out on plonk, the best cure(s) I have found are these: 1) when done tasting, open up something really good from the cellar to actually drink. 2) mix in a flight of pricey stuff to alleviate the boredom. 3) take a couple of days off and re-boot the palate.

  8. @nicholaskolnik says:

    If you’re “tweeting to a bunch of “followers” you don’t even know”, you’re using Twitter incorrectly. One of the most effective and rewarding ways to use Twitter is to find people who should be your friends (or customers, etc.) and establish a relationship with them. The nature of they system makes that much easier than on any other popular social media platform.

    There’s a campaign to stop using IRL (In Real Life) in favor of IP (In Person). Social media is part of real life. My wife and I have made new friends and have been introduced to brands solely because of Twitter, and our offline lives are the richer for it.

  9. I had never heard of Robert Lawrence Balzar until Mike Dunne wrote a piece about him in Saturday’s posting. What surprised me as much as anything was that Balzar was a smoker.
    While I’m impressed that Balzar was able to retain his abilty to taste at an advanced age, (many people I know in their 70’s have a dimished palate), I’m even more impressed that he was a smoker as well.
    Just goes to show you that some people not only defy the odds, but also do it with panache.

  10. Nicholas, does anyone with hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of followers really “know” them? Please. These are not “friends.” You can’t call them in the middle of the night to drive someplace and bail you out. Your comment “friends (or customers)” gives you away. You must be using Twitter to sell something. It doesn’t take much soul to differentiate between “friends” and “customers.”

  11. @nicholaskolnik says:


    I’m not using Twitter to sell anything; it would have taken you all of 30 seconds to run a Google search, find my Twitter account, and browse my recent tweets to verify that yourself. I guess you liked the straw man more. The reason I mention friends and customers in the same sentence is because there are both people and brands using Twitter to enrich their personal lives and their business, respectively, and there’s a distinction there.

    Did you stop reading my comment at that point and miss entirely where I said that my wife and I have made new friends solely because of Twitter? These are friends with whom we socialize In Person on a regular basis. Whether they’d qualify for your argument to the extreme (borderline absurd) by bailing me out in the middle of the night, I don’t know. I don’t actually know if any of my friends, regardless of where I’ve met them, would do that; I’ve never put myself in that position. The hypothetical measuring stick I’d use from previous personal experience is would they attend the wake or funeral of one of my parents. That I can confidently answer with ‘yes’.

    And, yes, the number of people who qualify for that statement are a small percentage. So what? I don’t need to “know” all of the people I follow on Twitter at the same level to get value out of the relationships I have built with those people that I “know” the most. That’s not any different than with the people I’ve originally met In Person. Not all “friends” are created equal, regardless of where you originally meet. If any of my followers are no longer interested in what I have to say, they’ll unfollow me. I may or may not lament that, depending on my perception of the relationship we’ve built (if any). That’s not any more different than if someone I originally met In Person stops answering their phone when I call.

  12. Decades ago older executives and those over 60 said there was no need for personal computers.

    15 to 20 years ago the same age group said there was no need for websites and that the internet would go away.

    My point? The same thing is occurring now with social media. The problem? People do not know how to accept change. Social media is not going away.

  13. Will: I don’t know anybody who says that social media is going away. Where did you get that from?

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