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Wine Views and Rants

January 10, 2015

One of the most recognizable faces in the wine world quietly passed away much too young at just 80 years.  Always a cheerleader for great wine and a stalwart for perfection, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild will leave a vacancy impossible to replace in the world of wine.

Rothschild took over their half of the Opus One venture after her father, a wine pioneer himself and good friends with Robert Mondavi, passed away in 1988.  More notably were the impressive holdings that the Rothschild family has had in Bordeaux including many first growth properties.

She is survived by her husband Jean-Pierre de Beaumarchais and three children.  God speed.

September 29, 2013

Wow, it has been a looooooong time since I've posted anything to this little column.  And, as you've probably noticed, I've been on hiatus for a good part of this year.  Late last year I switched jobs and have been settling into that new career for several months.  I also had other writing obligations that took me away from my own web site, but those are now completed and I am back and happy to be writing about wines that I love.

I've been hearing some good things out of California about harvest this year.  Some areas of wine country are stating that this could be an exceptional year for Merlot.  Now I'm just going to cross my fingers and say, "please, please, please......bottle some 100% Merlot and send it my way to try!"  I absolutely love Merlot when it is made well.  

So here we are again.  Ready to work for you.  And we're updating our Facebook page with reviews as we go.  I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you!


September 13, 2012

Wine writing.  Whether it is an art, a hobby or a pain in the ass for those who make wine.....I love it.  I wish I could devote all of my time to this craft, but I have a mortage to pay and a family to raise.  Maybe some day.

I feel very blessed by the friends I've made in the wine world since I dove in 'semi professionally' a few years ago.  There were three or four folks who really took interest in what I was doing, believed in me, encouraged me and even sent me a couple of bottles to get me on my way.  For that I am eternally grateful to them.  And since the beginning, I've met hundreds of fantstic folks who are equally passionate about wine.  Whether they are wine makers, winery owners, PR pros, cellar rats, sales folks or wine writers like myself, they each bring an enthusiasm and love to this thing we all love.

I could title this short column "Making Friends (And Enemies) in the Wine World".  Yes, lets go with that!  So the friends are great.  And social media allows for a constant connection beyond our imaginations that helps us all share our thoughts and ideas about wine. 

So what about the other people?  Albeit a small number, I have encountered people from the other side since I've been writing about wine.  I've had a lady flat out tell me that I was 'taste retarded' and had no idea the difference between a Cabernet or a Cadillac.  I actually got a kick out of that one.  And while the hair on my head (oh wait, I'm bald) stood up for a moment, I actually calmed down and got a chuckle out of her comment.  I think she overreacted of course, but one thing I love about the wine world is that everyone has an opinion - and a palate.  Some taste buds are more trained than others and some have a natural ability.  I really feel like I know the difference between a noble grape and GM product, but if she didn't feel that way.....well, I'm over it.

Then there's the wine writer/educator/wine competition judge/guru who thought I was wasting my time by not promoting enough midwest wines on my web site.  I have faced this identity crisis before, hence the name Midwest Wine Guy.  The site isn't about wineries in the midwest necessarily, it is about a view from the midwest.  The only thing that irked me about this gentleman's comment is that it came third or fourth party.  He didn't even tell me himself that he thought I was spinning my wheels.  Heck, maybe he didn't think I was even worth his time.  But I reached out to him with a very lengthy and informative email about who I am and what I do.  I explained to him about my mission as a writer......only to get ignored.  I guess he showed me!

Check out this picture:

I took this picture during a tasting of several wines at my home. All of these wines are the same varietal.  Two are from professional wineries and one is from an amateur wine maker.  Let me start by saying that I only comment on wines on my web site that I would recommend to people!  Why bash a guy about something I wouldn't even feed the neighbor's cat?  That's not why I'm here and not what the MWG site is about. 

So the wine maker sends me a couple of emails after sample bottles were sent to me for my thoughts.  I had a very tough time trying to figure out how to tell someone that their wine was.......well.......uh, lets say 'sub par'.  After consulting with a great wine maker that I know, he gave me the suggestion on how to approach the subject.  The email went something like this:

Dear ________,

Thank you for the sample bottles......yada, yada, yada.  I don't think the wine you sent was portrayed in the light that you intended.  Perhaps there was a flaw in this bottle or maybe it was compromised during shipping.  Given your excellent reputation and strive for perfection, I don't think this is the wine that best represents your craft.  I will not be sharing my thoughts on this wine, as I don't feel that this wine speaks of your work and passion.  If you would like to send another sample bottle of the same wine.......  And so it went with the usual salutations and etc.

The return email was pretty simple and to the point to me.

"Jeff, you obviously don't know anything about good wine or what it takes to make a great product.  I'll never send you samples again. (Expletive) off."

I get it.  The guy is sensitive.  And hurt.  So I just replied.....

"Thanks for your note.  Maybe my palate was off that day.  But the other three folks who tasted the wine compared it to the qualities and aroma of jet fuel.  Maybe I don't know everything there is to know about 'good' wine, but I know better than to bottle the stuff you sent.  Have a great day!"

Needless to say, we don't talk to email each other anymore. We aren't Facebook friends and I don't recall getting a Christmas card from him last year. 

I just wanted to share a couple of amusing antedotes about my experience as a wine writer thus far.  For the majority of the folks I deal with, I couldn't ask for a nicer group of people who all share the same love of the grape!

June 2012

I've been writing about wine for just over five years and on my own web site for nearly 18 months.  While I'm still considered a neophyte in the wine industry by many standards, I feel I add something to a swimmingly opionated and exciting culture.  That's what wine is - it's a culture.  It is an emotional, sexy, relaxing and amazing affair that hundreds of millions of people love.  I'm not just talking about the person who buys a bottle of Riesling on the way home from work Friday to soak in the tub (and there is nothing wrong with that).  I'm talking about people who really want to know wine, study wine, appreciate and enjoy wine and know as much as they can about it.

I'm sure many of my friends get tired of seeing Facebook and Twitter posts from me about wine.  While I can't say that is consumes my life, I can attest that it is a big part of it.  For me, it is finding a bottle of wine that nobody has heard of that knocks your socks off.  Or, more importantly, I've been fortunate enough to drink thousands of bottles and I love it when someone asks for my opinion and that bottle becomes their 'go to' wine.  Heck, who doesn't want to give their opinion?  And so here we are.

A many number of months ago I posed a question to some people in wine world about wine scores or rating systems.  WAIT!  Don't close this just yet.  I mean, I know we've all read dozens of opinions on wine scores and ratings and most of the time it is the same old argument - for or against.  But what I found out is that while most people clammor about wine scores not being important to them, I think that better than 90% of people who "live" wine will use a score at some point to help sway them towards or away from a particular bottle.  Of course, the 90% estimate isn't scientific at all, but I think it is safe.

The people I corresponded with via email and phone about this topic have hundreds of years in the wine industry combined and range from sales and marketing folks, wine makers, winery owners, and true wine enthusiasts.  I've agreed not to share their identity, because let's face it, there could be backlash from their bosses!  I'm not going down as a winery wrecker.

What I found from many smaller wineries is that they don't rely heavily on scores.  Many of the very small producers sell out of a wine by the time a publication posts their tasting notes and scores, which can be 3-4 months or more.  The PR factor is gone then.

Tasting notes (at least good and informative ones) don't fit on bottle neckers in retail stores or in ads, etc.  Scores fit just fine and wineries can post the score with just a few words about the review.  There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of wineries who do little to no marketing.  Many of these rely on their friends, family and fans via word of mouth to get their story told.  But if one of these small wineries gets a score of 94 from the Wine Spectator or another wine publication, they've just opened the door to a whole new world.  That's how many cult wines start.  And lets face it - we like numbers.  We've been taught at an early age that "100" points in anything (except golf) is better than 80.  All of my teachers agreed.

The descriptive terms used to describe wines aren't always, uh..........flattering.  Where I might like the aroma of a cigar box, you might not.  Maybe not everyone can wrap their arms around a barn-like dusty aroma.  I know a couple of guys who describe "crushed ants" and "condom-like" as flavors in wines.  Now, would you generally taste a wine with those qualities?  But you have to remember that it is the whole picture, not one phrase.  And the score helps add to letting you know if a wine writer recommends the bottle.

Most everyone I heard from decided that "some type of rating" system seems important.  And there are other systems out there - stars, thumbs up/down, 10-point and 20-point scales, etc.  If you can think of it I'm sure someone is or will be using it.

Nearly every wine professional I heard from said that higher scores generally peak their sales.  The people selling the wine to the retail stores and the stores themselves love scores for the most part.  Not very often have I been to a wine shop where the owner is showing off a $19 bottle of 92 point Whatchamacallit wine that wasn't sold out in about 4 days.  Good for him.  Good for the winery.  And we know that people are like cattle -we follow.  Or, we want to show off our 'award winning' wine cellars to our friends at the golf club.  It's kind of like wine prices.  Kevin O'Leary from the television show Shark Tank routinely brags about drinking $1000 bottles of wine.  Good for him.  But I've tasted countless bottles of wine that cost a fraction of the price he spends, and I'm guessing we both had the same enjoyment. 

Most of the wineries and professionals I interviewed agreed that lower scores actually don't hurt their sales very much.  Is this because they are well established and carry such a loyal following that people will drink anything they produce?  Perhaps.  Because that's one thing cool about the incredible world of wine.  There are loyalists.  And I love that.  I love that people join wine clubs and stay for decades because they don't give a crap about someone's professional wine scores - they just love the juice!  That's what it is really all about.  Their customers understand and acknowledge that each vintage tastes slightly different because of what the environment has handed to the winery during the season.  The loyalists celebrate those differences and celebrate their passions regardless of the wine was the best thing they ever put in their mouth or not.

I don't disqualify people who are dead set against scores.  Some of the best wines I've tasted are from folks who are vehemently opposed to scores, and I respect that.  You can even sign the Score Revolution Manifesto to jump on board this wagon.  I won't think less of you at all.  I embrace your views and there are some well respected names on the document.  (As a side note, I have introduced the Manifesto to several wineries who don't support scores, but as of today don't see their names on the list.)

So what is the answer?  The bottom line for me is this:  Discovery, Education and Appreciation.  How a wine makes you feel and what you think about is important.  There's a guy I know who gives his thoughts on wines for people who enjoy and appreciate all styles of wine.  Oh wait - that's ME!  During this process a friend of mine actually sent me an email back that read this:

"How do I score wines? Many of our wines have been given a number rating by me based on the Robert Parker wine scale system (when applicable). But more importantly is what is in the acutal tasting note. DON'T GET HUNG UP ON SCORES!  I sure don't! Too many people do and they miss out on literally thousands of wines that might have suited them better. I'll tell you if there is a wine I think you'll enjoy and why you might enjoy it.  You won't find a wine on this web site that I wouldn't recommend or drink myself!  A lot of times scores are given for the benefit of the winery at their request.  Some wineries insist that scores are not given.  Sure, high scores are nice but you should really pay attention to what is being said about the wine more than the score.  The more you know about wine the more you will enjoy it."

Yep, that's right off of my web site.  And I stand by that statement.  I've been flattered to receive hundreds of comments about my thoughts on wines and many of those are posted on my site.  To me that is what is important.  It's also very rewarding to know that I've introduced so many people to their "new favorite" wines in such a short time.  If people want to know more about wine, they'll read the reviews, study the appellations, get to know the styles of wines they like from what will become their favorite regions.  And if they're staring at two $30 bottles of wine they know absolutely nothing about other than the pretty labels, they'll pick the 93-point wine over the 87-point or non-rated wine almost every time.  Cheers!

May 03, 2012

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