dear reader...

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

My column in this week's Seattle Times takes a look at two value priced California wine companies: Oak Grove and Wily Jack. The newspaper reader (and God bless 'em all!) is a very different type of consumer from those who troll the wine blogs. My column, which ran for years in the Wednesday Food and Wine Section, was re-located a year ago when that section was eliminated, as part of an ongoing restructuring at the paper. The column now runs on Sundays, in the Pacific Northwest magazine – a very favorable location in many ways. But it brings with it some new challenges.

The Sunday newspaper reader has more leisure and presumably more interest in looking through more of the content than just the headlines, whether reading online or holding an actual print paper. When he or she gets to the magazine, the mind-set is not "how fast can I cram information into my head?" but rather "I want to be entertained, intrigued, amused." So that wine column attempts to do all of the above, while imparting some specific and useful bits of information.

Given the economic climate, the broad nature of the readership, and the necessity to appeal to that Sunday morning mentality, I have been focusing the column on what I call "value wines." Of necessity these are often corporate lineups, priced according to carefully-researched, marketing-driven price points, and aimed mostly at the supermarket wine buyer.

Believe me, it's much easier to find unique and appealing wines at higher price points and from more specialized (and limited) sources. Finding wines to recommend out of an Oak Grove or Wily Jack type of lineup is a challenge. Then again, if you don't spotlight such widely-available, cheap and cheerful wines, you get taken to task by readers for snobbery, elitism, being out of touch, etc. But when you say something nice about such wines, you are certain to be railed against for pandering to the evil corporations, for having no clue about ‘real’ wine, etc.

Deep inside any journalist is the desire to reach out to readers and offer something of value. Yet it will always be impossible to please all of the people all of the time. Commenting on my recommendation of an Oak Grove shiraz, a reader writes that “a California wine calling itself shiraz is totally about marketing.” Well sure, it's fair to say that any $8 corporate wine is about marketing. But that doesn't mean that the wine can't be pretty good – for its price, in its category. Whether a wine is labeled syrah or shiraz, pinot gris or pinot grigio, doesn't matter. What's in the bottle matters. That is what I want to focus on, at any price level.

On a related topic, yesterday's blog about 89 point wines generated a lot of interesting commentary. It was noted that I somehow failed to clearly identify my personal reference points for scoring wines. In fact, on this blog, I have posted up a detailed analysis of what I look for in any wine. That is as far as I am able to go. I do not have any more detail to offer. It's subjective. The best I can do is offer one man's opinion. Take it or leave it, use the scores or ignore them, as suits your purposes.

In a future post, I’ll revisit my book’s attempt to “re-invent” the 100 point system, and give you a look ahead at the non-numerical scoring that will be used in the upcoming, completely revised and updated edition.


Chris said...

Speaking of your book update, (what, that wasn't your main theme here?), any projection update on publication date?

Thanks in advance

PaulG said...

No firm publication date has been set, but I should know more in a few weeks. And yes, there is no question that anyone who wants to taste the best wines will have to pony up the dough-re-mi on occasion. But that said, many wine shops and tasting groups offer opportunities to taste the good stuff without the high cost of buying individual bottles.

Andrew said...

While it is harder to find the gems in the lower price point, I have always told customers, clients, and friends that the cost of the wine really isn't what should make it or break it. In Tom Robbins Still Life With Woodpecker, the outlaw Bernard Mickey Wrangle says there are only two mantras; Yum or Yuk. I apply this to wine drinkers, and wish them more yum than yuk. My friends say that I am a hypocrite because I won't drink "yuk", which is hardly true. Rarely do I turn down a glass of something I haven't had before, and only with the most sincere of apologies would I turn down any glass. My only request is that my friends can back up their tastebuds with a valid argument as to why one cheap bottle over another. If it agrees with their palate and they can explain why, cheers. Otherwise, the next time I see them, I might have a bottle from the same price point, but miles away (in my opinion) in "yum". I have found that it encourages them to try new things. Not just a wine they can drop a fiver on.

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