Archive for April, 2009

Wine giveth years; meat taketh away

SIPPED: wine
Bloomberg reports : “Half a glass of wine a day may add five years to your life, a new study suggests. Drink beer, and you’ll live only 2 1/2 years longer.” Take that, resveratrol pill–a lot more fun!

SPIT: red meat
The New York Times reports on another study: “the men and women who consumed the most red and processed meat were likely to die sooner.”

Maybe that’s why red meat needs wine–a net effect on mortality?

Three reds under $20 – De Forville, Potel, Baudry

Okay, these wines have little to do with each other besides being red and under $20. Oh, and they’re tasty and balanced. And suitable for throwing in your basement with 90 days’ worth of canned food. (canned beans: an impossible food-wine pairing?)

De Forville, Dolcetto d’Alba, 2006. (about $17; find this wine) I’m not always a huge fan of dolcetto, aka “the little sweet one” but, perhaps more aptly, “the little tannic one.” But this one really struck a chord with truffle and earthy notes and a good balance of acidity, fruit and tannin. Second day open, just as good, which is always a good sign. Importer Neal Rosenthal’s site has some more specs on this family producer; I picked up this bottle at Pasanella & Son.

Nicolas Potel, cuvee Gerard Potel, Bourgogne, 2006. (about $19; find this wine) Given that Potel is a leading negociant house in Burgundy and from several tastings of 2006 red Burgundies, I was optimistic that this wine would work out when I added it to my virtual shopping cart. It did. Dark fruit aromas, good acidity and tannins make this a standout in that rough-and-tumble category of pinot noir under $20.

Domaine Bernard Baudry, “Les Granges,” Chinon 2007. (about $17; find this wine) Bernard Baudry is one of my favorite Loire producers of red wine and offers consistently good values across the line. Even in 2007, a difficult year for some, was strong at Baudry. This “Les Granges” has good depth and succulence, which combine to make it a natural match for unadorned grilled meats–or even those cans of beans. This wine was also going strong on day two…On a related note, the Baudry 07 Clos Guillot bottling, alluring, fresh and vibrant with a great crack of pepper on the finish, bears mentioning. But since it costs $27, we’ll have to talk about that in another post.

A gift from France to the US

On a forgotten page of yesterday, wedged in between stories entitled “Liberals Attempt Overthrow” and “Octopuses Taught to ‘Read,’” ran an unexpected wine story. To the tape:

PARIS Within the next month, Americans at Pacific coast ports will be able to enjoy gratuitously 3,600 bottles of French wines as the result of a generous gesture of the “little fellows,” or small producers of France. The consignment of wine left Le Havre yesterday [April 26] on the French liner Wisconsin after being inspected and tasted by representatives of the press.

Only the story wasn’t breaking news; it was part of a roundup of “100, 75, 50 Years Ago.” This item dates from 1934, a few months after the repeal of Prohibition. Unfortunately, their offering of “Château du Liot Haut-Barsac 1929 Riesling, Chambertin 1923 Champagne brut and 1835 Cognac” didn’t spark US wine consumption, which languished for several more decades. Now, let’s get back to those octopuses from 1959…

Max Riedel washes his snake in the bathtub

Recently, at a crystal glass tasting at the Riedel Manhattan showroom, Maximilian Riedel unveiled his latest $500 decanter called “Eve.” It resembles a coiled snake with a two foot protruding shaft. Needless to say, it was mouth blown. “Eve” derives from Adam and Eve; the snake theme came because Riedel was born in 1977, a year of the snake in the Chinese calendar.

He poured the wine from the bottle into the shaft and rolled it around in the double decanting chamber, which he designed and said was patented.

The question arose of how to clean the snake decanter. He said that he cleans his in the bathtub. (He admitted an intercultural faux pas when in Japan the week prior by saying as much to his local audience; apparently taking anything from the kitchen into the bathroom is taboo.) Ah, memories of the Seinfeld scene of Kramer trying to save water by washing lettuce in the shower…

Riedel goes to restaurants, he said, because he wants to be entertained. When dining, he asks to keep the decanter of wine he’s ordered on the table, saying, “I want people to see that I am spending more than $12 on wine!”

More to come about the Riedel taste test. In the interim, Riedel did offer some tips on how to clean Riedel crystal glasses.
* He said he puts his right in the dishwasher.
* If you have the time to hand wash, that works too. He cautioned against washing them the same evening since he said the sink can appear very small and the glass very big.
* For red wine glasses, fill the glass to the top with warm water and soak overnight to remove tannins. Dry with two dish towels, starting with the base, and working up to the balloon. Don’t hold the base while drying the balloon; rather, cup it if you can to avoid separating the stem from the balloon, which could cause a nasty injury.

Related: “Varietal stemware: genius or hucksterism?

Policy and practice at the Wine Advocate – Parker responds

In a recent posting, I published my correspondence with Robert Parker and Jay Miller concerning an apparent divergence between the ethical guidelines set down by Parker and the actions of some of the contributors to The Wine Advocate.

One claim that came up several times in the over 130 comments was that Mr. Miller took one or two trips to Argentina, organized and paid for by Wines of Argentina, a trade group representing over 100 wineries that also receives government funding according to their web site. I contacted Wines of Argentina and they confirmed that they paid for and organized the two trips and several people in the trade there also confirmed them. Robert Parker has also now admitted as well but referred to them as “vineyard tours.” There was apparently more to the trips than just that–multiple sources said that there were lunches and dinner at wineries, and I was also told by several people that Miller was ferried around the country by private jet during one visit.

I alerted Miller yesterday that Wines of Argentina had told me that the trips were comped and asked him for comment. Not long thereafter, Parker posted a message that indicated that Miller would no longer be able to take “vineyard tours paid by Wines of Argentina.”

Parker laid down ethical guidelines years ago–guidelines that are the source of so much of his authority and that have set the standard against which all other wine critics are judged. The divergence between the action of some contributors to the Wine Advocate and the stated policy was (and perhaps still remains) a legitimate and important issue given the power of the publication; if the Wine Advocate was bending the rules, that was something his readers had a right to know.

Over the weekend, on his web site, Parker characterized those of us raising these concerns as the work of “extremists who could care less about the truth.” On the contrary, the truth was precisely what I’ve been after. Perhaps the larger issue then is Parker seemed to resent that people wanted to know the truth. While Parker lamented the state of journalism, the examples he cites of good journalism seem to be anything that speaks well of him.

But journalism is precisely what I’ve been doing all along. I went to Parker and Miller with legitimate questions and they were evasive. I spoke with Wines of Argentina and the truth came out. That’s called journalism. Instead of lashing out with invective (“extremists” or “jihadists” or eliding wine bloggers with the Taliban) at me and others who have raised very legitimate issues, Parker should take this episode as indicative of the respect he commands and the seriousness with which the wine community takes the ethical standards he established long ago.

Since Mr. Parker has shown an affection for ending his interventions with quotes, here’s an aphorism that he might remember from his days as a lawyer: “If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.”

Wine editorial as advertisement – from France to the US?

For enophiles, one of the great travesties of the past few years has been the rise of a new puritanism in France. Yes, the country perhaps most associated with wine has, paradoxically, also seen increasing amounts resistance to wine from some parts of society. In my book Wine Politics, I’ve compared this (French?) twist with America and how the two countries seem to be headed in opposite directions; many others have also commented on these changes.

Perhaps the most jaw-dropping of the actions relates to wine and the internet. A French court ruled early last year that Heineken’s web site was illegal to display in France, which sparked fears and confusion among wine web sites and Microsoft pulled wine ads. Also, in another decision last year, a court fined the newspaper Le Parisien €5,000 for a champagne review article claiming that it was no different than an advertisement and should run the disclaimer: “Alcohol abuse is dangerous to your health.”

it-can-happen-hereThat could never happen here, right?

Well, not entirely. According to this article on, under new Federal Trade Commission regulations on Consumer Product Testimonial and Endorsement Rules, product reviews on blogs may soon fall under the same liability standard as advertisements. (Given the various claims to the tune of “lose thirty pounds in thirty days,” one might easily be forgiven for not even realizing that there even were advertising standards.) The most obviously affected category would be paid reviews, but those, rightfully, shouldn’t count as editorial anyway.

“It would only affect bloggers who are paid to write reviews but the sticky issue that is raised is what happens if a product is given for free,” an FTC spokesman told ABC News.

That could raise a host of issues for wine bloggers as well as wine journalists whose articles appear on the internet. But whether a review of a free sample wine (as opposed to a purchased wine) could ever be seen as basis for liability, as it might in an infant car seat as the focus of the ABC story, seems like an incredible long shot. The subjectivity of reviews (what, you couldn’t find notes of raspberry and saddle leather?) and the bottle variation among consumers in different states would be two strong aspects running against any enforcement of this FTC act. As they probably say in fine print on the weight loss ads, results may vary.

One way to connect the dots more closely might be if the blogger in question were, say, a wine retailer or a winery who also happens to sell wine. There’s a lot of web content, be it blogs or Twitter or Facebook updates, emanating directly from wine sellers and marketers that might fall under this increased stringency from the FTC.

As Matt Drudge might say, “developing…”

Corks, NY tax, fraud, Bordeaux 2008 – sipped and spit

bottle_noSPIT: corks in Champagne!
Champagne house Duval-Leroy has announced that they will be replacing the cork with a “revolutionary” metal cap. Full details will be announced next month. The BBC reports that it will “still produce the familiar “pop” and spray beloved of generations of racing drivers on the winner’s podium.” But how will this affect the Japanese corkslinger?

SIPPED: wine as a tax revenue source
New York State will raise the excise tax on wine sold or made in New York from $0.18 a gallon to $0.30 a gallon, effective May 1. This rate increase of roughly two cents a bottle may be too little to pass on to consumers thus may fall to producers or wholesalers. In order to avoid channel stuffing, there will be a “floor tax” levy imposed on warehouse inventory as of May 1. So will there be mega sales in NY wine stores between now and then to draw down said inventory? [NYT]

SIPPED: fraud
Fraudsters posing as buyers for British wine retailers have bilked French producers out of an apparently large amount of wine. Sad. [Decanter]

SIPPED, surprisingly: Bordeaux 2008
If in 2008 grapes were, in the words of Jancis Robinson, “swollen with summer rain,” vineyards are “ravaged by mildew and threatened by rot,” would that make for a good vintage in Bordeaux? Despite all odds, Robinson in the FT and Elin McCoy on Bloomberg attest to finding some surprisingly good wines. McCoy asks the money question: “But dropping prices dramatically in a good vintage? It’s not in the Bordelais DNA.” But some have gotten the message as she quotes Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou, owner Bruno Borie: “We have to go back to basics, go back to the consumer, instead of the speculators.” Subsequently, Decanter reports several releases down 20 – 40% from last year’s prices. What will happen ultimately to the weak and expensive 2007 vintage? A caution against buying wine as futures…

Changes at The Wine Advocate? Correspondence with Parker and Miller

Robert Parker set an admirably high standard for ethics in wine journalism. In the introduction to the latest edition of his Wine Buyer’s Guide, he emphasizes the need for wine critics to avoid potential conflicts of interest and lays out the ethical guidelines that he believes they must adhere to. Among other things, he says that is “it is imperative for a wine critic to pay his own way. Gratuitous hospitality in the form of airline tickets, hotel rooms, guest houses, etc., should never be accepted either abroad or in this country.” He also writes: “While it is important to maintain a professional relationship with the trade, I believe the independent stance required of a consumer advocate, often not surprisingly, results in an adversarial relationship with the wine trade. It can be no other way. In order to pursue independence effectively, it is imperative to keep one’s distance from the trade. While this attitude may be interpreted as aloofness, such independence guarantees hard-hitting, candid, and uninfluenced commentary.”

In his correspondence with moderator, Mark Squires, Mike Steinberger brought up the “Weekend at Bern’s,” a road trip to the Tampa Bay wine mecca, Bern’s. Click through to read a first-hand account in the erobertparker forums. The Wine Advocate’s Jay Miller, whose editorial ambit includes reviewing the wines of Spain, Australia, and Argentina, was among the attendees. Also there were three importers whose Spanish wines Miller reviews: Eric Solomon, Patrick Mata, and Jose Pastor. Miller’s participation in this purely social event would seem to be distinctly at odds with Parker’s stated policy regarding interaction with the trade.

This isn’t the only example of Wine Advocate contributors deviating from Parker’s guidelines. Last year, Mark Squires, who reviews the dry wines of Portugal as well as the wines of Israel, Greece, Lebanon, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania for the Advocate, went to Israel on a trip, in his words in the forum, “”paid by the Israeli government…approved by Bob in advance.”

To the best of my knowledge, Parker has not given any indication, in print or online, that he has relaxed the Wine Advocate’s ethical standards. But in light of these examples, and given that so much of Parker’s authority derives from the perception that his integrity is beyond reproach, it seems fair to ask if the Wine Advocate has changed its policies regarding gratuitous hospitality and interaction with the trade. So I put the question to Robert Parker via email and post his reply here. I also sought clarification from Jay Miller. Further down, I post our exchange.

—–Original Message—–
From: Tyler Colman
Sent: Tue, 14 Apr 2009 4:51 pm
Subject: request for clarification

Mr. Parker,

I have always admired your independence. I am curious about some perceived changes at The Wine Advocate and would welcome a comment from you.

In a recent thread, Jay Miller was shown to be on a road trip that included three dinners at Bern’s restaurant in Tampa Bay in the presence of, among others, three importers (Eric Solomon, Patrick Mata, and Jose Pastor) whose wine he reviews for the Advocate. [link]

Separately, Mark Squires admitted last year that he took a trip to Israel that was not paid for by the Advocate–with your approval, he says. [link]

I’m curious how these actions square with the policy in the Wine Buyer’s Guide, which reads in part: “It is imperative for a wine critic to pay his own way. Gratuitous hospitality in the form of airline tickets, hotel rooms, guest houses, etc., should never be accepted either abroad or in this country…In order to pursue independence effectively, it is imperative to keep one’s distance from the trade. While this attitude can be interpreted as aloofness, such independence guarantees hard-hitting, candid, and uninfluenced commentary.”

The recent actions of Squires and Miller have left me wondering: Has there been a change in policy for The Wine Advocate reviewers? If so, have you disclosed that to your readers? What is now allowed?

Best regards,

Tyler Colman, Ph.D.
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