Home > Winedr Blog

Parker Sells Wine Advocate?

In an announcement posted on his subscribers’ bulletin board yesterday, December 9th, Robert Parker revealed some significant changes to the structure of the Wine Advocate. Hidden within the announcement was enough information to conclude that Parker has, despite repeated denials that he intended to sell, indeed relinquished control of the Wine Advocate to a group of foreign investors. Although Parker does not reveal where these “highly qualified business and technology people and enthusiastic wine lovers” are located, rumours about Asian investment in the Wine Advocate have been circulating in Hong Kong for some time now, and with the other moves described below I would wager these new technology-based backers are also in Singapore or Hong Kong. And as is revealed in other news articles and blog posts (linked further down the page) the changes are much more sweeping than Parker admits to his subscribers.

Parker continues in his post with some soft news, describing his intent to increase coverage of “all the world’s wine producing regions“, by which he clearly means looking to up-and-coming nations such as China rather than more regularly featuring the Loire (thank heavens – prices there are going up enough as they are). He also announces the birth of the print version of the Wine Advocate as a pdf document, which will no doubt be music to the ears of current print subscribers; the time difference between receipt of the Wine Advocate in the post, and the publication of the same material online for electronic subscribers, has long been a sore point for print subscribers who felt they have been missing out in the chase for Parker points.

eRobertParker logoMore significantly, however, the Wine Advocate is turning towards Asia; Parker has long enjoyed the hedonistic hospitality on offer there, and with ever increasing levels of wine interest this new focus on Asia perhaps isn’t surprising. But the changes are sweeping; first, a new office is to be opened in Singapore, and while for the moment Baltimore remains, in Parker’s words, “the Headquarters“, I can imagine this balance of power shifting before long. Second, Parker is stepping down from his role as editor, in another move to reduce his workload. Having already turned over the review of California to Galloni, he is now appointing Lisa Perrotti-Brown (a Singapore resident) as editor-in-chief. Parker, meanwhile, will “focus on what I love most“, which no doubt means continuing to review the wines of the Rhône and Bordeaux.

Several key points appear to be missing from the announcement though, some of which can be gleaned from a Reuters blog post by Felix Salmon and a WSJ article (subscribers only) by Lettie Teague. The new nations deserving of coverage do indeed include China, with the appointment of a new Asian correspondent looming, and wine tasting events planned in China and Thailand. Wine tasting events mean new and closer relationships with wine producers, a significant shift away from the Advocate’s previously stalwart independent stance. This move is confirmed by the second point, that the Wine Advocate will accept advertising, although not wine-related. So the Wine Advocate is to become a glossy lifestyle magazine, with advertisements for watches, designer goods and the odd yacht, perhaps? Thirdly, the new investors (I read owners there; otherwise, why the sweeping changes in TWA practices?) plan an abbreviated edition, aimed at corporate clients such as luxury hotels and airlines, particularly in Asia.

This is a huge sea-change for the Wine Advocate; a new Asian focus, tastings of Chinese wine, and luxury-lifestyle advertising. This is a very new direction, surely indicating that TWA has, either now or imminently, in part at least, some new owners. And these changes have – behind the Parker paywall – been only partially revealed to Parker subscribers, it seems.

Wines of the Year: Pathological Conspicuity?

You can tell when December has arrived; tell-tale signs exist, there for our interpretation. It is not the dismally dark mornings or depressingly darker evenings (depending on your hemisphere of residence, of course – but that’s the situation in Scotland) to which I refer. Nor is it the sub-zero overnight temperatures, each day the sun’s rays (once it has eventually risen) revealing to us all a world coated with a white, glistening, frosty glaze. Nor am I referring to anything more clichéd; not the appearance of the red-breasted bird on the feeding table, nor the jingle of sleigh bells overhead. No, there is a more sure sign that December has arrived. All over the world, wine anoraks of the world unite as one, staring zombie-like at their computer screens, hitting return, return, return, scrolling through their electronic store of wine notes as if in a note-reading trance. The luddites, meanwhile, can be seen thumbing through the dog-eared pages of their latest tasting notebook, their eyes deep and soulless, their mouths lightly foaming. It is, of course, time for them to construct their Wines of the Year list, a process that begins in December as surely as the month follows November.

One thing that has not escaped my notice over the years is that the construction of a Wines of the Year list is an almost exclusively male activity. Why is this? It can not be said that other online wine activity is entirely male. Women have a high quality presence in online wine writing (Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding, for example) and there are plenty of female wine professionals writing blogs, or communicating through social media platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter. At the consumer level, however, the picture is somewhat different. Take a look at the most popular online wine forums, where wine geeks congregate to post tasting notes and generally chew the wine-related cud, and it soon becomes apparent that these forums are populated almost entirely by the male of the species. Women are to be found here, but they are rarely sighted, an inexplicably small minority.

This gender imbalance is further exacerbated when it comes to the annual Wines of the Year list. This is, in my opinion, perhaps more easily understood than the dearth of female participation elsewhere online. An obsession with collecting and cataloguing is a very male pattern of behaviour. This is why ‘collectors’ – whether we are talking coins, stamps, wine, butterflies, rare books, old toys or a dozen other fields of interest – are nearly always male. When was the last time, as an extreme example, you saw a woman among the gaggle of anorak-clad obsessives huddled together with camera, notebook and pen at the end of platform 9 in the railway station at Crewe? Train-spotting is an extreme example of collecting with no real purpose. Go beyond this example and the obsession can become pathological. Obsessive behaviour is, of course, a feature of autism. And kids and adults on the Autistic Spectrum Disorder are nearly always male. These facts are surely not unrelated.

Writing a Wines of the Year list is also, I feel, an offshoot of conspicuous consumption. You buy and drink expensive, aged and fine wines. These wines become Veblen goods, a mark of your wealth and success, as written about earlier this year by Jamie Goode in his blog post Cost, Quality and Conspicuous Consumption. Buy a 1990 Petrus off a restaurant list for an exorbitant sum of money only to thoughtlessly knock it back with your burger and chips and you display your wealth to only a few fellow customers. Write about it online and you share your success more conspicuously, with many more readers. Include it in a list of your favourite wines of the year, along with all your other grand old bottles, featuring great wine after great wine from the most desirable vintages and châteaux, and your success is multiplied exponentially.

This is why I never refer to the wines in my cellar as a ‘collection’. Meh. They are not a collection to be catalogued and obsessed over. Each one is a discrete unit of joy, there to be opened, consumed, shared and talked about, at home with real people (shock!) and online as well.

And this is also why I gave up writing a Wines of the Year list about four years ago. Wine should not be a Veblen Good. Wine is about life, pleasure, experiences, wonder and sometimes comedy. Regular long-term readers will know to what I refer: coming next week, my fourth annual Wines in Context report, involving mid-air emergencies, mystical philosphies and probably the odd malapropism. Will I be writing about 1947 Cheval Blanc and 1921 Yquem? No. Will I come out of it looking like the epitome of the suave and sophisticated writer? No. Will it be worth reading? Hopefully. Tune in next Tuesday.

Hello China…and Hong Kong…and…

One of my visits during my three weeks in Bordeaux was to meet Gavin Quinney at Château Bauduc, a Brit who has been turning out good quality and good value red, white and pink Bordeaux for a good few years now. I was keen to see him as I want to try and broaden the Bordeaux coverage on Winedoctor, taking in good value wines from less exalted appellations as well as the top 5% of the estates (the great cru classé estates in St Julien, Sauternes, St Emilion and so on) which we all seem to spend 95% of our time obsessing over.

One question he asked me over lunch threw me a little as I suddenly realised the answer I gave was several years out of date. The query was a simple one; where do Winedoctor readers live? I trotted out the same data as can be found within my sponsor’s information pack, which is “roughly one-third UK, one-third from the rest of Europe, one-third North America”. Other continents, countries and regions – Australia, South America, the African nations especially South Africa, Russia and so on historically contributed a few percent each (hence the “rough” division into thirds).

“What, no China?” came Gavin’s reply. Hmmm, I thought. Time to take a fresh look.

Winedoctor stats aren’t something I usually discuss. I mean, other than me and my advertisers/sponsors, who’s interested? But these statistics are different, for several reasons, not least because it highlights how the world of wine (as well as the appeal of Winedoctor) has broadened.

Now firmly in the lead is North America, accounting for 45% of my readership. Thank you, Americans and Canadians!

But the big change is in second place, with Asian nations now accounting for 23% of my readership. In the lead is China, closely followed by Hong Kong, but there are also readers in South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. If we include India, Japan and the UAE as well (the 23% above does not – I was really looking for countries new to Winedoctor and these aren’t) then the figure climbs even higher. So “您好 !” (I hope that actually means something intelligible) to all new Winedoctor readers in China, and the same to those in Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand!

In third place comes Europe (excluding the UK) with 19%, and fourth the UK with 13%. Put the two together and they come to 32% of course, but being based in the UK I have always analysed these two separately.

All that remains now is for someone to give me a “您好 !” back (and for me to update my advertiser’s information pack…..). Thanks to Gavin for prompting me to do this.

Roederer Wine Writing Awards: Shortlisted!

Roederer Awards 2012I’m absolutely delighted to have been shortlisted for a Roederer wine writing award, for the second year running. I’ve been listed in the Online Columnist/Blogger of the Year category (what a grand title!), the same category as last year.

Last year’s victor was Alice Feiring, a well-deserved win. This year I’m up against Joss Fowler of www.vinolent.net, Richard Hemming of www.jancisrobinson.com and Andrew Jefford of www.decanter.com. Clearly that is a very strong field, and I don’t fancy my chances (I seem to recall saying the same thing last year!), but it is a pleasure and honour to be listed among such illustrious names. I honestly believe Andrew probably leads the pack; his weekly blog articles for Decanter have been really popular in recent months, and whereas I’m sure all those listed have good wine knowledge (I hope including myself in that isn’t considered boastful) and thus all inform the reader, nobody writes quite like Andrew. And this is a wine writing award, after all. Regardless of these thoughts though, best of luck to all shortlisted, including Andrew, Joss and Richard.

Many thanks to all those who have offered congratulations on being listed (generally on Twitter), that means just as much as me as the listing itself; these include Olly Smith, Gavin Quinney, Will Lyons (and thanks for your comments on my Bordeaux book too), Rose Murray Brown, Tim Atkin and Laura Clay.

The judges this year are Charles Metcalfe (chairman), Margaret Rand, Jamie Goode, Peter Richards, Liz Sagues and Anthony Rose, and coordinator for the Artistry of Wine Award is Victoria Hall.

For the full list of finalists, see the Roederer 2012 Awards Shortlist.

Bordeaux Pocket Guide 2012: Now On Sale!

Bordeaux Pocket Guide 2012After several days of tentatively watching its listing on Amazon, I was happy (and relieved, and excited) to see this morning that my Bordeaux Pocket Guide 2012 is now available for dispatch. Hurrah!

What is more, there is now a Kindle version available, for the ridiculously low price of £5.14 (about $8 or €6). For those who prefer a hard copy, it’s £6.29 (not yet listed in US, €8.89 in France). I hope this very inexpensive price doesn’t suggest to potential buyers that there is nothing of significance in the book. I put months of hard work into this little guide! Hopefully the contents page on the right will give some indication of what you will find inside, although the Amazon listing gives a very generous “look inside” at the first fifteen-or-so pages.

Here’s what the chapters cover:

Opinion (not listed in contents): an opener – a piece on a controversial topic, entitled Bordeaux: All Money, No Soul?

1. Vintage Guides: a run-down of recent vintages, 2010 back to 2003, with recommended buys – not just the best wines, but wines you and I might be able to afford. Also, brief soundbites on 2002 back to 1990.

2. News from the Region: the latest stories from Bordeaux, bang up-to-date; includes stories from as recent as April 2012.

3. 2011 Vintage Review: more very current opinion; a report on 2011, and some favourite and value picks from the vintage.

4. The Firsts: background info, profiles of first growths and equivalents (I’ve cheated and included two from Pomerol).

5. Top 20 Châteaux: get to grips with the big names in Bordeaux; Pontet-Canet, Cos d’Estournel, Montrose & more.

6. Top 5 Sauternes: Hurrah for Sauternes and Barsac! Glorious wines – I look at five leading estates.

7. Top 10 Value: The holy grail? Maybe…..but in this chapter I look at ten estates providing good value in Bordeaux today. They do exist….honest.

8. Top 10 to Try: Ten estates making waves, though quality, regeneration, revitalisation or otherwise.

9. Understanding Bordeaux: Bordeaux basics; for those learning about the region, information on climate, varieties, organics, biodynamics, winemaking and how the wine is sold.

10. Communes and Classifications: also for the beginner, but good revision for the more knowledgeable too. Details on all the major communes, plus those interminable classifications!

11. Enjoying Bordeaux: You could call this enjoying wine; basics on storage, serving temperature, decanting, glasses, tasting and more.

12. Money Matters: For me Bordeaux should be about drinking, but it’s hard to ignore the financial side. I conclude with information on how to buy Bordeaux, professional storage, tracking value, en primeur and investment.

Hopefully, there is something here to appeal to everybody. Here are some links for that “look inside” facility. I hope you like the map on pages 6 and 7 – I spent a lot of time on it!

If you prefer an iBook, I’m told that should be available very soon.

Real Wine Fair, 2012

It’s been an interesting week, what with the RAW Wine Fair (which I attended on Monday), the Real Wine Fair (which I attended on Tuesday) and yesterday’s Born Digital Wine Awards which were announced at the London International Wine Fair (which unfortunately I was unable to attend).

The Real Wine Fair was another great opportunity for me to get to grips with some new wines and new domaines, as well as re-acquainting myself with some ‘old friends’. As with the RAW fair, my focus here was regional; I viewed both fairs as an opportunity to expand my knowledge and coverage of the Loire, rather than try and get an overview of what is happening globally with ‘natural’, organic or biodynamic wine.

Real Wine Fair

One domaine I am familiar with is Domaine de la Louvetrie, home to Jo Landron, pictured above. He was showing mostly 2010s again, wines which I have already reported on in previous tastings published this year. He also had a couple of 2011s though, of which one was sadly displaying the rot of the vintage, a sign that not even the top names of the region have succeeded in this most difficult of years.

As with the RAW Fair there were more new discoveries in Vouvray and also Montlouis, from the likes of Ludovic Chanson and Lemaire-Fournier. These two appellations continue to excite, the latter because it continues to yield domaines and wines of quality from incomers, new blood attracted by fair prices for the land. And the former because, in an appellation sprinkled with superstars (Huet, Foreau, etc) much of what is produced here is in fact dull and uninteresting (a large proportion of the wines made here are unexciting, cooperative-made sparkling wines), and so it is always a pleasure to find a domaine turning out something of quality.

There were plenty of other new discoveries too, from Jasnières and Coteaux du Vendômois, as well as a few interesting examples of pétillant naturel. Sadly there were also some less exciting oxidised wines, in a few cases from winemakers of some repute from whom I would have hoped for better. Tasting a lot of these wines together also allowed me to tease out some more differences in wines that are simply oxidised, versus those that are oxidative. I’ve blogged about this before, here and here, but now I’m convinced there are important distinctions to be made here, and wine writers should be careful about which term they use. I have a feeling many oxidised wines are often blessed with the somewhat kinder term ‘oxidative’, but as Thierry Puzelat has said, the two are not the same.

Finally, congratulations to Jim Budd for a well-deserved win in the Born Digital Wine Awards for his (and Howard Heckle’s) journalistic perseverance in uncovering the No Pay No Jay scandal, the affair which has seen Robert Parker desperately trying to paper over the cracks in Wine Advocate organisation, administration and governance. Jim picked up the Best Investigative Wine Story prize in these increasingly prestigious awards. The full list of winners can be seen here. Well done Jim!

Born Digital Wine Awards 2012

I was slightly amused to get back to my hotel yesterday, after a busy day at the RAW wine fair in London, to find an email from the Born Digital Wine Awards organisers with a link to a ‘shortlisted’ badge.

Here it is:

Shortlisted Investigative

Why amused? The timing gives me about 36 hours to display the badge, before the awards are handed out on May 23rd at the London International Wine Fair. In a digital era, in an award scheme celebrating digital content, the timing feels a bit more ‘snail-mail’!

As I wrote in my original post celebrating my being short-listed (I am absolutely delighted to be recognised), I hope and anticipate that Jim Budd will win. Unfortunately as I’m on the road (I’m off to the Real Wine Fair today, in about ten minutes, then back to Scotland on an evening train – sadly I won’t be able to attend the award announcements tomorrow) I don’t have the time to resize the image, or set up the link on my home-page. So for now I will post it here, and wish all those short-listed the best of luck!

My Bordeaux Pocket Book

After learning that I had been shortlisted for a Born Digital Wine Award, yesterday turned into a good-news double-whammy with a knock on the door, and the long-awaited arrival of my book (well, OK, it’s actually only been two weeks since it went to print, but it felt like a long time). I’ve been working on this project for months and months, and it was amazing to finally hold a copy in my hands. And, although I am more than a little bit biased, I am over the moon with the finish on the final product.

A little bit more detail for you; it’s a magbook, so a sort of magazine-book hybrid. But with its A5 size and firm, card-like cover it feels more like a pocket book than a magazine to me. Inside is a mix of news, profiles, guidance and vintage reports, with hopefully something for everybody; a generic vintage guide for Bordeaux beginners, more detail on a selection of interesting châteaux for those more familiar with the region, and reports on the latest vintage and all the latest news for those who know the region well and just want to get to grips with what’s new.

And when I write latest news, I mean latest. I’m particularly pleased with the ‘current’ feel of the product. Most wine guides are already out of date by the time they hit the shelves, the copy for the book often having been submitted a year before you hand over your cash. Here, the short time between finishing the copy and holding the book in my hand (as noted above, a couple of weeks) means the news within is definitely not dated. I include a report on the 2011 Bordeaux vintage (added after my return from the Bordeaux primeurs in April) as well as other Bordeaux news from the past couple of months (as well as important snippets from 2011 of course).

I haven’t held back from expressing this in the introduction – nor from criticising some other elements of the annually published pocket wine guides!

What should also appeal is the asking price. I was tempted to countdown the figures here (must be the latent market trader within me) but maybe I’ll just come straight out with it: £6.99. Not a typo: £6.99. It will be available in hard copy in the UK with some copies going out to the Far East, the USA and a few to Australia. A major point of sale will be airport shops (WH Smith and the like), but happily in this modern era it should also be available through online retailers such as Amazon (it’s not listed yet though, to save you the time checking) and of course there will be electronic formats for Kindle in Amazon, and it should be available as an iBook.

Now I just need to read what the book-reviewing wine-writing community think of the product. Nervous, me? Absolutely.

Update: From myy publisher’s comments below, the book is available online now from Zinio, and will on the shelves and with Amazon from May 24th. Kindle and iBook versions to follow!

Born Digital Wine Awards 2012 Shortlist

No prizes for guessing why I’m posting on this today. The sad rule about competition shortlists is that – aside from a few notables – most people who aren’t shortlisted suddenly lose interest!

I’m delighted to note that I’ve been shortlisted in the Best Investigative Wine Story category of the Born Digital Wine Awards, for this piece: Pressure Sensitive.

Looking across the category I’m also delighted to see that Jim Budd has been shortlisted for his Campogate, no Pay no Jay story. Quite right too. This (a joint effort between Jim and Harold Heckle) is proper investigative wine writing, part of a long exposé which has seen him belittled and inappropriately criticised by Robert Parker, as well as threatened with legal action by the subject of the cash-for-review scandal, Pancho Campo. And the ultimate outcome clearly indicates that Budd was on the right track all along; Jay Miller resigned (apparently agreed before the scandal broke, but – reading his posts on the Parker bulletin board yesterday – he clearly associates his departure with the scandal) and Campo left the wine world, resigning his MW, which has the effect of preventing the IMW report becoming public.

I hope Jim wins the category. He deserves it.

The full list is as follows:

Best Editorial Wine Writing

Best Investigative Wine Story

Best Wine Tourism Feature

Best Winery Self Produced Content

Best Wine Themed Video

There is also a photo-essay category, details (and images) on the Born Digital site.

Bordeaux En Primeur: An Alternative Guide for Critics

It’s not long now until the frenzy and fury of Bordeaux 2011 kicks off. I will be there, tasting the barrel samples, my seventh year tasting and reporting on the nascent wines at this early stage, my fifth year of travelling to Bordeaux to do it. But for some, I know it might be an exciting first trip to the region to taste. So here’s my eight-point guide to would-be critics – perhaps those looking to fill the shoes of Robert Parker, who must surely retire sometime in the next thirty years – on how to make their mark.

(1) First up, you need to get out there as early as possible. Make sure you hit the primeurs week, and don’t go a week later, all the châteaux will be boarded up. Go earlier, at least a week before everybody else, to make sure you taste the wines first; this will be useful when it comes to point 2, below. If possible go several months earlier, and taste the fermenting must. Even better, make your predictions from a trip out last September, just from tasting the fruit; that way you can be certain your report was filed first. If you missed that opportunity, then consider this; the primeurs visit might be a good opportunity to pass your judgement on the 2012 vintage as well. File next year’s report now!

(2) In your report, use the word “Scoop!” a lot. Remember to include the exclamation mark, this is an integral part of the phrase. Use the word “Scoop!” when reporting your scores, via Twitter if possible. If you are so inclined, and don’t have your own scores, just regurgitate Parker’s. Just be sure to use the word “Scoop!” when you do so. Remember: with every score, there’s a “Scoop!”.

(3) Ignore naysayers who criticise you for travelling out early to “Scoop!” everybody else. Michel Bettane was the main critic of this practice last year, as reported by Decanter here. Fortunately, as the practice is here to stay and Bettane said last year that if it continued “this will be the last year that we play the game” then it seems he won’t be there to bother/criticise you anyway. Provided he sticks to his word, of course.

(4) In your report, there are several key ingredients that cannot be omitted. The first is a comment on the weather during the tastings. If fine and sunny, say so, and comment that this is great for tasting, thus implying your notes and scores are the best and most reliable. If dull, cloudy and wet, make sure the reader is clear just what hard work this has been for you, and how much you have striven to make sure your notes and scores are still the best and most reliable. This is despite the fact that the effect of a change in atmospheric pressure on carbon dioxide solubility – the usual mechanism by which weather is said to affect the taste of wine – is so small as to render such comments absolute drivel. See here for more detail on this.

(5) The next key ingredient of your report is to mention horses, but this must only be done in the context of a visit to Pontet-Canet, or at least driving past Pontet-Canet, or perhaps looking at Pontet-Canet from a distance, from the tasting room of Grand-Puy-Lacoste perhaps. Yes, I know you will see a few horses dotted about the region in other vineyards, on both banks, but you should realise by now that these are rented by the châteaux for primeurs week to fool the visiting journalists. There is a reason the race course in Pomerol was ripped up you know; it’s because the Bordelais were so entertained by their “How many journalists will mention that horse I rented for a week in their reports” sweepstake that nobody was visiting the real horse races.

(6) By no means should you mention how attractive the many attendants at some of the châteaux are, or imply that those châteaux that employ the most beautiful girls might make the best wines. Neal Martin has that aspect of en primeur all sewn up, and you need to make your own mark.

(7) You must, at least twice in your report, mention that there is much more to Bordeaux than the grand cru classé châteaux, that the region is full of unsung properties and overlooked appellations which deserve our interest. And that the region should not be criticised for ludicrously high prices, because that only pertains to the top 1% of the region. Stress that many of the smaller winemakers are struggling to avoid bankruptcy. When it comes to reviewing the wines, however, only taste grand cru classé châteaux. Do not report on little châteaux. That would be a waste of your time. Besides, all the best lunches and dinners are provided at the big-name properties. You aren’t going to be inundated with platters of foie gras and Sauternes if you choose to taste and take lunch at Château No-Name in Blaye, are you?

(8) Finally, on the matter of scores, you must use these. Make sure you score out of 100, as everybody knows Bordeaux drinkers don’t understand anything else. Yes, there are drinkers out there who get the idea that scores themselves are a blunt and flawed tool, and are not an inherent flavour detected in the wine, and there are even some that can get their head round the 20-point or five-star systems, but all these people drink Burgundy so you must not cater for them. Remember to give at least 100 points to two wines – especially weaker wines – as that way you are bound to be the critic with the highest score for those wines, meaning you will get quoted the most. Oh, and remember to write “Scoop!” at the end of your 100-point notes.

That’s my guide; stick to these eight basic rules, and you will be a famous Bordeaux critic in no time.