spoiled rotten

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In addition to this blog, I do much more wine writing for print publications, and my regular Wine Adviser column, which runs on Sundays in the Seattle Times, gets quite a lot of feedback. Last Sunday I wrote about Washington chardonnays, and praised two in particular – Abeja and Woodward Canyon.

Now, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I know that newspaper readers by and large don’t want to spend more than $10 - $12 on a bottle of wine. So when I am profiling more expensive wines, I almost always include less expensive recommendations as well. But readers have other quibbles besides how expensive wines are.

In Washington, the two great tourist magnets for visiting tasting rooms are Woodinville (just northeast of Seattle) in the west, and Walla Walla in the east. Walla Walla in particular gets a lot of attention and praise, from both consumers and critics, and as a result a bit of a backlash has resulted. Some folks who just happen to be making wine in other parts of the state feel a bit of resentment at the attention that Walla Walla receives, and they let me know about that also. So I do my best to spread the coverage geographically as well.

None of this seems to make much difference. Here’s a note I received just yesterday.

“I am a reader of the Seattle Times and on Sunday, at least glance at your column in the Sunday magazine. I always wondered why you rarely wrote about chardonnays, and last Sunday, (‘WA chard is coming on strong’) I found at least a partial answer: (‘...chardonnay can be awfully mundane.’) But you offered your mea culpa. So, this time, I thought there may be something new here to try. My girlfriend and I stick with chards and generally don't spend much over $15 or so. We think there are a lot of tasty ones from California and Washington in that price point. So, based on your recommendation, I picked up a bottle of Boomtown.

The screw cap should have told us something. But we pushed on, and found it tasted... awful. It had the fragrance of Boone's Farm Apple Wine, a throwback to my college days. And it tasted like cheap champagne. I see that you mentioned other chards, but I think we will continue to experiment on our own.”

Now, this reader took the trouble to write, and so I returned the courtesy.

“Of course I am sorry you were disappointed in the Boomtown,” I wrote. “But honestly, a screwcap is often found on excellent wines these days. And I am certainly not the only reviewer to praise the Boomtown wines. But everyone's taste is different, and I cannot possibly hit the bullseye with every reader on every wine. I appreciate the feedback, PaulG.”

What was left unsaid was this. How in the world can any reader expect that a wine columnist they have never met, never spoken with, much less tasted wine with, will have the vaguest clue about what they like or don’t like? A reader who thinks screw caps are a sign of bad wine, and equates them with Boone’s Farm from his college days, is a reader pushing 60 years of age. That reader most likely thinks that cheap, oak-chipped, tarted up flavors of tobacco and vanilla are what chardonnay should taste like. Boomtown is not that; it’s real wine. Furthermore, when you write that “there are a lot of tasty ones from California and Washington in that [$15] price point…” you don’t need my advice. You already know what you like. So give me a break!

When you’re getting so much free information, on every conceivable subject, as we all do these days, it’s easy for everyone to be a critic. With so many choices, you may feel, you are offering your time and attention as payment. Well, that may be true, as far as it goes. But it’s not the sort of payment that the bank is looking for on the first of the month.

On the other side of the coin, wine writers are also spoiled rotten. Last night, to accompany a simple dinner of soup and bread, I opened up six bottles of wine, none of which cost less than $40, and several were selling for twice that. These were wines that had come to me in the hopes of being reviewed, though none were from the Northwest, and so there were no guarantees that I would write about them. But I dutifully made some notes and gave them careful consideration. Some were so-so at best, but I finally chose two to place on the dinner table, where Mrs. G and I each had one glass. Is that normal? No. Is it wasteful? Perhaps, though I try to either cook with or give away unused bottles. But do I send a note to the winery haranguing them for sending me $80 trash? Spoiled I may be, but I’m not that spoiled.


terroirist said...

Paul - You and I are in more agreement on the subject of this post than on perhaps anything else I've ever read of yours - yes indeed, you ARE spoiled! - and I'm jealous...

Anonymous said...

Hey Paul, the next time you open six bottles of wine for dinner, could my wife and I join you? We will help make sure nothing goes to waste!

Anonymous said...

P.G, whats up at the Times? will ther be a new Column? say a blurb on wine and spirits? Merlotman

PaulG said...

Merlotman - not sure what you are referring to. Same Sunday column as before is continuing. Nothing new.

Ladylove said...

This whole thing made laugh..lucky you!

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