Not About Food

Open Letter to Editors of Magazines Featuring Wine Articles


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Not About Food

Open Letter to Editors of Magazines Featuring Wine Articles

joypirate | | May 9, 2005 03:14 PM

I’m getting a little annoyed with these articles. I read Food & Wine and Saveur and they both are guilty of employing this formula with astonishing regularity. I submit to you the following outline of an average wine story:

• Writer hears rumors of a ‘rogue’ winemaker. This winemaker is, invariably (and not to their discredit) doing something innovative with regard to one of several things: growing a varietal no one grows, growing a varietal in a certain region that no one else grows that varietal, growing anything where no one else grows anything, and so on. Usually a hearsay anecdote is supplied here; indicative of how wacky this winemaker can be.
• Writer meets wacky wine guy or gal. Anecdotes about wacky winemaker ensue. If wacky winemaker was formerly of a different occupation, that is discussed here.
• Writer tours winery and vineyards with wacky winemaker and wacky winemaker lets slip brief bits of wisdom, leading writer to conclude that the wacky winemaker is secretly a genius. Typically, the brief bit of wisdom is uttered thoughtfully and quietly as winemaker holds either grapes or dirt in his/her hand. Wacky winemaker stops being so wacky and briefly looks contemplative and ennobled by tradition.
• Writer gets to eat a meal I would punch kittens for, made by endearing caricatures of family members (cue the affable grandmother, the heir apparent child with innovative ideas, the pickled aunt). More family anecdotes ensue, mostly about the food and the recipes, e.g., great-grandmother brought this recipe from some far-off land and she once cut off a man’s hand when he forgot to blanch the almonds.
• Writer gets to drink wine from the wacky winemaker’s personal cellar. Lots of anecdotes from the winemaker about what a great year 1978 was. More tidbits of wisdom from the winemaker about the state of wine today. Again, if you need me, I’m punching kittens in the face at this point. Vigorously.
• Writer is utterly incapable of saying a critical word about this winemaker. And neither would I after that meal and that wine.
• Article ends with names of some wines to look for from this wacky winemaker.

Here’s where I get irked. I CAN’T FIND THESE WINES. Do I try very hard to find them? No. But, for the average wine drinker (and I count myself as magnificently average), they might as well be selling this stuff in Uzbekistan. I’m not gonna call my wine guy in London and have him import me a case of this stuff. I don’t import cases. I don’t buy cases. We’re not the Gatsby’s here. Or, I can find stuff by this winemaker but never the exact ones the article lists, so their tasting notes do me no good.

I ask the editors of the magazines to remember these points:

• Most of us might enjoy the article, but are unwilling to go to great lengths to find the wines. I put myself in this category.
• Are you familiar with the draconian rules regarding shipping wine from state to state? If so, why do you bother torturing me? I’m sure the guy with guts enough to grow Gewurztraminer in North Dakota is making some interesting stuff, but I’ll probably die never knowing for sure.
• Please, stop writing stories that just highlight one vineyard (or at least do it much less). Why is this an unending trend? Or maybe I simply read the wrong magazines.
• Or, say you need to write one of the aforementioned articles focusing on one vineyard, give me some generalities. What characteristics are usually present in the wacky winemaker’s Cabernets? Granted, the vintage makes a big different, but can you give me some broad starting points in the event I can’t find that vintage? Also, can you give me a hint where to find these wines?

I’m not attacking the editors for these articles, I’m just saying that I grow weary of the formula, and that there are a lot of articles that can be written that aren’t being written. I do enjoy these articles, but there are entirely too many of them. I read to learn and, less often, to vicariously experience the writer’s trip that I could never hope to take. I offer the following alternatives:

• Be more general. Ok, I read the whole article about Lebanese wine and I’m sold. Lebanese wine sounds very promising, BUT, your article only focused on one guy. Odds are, I’m not gonna find HIS wine, but I’ll fine SOME Lebanese wine. Give me a run down of what’s what.
• What about technical stories? I’d love to read a story that analyzes three California Sauvignon Blancs, and three French Sauvignon Blancs. I’d like the article to speak in generalities about their differences, and what typically causes those differences, and then break down exceptions to the rule. Or Riesling. I don’t know crap about Riesling except that whenever I buy it off the shelf I end up with something awful and cloying, but some of it is allegedly dry, crisp, and pairs well with choucroute (sp?). How do I stop buying crap? Honestly, if I was walking by a magazine rack and I saw the headline, “How to Stop Buying Crappy Riesling!” I’d snatch that baby up.
• More on technical stories, what about articles about things like heat and elevation? I’d be wildly curious to read stories that tell me what happens to the taste when you grow the exact same grape in Oregon and in Australia. Or frost. Why must the article focus on one vineyard or varietal? Why can’t we have an entire wine article about frost?
• This is going to seem like I’m asking you to dumb down the content but really I’m not. Talk to me about my mass-produced options in the supermarket. Sometimes I’m 30 minutes late to a party and I need to quickly pick up a bottle of wine and my options are limited. I am aware that Yellowtail sucks. What would help me would be if you could explain to me WHY Yellowtail sucks, and, perhaps, if Yellowtail happens to offer a diamond-in-the-rough varietal that ain’t bad, please let me know what it is. If I’m armed with the specifics of what makes sucky-wines suck, maybe I can get somewhere (unless, of course, and quite possibly, being in a supermarket is what makes sucky wines suck). Let me know what wines – at my supermarket – are decent (or suck the least). Yes, I’m aware you can get great village wines from France at $10, but, again, say I’m stuck at the supermarket where French village wine is hard to come by, what the heck can I buy that’s decent with my limited selection?