As this blog evolves, I am moving the focus to a more global perspective. I have traveled all over the world of wine over the years, and I firmly believe it is essential to understand the wines of the NW from a consumer point of view. Which is to say, from a knowledgable assessment that includes all the wines of the world that compete on retail shelves for your attention. With the changes in print publications, the best and most useful wine writing is now online. There are no newspapers in the entire Northwest that publish any reviews of wines from outside the Northwest. This is, quite honestly, pathetic. If you want to really develop your palate, and understand wine, you must taste wines from all over the world. My focus here is to help you do that. With that goal, I will write more and more about wines from outside the Pacific Northwest. My reviews of Washington and Oregon wines will continue to appear in Wine Enthusiast, and occasionally on this blog. But my interest in the wines of the world will be more evident in these postings.
I have written about wine - with a particular focus on the wines of the Pacific Northwest - for the past 25 years. Since 1998 I have been the Contributing Northest Editor and Tasting Panel reviewer for Wine Enthusiast magazine. From 2002 until 2013 I wrote the weekly Wine Adviser column in the Seattle Times. My newspaper columns have also run in the daily newspapers in Yakima, Walla Walla and Spokane. I have been an occasional contributor to Decanter and many other publications. Currently, my focus is on this blog and my work for Wine Enthusiast, as well as a broad range of consulting projects and my own wine project, Waitsburg Cellars (www.waitsburgcellars.com). I also do a lot of posting, much of it wine-related, on Faceborg. If you are in the wine business in any capacity, please visit and friend me!
My critically acclaimed book – “Washington Wines & Wineries – The Essential Guide” was one of the top selling books on all topics published by the University of California Press in 2008. A new and completely revised second edition was published in 2010 and is currently available in both paperback and as an e-book.
If you are an importer or distributor, please keep me up to date on your latest releases. You may send them to me for review, or better yet, come by for an in-person tasting. If your travels bring you to the Walla Walla area, we operate Waitsburg Cottages, and will happily make one of the cottages available at an industry rate if you contact us in advance. For complete information, visit www.waitsburgcottages.com
methodology and palate preferences
I taste widely, exploring wines from all corners of the world. But my primary focus is on new releases from Washington and Oregon wines, other wines from the west coast, and wines currently for sale in the Seattle market. I prefer to taste wines for review when they are finished and bottled rather than in barrel, and just ahead of their official release dates. I taste in controlled settings, using proper stemware, and I give the wines as much time and attention as they deserve, often returning to them over a period of days. Almost all of the wines I review are free samples submitted by wineries or their marketing agencies. However, there is absolutely no impact on my review or rating for a wine simply because it was a free sample. Believe me, I don't do this for the free wine – I purchase most of the wine I drink at mealtime.
I seek out those wines that best demonstrate typicity, specificity, clarity, elegance, polish, depth and balance. If the wine is varietal, I want it to taste like the varietal. If it is from a specific place, I want to taste something unique that is derived from that place. If a wine is designated by vineyard, clone or block; if it is labeled old vine or winemaker’s select or reserve, I think it should justify that verbiage by showing me something specific and special.
It’s ok by me if a wine is light, as long as it is not thin; elegant, but not wimpy; powerful, but not brutal; dense, but not monolithic. Obviously the qualities I seek are more easily found at higher price points, but when I recommend an inexpensive wine you may be certain it stands out well above its peers.
I never set out to be a wine writer. My high school studies were science-oriented. My college years were spent at the radio station, not in the classroom. I worked as a disc jockey (KZAM) and began a writing career by reviewing rock concerts. The first business I owned was a company that developed online comedy and mystery serials. My first wine writing, in the mid-1980s, was begun as a freelance sideline. It has become my life.
I have met hundreds, if not thousands, of winemakers, and I have yet to meet one who hates their job. Yet the reality is far removed from the glamorous image. Winemaking is mostly hard work, spending hours in a cold barrel room, racking, cleaning tanks or fixing pumps. It’s spending vast sums of money on things you didn’t know existed (you say that monoblock filler/corker starts at $25,000!?! — well, I guess I need one…) And once you finally get your wine into the bottle and out in the world, it’s hoping that some wine writer doesn’t tag your precious fluid with a low score or an adjective like “weedy.”
Wine writing has this in common with wine making. The day-to-day tasks, decisions and minutiae that constitute what I like to call my “self-unemployment” are not what you might think. There’s a lot of time spent recycling boxes, organizing bottles, pulling corks, cleaning glasses, checking prices, answering e-mails, placating editors.
But back to the romance part — the bottom line is, writing about wine is a blast and I love it. Waxing philosophical, I once described my wine journalist role as “a bit of a wandering comet; riding in from the outer limits, streaming past the steady orbits of the grape growers, the vintners, the négociants, importers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers and marketers; extracting from the fruits of all of their labors the best information, the most interesting anecdotes, the most thrilling wines and above all the very best wine values, always with the reader’s interest foremost in mind.”
OK, I pulled one cork too many that afternoon. But the point I was trying to make is simple enough. I work for consumers. Your needs and concerns are uppermost in my mind. Although some in the wine industry view wine writers as unpaid PR persons, I do not fulfill that (unwanted) role. My challenge is to be the first, and the best, to report to my readers on what is most interesting, valuable and inspiring in the wine world, with a particular focus on the Pacific Northwest.
It is my great good fortune to have lived in Washington state from the time there were fewer than a half dozen commercial wineries up to the present day. I watched as a brand new, world-class wine region was being born right before my eyes. And right next door is another brand new, world-class region – Oregon.
On this website it has been my goal to offer you a comprehensive, opinionated, up-to-the-minute insider look at the region’s wines, vineyards and wineries. I believe that the opinions of a credentialed, experienced journalist can be of significant value to an emerging and still-experimenting wine region. My opinions are backed by accurate research and 25 years of wine writing. No one else in this region is completely independent and willing to criticize as well as praise. The salaried employees of the various commissions, alliances and trade groups clearly have a duty to be relentlessly positive. Those who work for or with wineries are also engaged in PR, not journalism. The authors of travel guides are not wine critics; they are travel writers. There are no other full-time, freelance wine writers in the Northwest – in fact, there are very few left in the entire country.
Doing this blog has been a tremendous challenge and a lot of difficult, unpaid work. It has also led me into a type of independent critical thinking about wine and the wine business that could never fit inside the limitations of print journalism. For that I am deeply grateful. Where it goes from here.... well, stay tuned.