Monday, June 30, 2014

Robert Parker launches another cowardly attack on sommeliers whose tastes differ

I feel sorry for Robert Parker. He's plagued by chronic spinal pain, had an 8-1/2 hour surgery to rebuild five discs, and can only exercise by walking 2 miles an hour on a treadmill in a pool.

I know this because he consented to an interview with the fanzine author R.H. Drexel, run by Hawk Wakawaka on her blog. Like most of Drexel's work, it's intensely personal and interesting.

It's also the only interview that Parker has granted the "media" this year that I'm aware of. Drexel is not a journalist, but still, Parker wouldn't even grant the interview to Wakawaka, whose expressions of gratitude on her blog to people who talk with her sometimes border on obsequious.

In the wine world we have become accustomed to accepting that Parker doesn't want to face questions about why he gives so many more 100 point scores than he used to, even though other critics would give an answer.

Parker, who is arguably a member of the media himself, might protest that he is like a Hollywood celebrity. Their agents frequently dictate terms for how interviews with them can be conducted -- although once the interview starts, journalists often ask the questions they want to anyway.

Parker has taken the kind of heat from the wine media that Hollywood stars do from the tabloids. I understand why he wants to answer only softball questions.

But in the paragraph immediately after detailing his physical ailments, Parker blows yet another broadside at people who don't share his tastes, saying,

"It’s funny that in the beer world, it seems like bigger and richer is what everyone wants, whereas in the wine world you have a group of hipster sommeliers who are basically advocating weird, undrinkable and deeply flawed wines."

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bad news update: Oakland A's dump wine for poorly made mixed drinks

In April I was astounded to find the best stadium wine list ever at the Oakland Coliseum, which has almost no edible food for fans and is best known nationally for occasionally flooding the players' locker rooms with sewage.

Unfortunately that miracle has ended. We went to last Friday's game and discovered that the A's have eliminated the wine booth entirely, replacing it with a booth selling $12 purportedly artisan cocktails.

Like the A's themselves, who boast 4 switch-hitters and sometimes use a 3-catcher offense, I tried to adapt to the game situation in front of me. But I walked away thirsty because they were out of ingredients for 2 of the 8 cocktails on offer, and, how can I put this politely, Oakland's stadium concessionaire doesn't hire UC Berkeley graduates (or even Cal State Hayward graduates).

It's easy to see why the concessionaire would want cocktails instead of wine: they're easier to sell. But it turns out to be easier to pour Cabernet in a plastic cup than to muddle mint or measure Bourbon. They'll be back to Bud Light in that space by ... hmm, late October?

But on a personal note, while I'll be drinking water for the rest of the baseball season, the moment that my wife and I have anticipated since the day in June 2011, when the A's drafted Sonny Gray in the 1st round, has finally arrived, with the production (at last) of official Athletics Sonny Gray t-shirts. We may not drink well at A's games anymore, but we will not be sartorially surpassed.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Wine Snobs" are worse than thieves: ABC News

Wine lover, the mainstream media hates you.

If a criminal breaks into a house, logs onto Facebook on the victim's computer and forgets to log out, he's a "Burglar." Not a "social media dork."

If a woman shoplifts a designer purse or two, she's a "thief." Or Winona Ryder. But not a "purse snob."

But if a couple steals expensive wine from a retailer, probably hoping to resell it, what are they? Take it away, ABC News:

Look in the lower right-hand corner: there's the "social media dork" I mentioned. But no judgmental language in the headline. He's a burglar, defined by what he did, burgling.

The story claims the couple stole $14,000 worth of wine, a generous estimate based on the store's retail price gouging. They took two bottles of 2006 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, priced at $1400 at the store, which is $366 more than the most expensive price listed on Wine Searcher. Maybe the store is trying to inflate its insurance claim.

The suspects were not named, so we don't know who they are. But thanks to ABC News, we know what they are.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Wine Blog Awards 2014: Analysis and endorsements

Earlier this year I, and at least one other former winner, got a phone call from Tom Wark, who created the Wine Blog Awards. His main question was, what would it take for people to take them more seriously?

This week the public votes on the awards, so I'm going to do Tom a favor, perhaps: I'm going to take the nominations seriously, with analysis and endorsements. I visited every nominated site, except in one category. Let's start with the good news first: the categories that the unknown judges got right.

Best new wine blog:

This is a stacked category and speaks well for the immediate future of wine blogs. Three of these sites -- Sherry Notes, La Dolce Vino and Italian Wine Central -- will probably be nominated in the near future as single-subject blogs. I'll vote for Italian Wine Central because of its ambition. The blog design encourages you to use it as an encyclopedia.

Best single subject wine blog:

Very strong category. I really enjoy Alfonso Cevola's writing On the wine trail in Italy; he beautifully captures both the romance and the reality of wine. But clicking through them, it's impossible for me to vote for any site but the Washington Wine Report, which seems to give links to any story anywhere about Washington wine. Comprehensiveness in an easily navigated format puts it ahead.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sherry vs. the California palate

The soil is dry in Jerez and the sun is bright and hot
Next week is SherryFest in San Francisco. It's the largest Sherry event ever here. I can already imagine the media coverage, because the wine media generally loves Sherry.

What I wonder about is whether there will be any lasting change in our drinking habits.

Don't get me wrong, like most wine geeks I enjoy a nice glass of Sherry, particularly fino and manzanilla. But there's no wine in the world with a greater ratio of media coverage to consumption by non-wine professionals.

In some ways, Sherry is perfect for the San Francisco style of eating. We like small plates, we like seafood, we like unusual flavor combinations, and we like wines by the glass. All of that screams "manzanilla!"

But there's a big obstacle: the California palate.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Lessons about 17th century Tuscan wine from a pretty drawing

"Landscape with Wine Harvest" by Pietro da Cortona,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York recently made available 400,000 of its works digitally. This was the most interesting drawing about wine I found, made by an Italian artist in the 17th century. We don't have an exact date, but Pietro Berrettini, known as Pietro da Cortona, died in 1669.

Cortona is in the center of Tuscany, and the landscape is recognizable even today. There are a few interesting points about the harvest.

1) Unfinished barrels are front and center, and it looks like the coopers are working on them right out in the fields.

2) That guy on the far right is struggling with a barrel. Is it full of grapes? Did they harvest directly into barrels, without crushing? Or maybe they transported the grapes back to the winery in the barrels. That doesn't seem easy, but ...

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mateus Rosé: Once the world's biggest wine, now ripe for hip revival

The bottle is a little narrower than in the '70s
In the early 1970s, Mateus Rosé was the most popular wine in the world. The Queen of England demanded it. Jimi Hendrix was photographed drinking it out of the bottle.

Jimi Hendrix and friend
Today, younger wine drinkers haven't even heard of it. To baby boomers, Mateus reminds them of bygone pleasures that are no longer groovy. If it's mentioned at all in wine stories, it's as a cautionary tale; i.e., rosé is serious today, not like in the Mateus era.

There comes a time when you stop thinking your parents were wrong about everything. Your parents liked wine coolers, yes, but they also liked Chenin Blanc and locally made beer and Coca-Cola made with sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. You may have conceded they were onto something with Sherry. Perhaps their generation's embrace of marijuana wasn't as misguided as the 30 Year War on Drugs that followed.

Is Mateus Rosé ripe for rediscovery? I wish there were still hipsters in my neighborhood in San Francisco, because I can imagine it becoming the PBR of wine.

Because Mateus Rosé is not just cheap, ladies and gentleman. I say this knowing that the Kool Kids Wine Kritiks will never share their orange wines with me, but .... Mateus Rosé is pretty good.

Here's how I came to this revelation.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Stupid media, 20 percent of wine is NOT counterfeit

What percent of wine is counterfeit?

Last year a regional French newspaper, Sud Ouest, published a ridiculous speculation that 20 percent of wine sold worldwide might be counterfeit.

Now it seems to be received wisdom: It was in a newspaper! ABC News cited it last week. Now it's one of those memes that may be around a while.

But it's wrong, and the mass media are stupid to repeat it.

Do you know how much wine is made in the world? In 2011, 26.7 billion liters, according to the Wine Institute. So if 20 percent of it were counterfeit, that would mean counterfeiters are making more than 5.3 billion liters of wine a year.

You know how much wine the entire country of France makes in a year? 5 billion liters. So what you have to believe is that counterfeiters are making more than the entire legitimate production of France.

Is that impossible? Could there be an Atlantis of wine out there, unseen by satellites, making more wine than France and putting Barefoot Moscato stickers on it?