Monday, June 26, 2017

A really stupid wine article, annotated

This article just won a big award: Stupidest Wine Article of 2017 So Far! (Plus craziest Oreo creations!)
I don't like to pick on people for writing stupid wine articles. I have written some stupid stuff over the years; write enough words publicly, and it will happen.

But a well-funded publication like Food & Wine has editors who should have torpedoed the article I'm about to tear apart. The magazine is moving to Alabama, and maybe this article is a harbinger of the crap publication its owners want it to be; I don't know. I only know about this article, which in addition to being poorly reported, ends up being profoundly anti-wine, so the gloves are off.

Here's a link to the article. Go print it out because when the editors read this post -- and someone will forward it -- the article may be deleted. (UPDATE: It has apparently been deleted. I have screenshots but I think I'll just let this one die.)

First, the headline: "This $10 Supermarket Wine Just Won A Big Award"

That might be interesting news if it were true. Problem is the wine that the writer is about to sell didn't actually win anything.

The cheap wine whose producer most likely paid Food & Wine -- because I hope Time Inc didn't dole out this kind of promotion for free -- got a silver medal at a competition in London. This comes from a score below 90 points from the competition judges. (Here are the competition's medal guidelines.)

I don't want to imply that it's a bad wine. Not at all. A silver medal in one of the 1500 wine competitions held around the world is an OK result. But let's put this in perspective. The wine got a "Silver Outstanding," one of 269 wines in that competition to do so. At least 129 wines got higher awards in the same competition.

There were 91 gold medals, and 38 "gold outstanding medals." I don't know if, like many competitions which try to earn their entry fees by handing out as much hardware as possible, the Best Of category winners were a separate level of award. What I do know is that F&W's "Big Award" winner was, at best, in a 269-way tie for 130th best wine in the competition. How do I know this? I looked it up, which the writer should have done.

Now that we've thoroughly considered the headline, and the rationale for writing this crap story, let's look at the rest.

Here's the lead:

"One of life’s eternal struggles is trying to find a cheap wine that actually tastes good."

There's a subtle hatred of wine here. I have a secret for buying $10 wines that taste good: I go to an independently owned wine shop, not a big corporate supermarket, and I ask someone: "I want to spend $10, what do you recommend?" This works really well; try it. I do have difficulty finding a varietally correct wine of terroir for $10. But that's not the same parameter, is it?

Moreover, I don't know anybody who's into wine who complains that good-tasting $10 wine is hard to find, because it's not, if you go to independently owned wine shops. (To be fair, good-tasting $15 wine is easier to find.) Only people who want validation for the fact that they don't have time to spend on wine shopping make this complaint. So this lead might be OK for, say, Working Parent magazine. What this lead says is, "Wine is not worth spending your valuable time on."

Hey Food & Wine: do you struggle to find cheap food that actually tastes good? Is the struggle (i.e., buying fruit from a farmer's market or meat from a butcher) worth it?

It's an anti-wine philosophy that's also snobbish, because it demands turning one's nose up at quite a lot of wines that others enjoy. (Personal note to the writer: try box wines. From a wine shop.) While I disagree with the idea, I want you to remember it: that F&W believes finding a cheap wine that actually tastes good is a struggle. We're going to revisit it soon.

The writer then says the wine in question "recently won International Wine & Spirits Competition's "Silver Outstanding" award ... and if you don’t think that’s a big deal, get this: It’s the same award won by Veuve Clicquot 2008 vintage Champagne." I'm sorry, Veuve Clicquot! The judges of one wine competition just ruled that a $10 wine is as good as yours. Just so we're clear, 30 sparkling wines got gold medals and 13 got "gold outstanding." Better luck next time.

Next the writer gives tasting notes provided by the winery. Would she do this with food? "The chef says his burger is juicy with good complexity and a long beefy finish." 

You think I'm pissed off at this article now? This might be the nadir:

"This particular bottle may only be available in the U.K. for now, but don’t fret. (Grocery store) stocks a very similar wine called (something completely different.)"

Seriously, Food & Wine, just cease publication right now. Or better yet, change your name to Food For People Who Hate Wine. Because that's inexcusable.

If wines are all the same, what is the point in judging them? What is the point in writing about Food and Wine at all? I'm the kind of consumer who tries to figure out from reviews which brand of truffle salt is the truffliest. Food & Wine just declared that such distinctions do not matter. Food & Wine is not for people who care about food and wine.

I really want somebody at Food & Wine to consider hara-kiri over that sentence alone. But the final paragraph in the article is the one that really undermines the whole publication.

"Until then, the award means you should never again feel guilty about buying the cheapest wine you can get your hands on. It’s probably about to win an award."

Let me stipulate that nobody should feel guilty about buying cheap wine. That's a stupid thing to feel guilty about. You should feel guilty about not letting people merge in traffic, or voting to take away your neighbor's health insurance, or cheating on your taxes. But cheap wine, any wine, hey, that's your choice. Drink what you like. I don't think you'll find a wine expert who would say different.

Let's get at the rest of this paragraph. First of all, a $10 wine is about 4 times as expensive as the cheapest wine bottle you can find (3.3 times as much in some areas.) It's an ENORMOUS step down from a $10 wine to the cheapest wine you can find. It's about the same difference economically as going from a bowl of artisan ramen in a restaurant to Cup Noodle. There's nothing wrong with Cup Noodle -- college students live on it -- but it's not the same thing.

I don't even disagree with "It's probably about to win an award." Wine competitions exist to give awards. There's no limit on the number of competitions a winery can enter and somewhere, some competition will give it a bronze out of sympathy to keep those paid entries coming in.

What bothers me about this statement is the totality. Just substitute the word "food" for wine and you'll see what I mean. There is no shame in being poor or thrifty. I'm not going to criticize people for their tastes, either. If you like to eat Snackables for lunch -- or if you are a Food & Wine editor and the apex of your cuisine is Crazy Oreo Creations -- enjoy.

But look back to the lead: the writer said that finding cheap wine that actually tastes good is one of life's eternal struggles. Well, which is it: a struggle, or a problem solved by simply buying the cheapest? Personally, I'd rather have a food writer believe the lead about struggling -- it's snobbery, but the worst wine snobs are always people with a thimbleful of knowledge -- than the final paragraph. Because the conclusion is food and wine nihilism.

If Food & Wine editors have concluded that there is no difference between a $10 wine and the cheapest wine you can find, and then that are no differences between the cheapest wines you can find, and that you should just buy the cheapest wine because wines are all the same -- GET OUT OF THE FOOD AND WINE MEDIA BUSINESS and let people who care take over.

Or, as they would say on Game of Thrones (Food & Wine is the naked pentitent) ...

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.
Disclaimer: I have written for Food & Wine in the past. Probably not gonna happen again now.


  1. A great post. Now that I see what depths Food and Wine has sunk to, I don't regret having dropped my subscription 15 years ago. When I saw that you named this the Stupidest Wine Story of 2017, my first thought was that it has a lot of competition, but after reading it, I wasn't able to disagree with you.
    Thanks to your link, I decided to read the article first and look for the errors or absurdities that you might point out. My favorite: "Lidl U.S. stocks a very similar wine called Los Andides Crémant de Loire." Well, they both sparkle, and are from France.

  2. I just don't get the anger. Why don't you write something of value. I saw thew headline and was lured into reading it. Now I'm about to say that perhaps your article was the dumbest ever.

  3. Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais is a "varietally correct wine of terroir," and can be found for around $10.

    Cru Beaujolais can be found in the upper teens, with a few crossing the $20 threshold.

    Hugel's Alsatian white varieties can be found in the mid-teens.

    We forget that the purchasing power of $10 in the year 2000 is now $14.50.


    We should inflation adjust upward our budgets accordingly.

  4. Read this May 15, 2017 piece by Eric Asimov in The New York Times:

    "Let's Be Clear: Bad Wines Are Bad Wines, Period"