Categorized | Rants

Find Benchmarks and Be Truthful In Your Wine Reviews

I was reading one of Alder’s recent posts, “Being Proud of Your Country’s Wine Doesn’t Mean Anything if You Don’t Drink It.” Charlie Olken, a reader of the blog commented on the post and what he says makes a good point, but so does Alder. All I have to counter with is I hope quality will rise and if it does, undoubtedly so will prices.

If the recent offerings I have tasted from Beaujolais and Bordeaux in the lower price ranges are anything like what’s being offered to the younger generation in France, I can certainly see why they are drinking less wine. Lately I have poured more French wine down the drain than I could have ever imagined when I was considered to be among the younger generation.

Having been fortunate enough to have tasted great Bordeaux and Burgundy in the 70’s and 80’s and even great Barolo in the late 60’s I do not think my disdain for the recent offerings has anything to do with my palate developing as I have matured.

Maybe the quality of viticulture has not kept pace with the demand for the quality of wine we desire and unlike myself, I do not think the producers are going to dispose of the inferior products they produce. Instead, they are going to just search harder for an audience to unload their wares on.

So to the unsuspecting plethora of bloggers who receive samples, here is my advice. First, try to have some benchmarks you can compare these wines to side-by-side before you start lauding accolades upon your benefactors during your live tastings. It might be advantageous for bloggers to get some backbone and tell it like it is. If the wine is not good, say so. Stop praising something that is mediocre at best and inferior or flawed at worst because you think you have to because someone sent you a sample. It is OK to say, “hey, for my taste that was not good.”

I have poured more wine in a day at events when I represented wineries to the general public than most wineries send to bloggers in a month, maybe even a year. It is the cost of doing business and the wineries know that.

But in the meantime, I will still continue to taste as many wines as I can from everywhere and continue to fight a good fight if it keeps anyone from having to taste a flawed or inferior product that they paid for with their hard earned cash. I too, like Alder, will keep on drinking and try to sort the good from the bad.

P.S. If you think I’m being harsh, head on over to Dirty South!

This post was written by:

- who has written 401 posts on Enobytes Wine Online.

Marc has over twenty years experience in the food & wine industry and is committed to celebrating hospitality with pride. He is a wine blogger contributor to OregonLive.com (Wine Bytes) and has also appeared on Portland's "Vine Time" on News Radio 750 KXL and on California's Central Coast "From the Growing of the Grape to the Glass" on KUHL-AM 1410. He is also the author of A History of Pacific Northwest Cuisine: Mastodons to Molecular Gastronomy. Follow Marc on twitter @macdaddy_m

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25 Responses to “Find Benchmarks and Be Truthful In Your Wine Reviews”

  1. mnslman says:

    Right on MacDaddy! I discussion worth ranting about!

    • enobytes says:

      Thanks mnslman! I think some misconstrued the message. We are not dissing on particular wine regions. The lesson here is that we are asking writers to provide constructive criticism of the samples they receive. As Marc stated in the post, it would help to have some benchmarks to compare wines side-by-side before lauding accolades upon your benefactors. And, as always, give a fair and constructive review. Cheers! ~Pamela

    • Marc Hinton says:

      Thanks mnslman, appreciate the shout out.

  2. SammyG says:

    These are harsh words but agreed that they have merit. We ~should~ demand quality and not accept crap as acceptable.

  3. MGH says:

    If we can’t rely and trust those that review wines, then I give up! Or maybe I should rephrase it to mean that everyone needs to find a critic that has similar tastes to their own. It won’t take long for someone to follow a critic before they know they’ve been drinking from the crap juice bucket. Say no to mediocre wine!

  4. Mac McCarthy says:

    I agree. And it’s tough, but necessary.

    Also agree about the Bordeaux – I complained about the complete lack of fruit in the 2010s in my blog just a few months ago. Dead silence; everyone else (claims to think) they are superb. Beats me!

  5. Thomas F. says:

    Great advice and thanks for speaking up!

  6. Brian S says:

    I completely agree, especially since this ties into the basic principles of journalism and ethics – the common elements including truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability. Sometimes I think it is good to hammer it home over and over again to remind us of the oath.

  7. Marc Hinton says:

    Well stated Brian, thanks for the comment.

  8. Jeff V. says:

    Notes from the peanut gallery:

    Marc,

    One of the unfortunate side effects of drinking wine IN Europe is that you know what the quality is and/or can be. But I imagine that in your years in the wine business, you’ve must have heard the ol’ saying that the Europeans send us their ‘crap’ wines or the ‘American’ version of the same wine, while they enjoy the finer selections. I know this to be true in my experiences which is one of the reasons I have (from time-to-time) sourced my own wines from Europe. This way I am reasonably assured that I am not getting ‘crap’ juice from co-ops. Honestly, these people really could give a flying beret about what the Americans get to drink. In fact, for them, it is easy money. This problem is compounded as you move from the East Coast to the West Coast. Usually, the West Coast get’s the ‘crap’ of the ‘crap’. This is do to simple geography, which has also shaped our wine drinking preferences (historically, speaking), additionally, most folks on the West Coast enjoy plentiful amounts of CA, OR, or WA wines. They have a passionate dedication to their local wines. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

    As a standard rule, I shy away from the co-op or negotiant (nego’s) wines. Most of the major grocery store wine shelves are filled with co-op and nego’s wines from around the world…most of them are embarrassing examples of their appellations. So, how does someone get to try the good stuff? That incredible $13/btl of Bordeaux or Beaujolais. Chianti? Rioja? Chinon? Mosel? These wines exist in America it’s just that our archaic distribution system and the need of large retailers to carry the SAME brands in every store, forced the creation of these wines that you had to pour down the drain. Unfortunately, even for a wine professional, you really have to dig, and dig, and dig, and taste lots of ‘crap’ to uncover the good-to-great-to-life changing examples of these European wines. Actually, this is a problem with most imported wines, regardless of country of origin. One way to combat this is to:

    KNOW YOUR IMPORTER.

    This is one great way to eliminate any confusion. An exception to the “West Coast gets crap juice” theory is Kermit Lynch Imports. Amazing selection, good value across the board. Yes, these are normally the SAME wines you would find in Europe. Yes, you have to pay a bit more, but you will not be pouring these down the drain. Unless, the bottles corked. Berkeley Imports, Bon Vivant, Small Vineyards, Rosenthal Selections, Eric Solomon Selections, Terry Thiese Selections, and a host of others are great examples of Importers who are bringing in the good stuff. At least IMHO. Finding them is tougher.

    So, back to your original point. Quality. I think it is your wine duty to call out these wines that you had to pour down the drain. Review them, provide a label shot, air your grievances and provide another benefit to your readers. THEY will love you for it. Yes, I promise to do the same.

  9. Jeff,

    Your input at this particular time (recuperation) was thought provoking and it highlighted a lot of what our mission here at Enobytes revolves around, “Bridging the gap between what we as wine professionals know and sharing it with the average retail consumer”. We sometimes take for granted the small edge many of us have when it comes to buying wines here that we first tasted over there. Too often we start to speak without giving proper consideration to the level of education some readers have before we pass it along to folks who are new to the tangled path the three tier retail sales system creates.

    It is easy to get lost on that path while trying to locate new tasting experiences that prove to be on par with what we have already learned about our local wines without paying double only to wind up with less which is often the case.

    Your inclusion of Kermit Lynch was genius. For Italian wines I would like to add Leonardo LoCascio to your list for Italian wines. I think this subject would make a good panel discussion for WBC2013. You can get a better idea of what Europeans drink a lot closer to home if you will head to Canada (Vancouver would be my suggestion if you live west of the Missipppi River) there you will find a lot of everyday drinking wines from France, Australia and Italy that we rarely see on our retail shelves here. You were also dead on with your East Coast versus West Coast selections of these wines here in America. We are still lucky here on the Left Coast, as I reflect on my retail wine shopping experiences in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Houston, Texas. I do think it is a compliment to the palates here that some producers use our market as a beta test before taking a particular label nationwide, so from time to time I do find the positive side of a negative issue. Thanks for your sincere and well thought out comment. Keep searching and as always, Enjoy!

  10. Jeff V. says:

    Marc,

    I hope that you are recuperating well. I’m wishing you a speedy recovery.

    You’ve struck on something that has really been hitting me from all different angles lately. I was recently in Boston, MA. Pretty much nothing buy nego’s wines everywhere. Restaurants, bottle shops, wine bars, same story. Come to find out there is one giant wine distributor that controls most of the wine selections. Go figure. We are spoiled here in Portland…this is one of the best places in the country for buying wines from around the world. We tend to think that our wine selection here is normal…it is really NOT.

    Now, magnify how many people are getting into wine these days and what they are cutting their palates on. I fear that at the same time we are increasing our national consumption of wine, we are also creating a group of people who do not have access to that quality $13/btl of European wine. Of course, this is why people are settling for that bottle of $13 Argentinean Malbec right now. We are, by in large importing in great quantities of these quality vs. price ratio wines from there. They have access to it. Which brings us to:

    BASIC WINE KNOWLEDGE – THE GOOD & BAD – PASS IT ON…

    I (we) probably take for granted our tasting experiences (we get to taste many, many wines, visit wine regions) and our own wine knowledge. As you are full aware there is an infinite amount to know about the world of wine. This is the beauty of it. It is also it’s albatross.

    There is an embarrassing lack of basic wine knowledge for people at the grocery store, tasting room, and most wine shops level. Don’t get me started on wholesaler sales reps…..

    We know how to navigate these choppy waters. Most wine drinkers drown in it. This is one of the reasons why I created Wine Remind™ and Message ON the Bottle™. There has got to be a better way for wineries (wherever they are from in the world) to get their basic message across to the customer.

    I’m constantly surprised at how people make their wine purchasing decisions coupled with the lack of ‘dissenting’ opinions about wine that are out there. The modern wine distribution system has slowly trained people to purchase based on score or critter label. I really started looking hard (w/o my wine glasses on) at how wine is being sold and marketed to consumers. It is mostly useless fluff. Mostly just coming from 4 magazines and large wine corporations that create ‘brands’ not wines. Yes, this is changing with blogs like yours and others, but I feel that the time is ripe for honest critique of wine, and then access to what people DON’T find at their local grocery store. I’m afraid that the only people that can tackle this problem is bloggers and independent wine shop owners that give a damn.

    There is a systemic problem with our global wine options here in America. As I mentioned in my previous post, access to these great valued wines from around the world is pathetic. There are great valued wines around, they are just hard to find. One of my next initiatives is to hopefully create an online retail resource FOR these wines. The only way to usurp this archaic system is to create one to compete with it.

    • Jeff – your comment about wholesaler sales reps reminded me of a fellow I use to work with a few years back. The funny thing is that he came to my restaurant frequently to sell me wine but what happened most of the time is that I would educate him on how to pronounce producer names, learn flavor profiles for wine regions, etc. I use to ask myself, how did this guy get this job and how much does he make? Isn’t he supposed to be educating me? I like the educational part of the wine biz so I didn’t mind, but its not right that someone is placed in a position where they know little about the product they sell.

      By the way, I love your Message ON the Bottle and Wine Remind concepts. At a glance, I think wineries are finally starting to embrace the QR concept. I wanted to do a little research to see how many wineries are using them compared to last year. My instincts tell me they are starting to take off.

      • Jeff V. says:

        Pamela,

        I’ve had the exact same experience. When you spend more time actually ‘repping’ the product that the sales person is there to sell you, something is very, very wrong. I still have ‘reps’ calling me asking about wines. I do enjoy it because it is still sharing the knowledge, but I do scratch my head often. These are ‘reps’ who are making many tens of thousands of dollars more than me. Ha, I guess they are the smart ones……Sadly, in most cases the ‘reps’ are the most informed. Climb the ladder to the owner/president and you’ll find even less knowledge. Are there exceptions? Yes, always, but they’re few and far between. Imagine your a restaurant owner who is more ‘food’ oriented. You lean on your wine sales reps for help. Most of the time, the restaurant owner is sold wines that are attached to a ‘bonus’ or ‘spiff’…so, the consumer looses, the restaurant owner looses, but that sales rep wins…and they win big. These distributor controlled wine lists are obvious and I see them more times than not.

        • Oh man, I hear yeah. Especially when sales are attached to a ‘bonus’ or ‘spiff’. This carries over into the CG&S (china, glass and silver) and other high end restaurant equipment. Whenever the sales rep was pushing hard to load off some product, I’d find out later the rep was in Hawaii for outselling the most butter knives for the month :) …and I won’t mention which producers/distributors, but the pressure was high for them to offload buckets of swill. Reps figured out quickly I couldn’t be convinced into buying palate/case purchases unless it was decent juice at a decent price. But then there was that time that my GM made a large purchase of crap while I was on vacation–it took me like 6 months to offload it!! I think that rep went to Hawaii too :)

  11. spice says:

    Agreed! Finding benchmarks are necessary…

  12. zammyz says:

    Wonderful blog! You are telling it like it should be told, keep up the honest reviews and rocking it. Thank you

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