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01.03.2012

Knock it Off: Things I'd Like to See Disappear From the Wine World in 2012

bigstock____Year_Calendar_On_White_Ba_14052977.jpgIt's the beginning of a new year. Everyone's making lists. The most memorable wines of 2011. Predictions about what will happen in the wine world in 2012. Lists of new years wine resolutions.

Actually, I wrote an article for Fine Cooking Magazine's last issue with five New Years wine resolutions. Mine were focused on exploring niches of the wine world that are generally ignored. Check it out if you're interested. It's an excellent magazine and is on newsstands now.

But let's talk now about a different sort of list: the stuff that should go away. Here's the list of stuff that the wine world would be better off leaving behind in 2012.

#1 Extra heavy bottles
It's been clearly demonstrated that the wine industry has a big impact on the environment from the standpoint of CO2 emissions. Most of this impact comes from the pollution involved in shipping wine, thanks to the carbon footprint of shipping big heavy boxes of wine around the country and the world. Given that, it's time for wineries to swallow their egos and find some other way to make their wines seem impressive besides huge, heavy wine bottles. The arguments that these weighty, oversize bottles somehow protect wine from sunlight and temperature are ridiculous from my perspective. I have yet to see any real scientific evidence that justifies them. Instead they represent only the egos and vanity of the wineries that employ them. It's time they went away. The wine tastes just as good in a humble bottle that fits on everyone's wine rack, costs less to ship, and reduces a winery's carbon footprint. And before anyone says anything: no, tetra-paks and wine in cans are not the answer.

#2 Carping about all the wines over 14% alcohol
I've addressed this topic at length elsewhere, but I'm still sick of people making sweeping generalizations that categorizes (or perhaps condemns is a better word) wines over a certain alcoholic strength as too high-octane. I love lower alcohol wines, and often object to overtly rich wines that burn in the finish. I encourage anyone who wants to drink such wines to drink them. I encourage anyone who prefers such wines to go right ahead. But don't draw lines in the sand and suggest that wines higher than your arbitrary line are somehow undrinkable or the scourges of the wine world. There are great 15% alcohol wines, and lousy ones. Just as there are lousy 13% alcohol wines, and great ones.

So what if all the [insert wine style here] in [insert your favorite (usually California) wine region here] used to be 12.5% alcohol? There were different rootstocks, a cooler climate, and different standards for winemaking. It would be difficult, if not impossible to make wines at that level of alcohol (2011 may be a vintage where some come close), and there's the risk that consumers might just not like them. But that is really beside the point. Complaining about alcohol levels in wines is like complaining about the grammar skills and inscrutable language of today's teenagers. And if I had a dollar for every hypocrite who fed me this line of argument but readily admitted to liking Chateauneuf-du-Pape (99% of which is in the 14.5% range and higher) I'd be a rich, rich man.

#3 Anti-consumer wine shipping legislation
Hoping that the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America and monopolistic state governments will somehow give up their fight to ensure consumers have no choice of where and how they buy their wine is a bit like hoping Vladimir Putin will decide he doesn't want to be Prime Minister of Russia after all. The phrase "pry it from my cold, dead fingers" comes to mind. But this isn't a set of predictions about what will really happen in 2012, merely a wish list, and a lot of states in this country of ours need some electroshock-therapy-enabled attitude adjustments. It's time to put the interests of ordinary consumers first. There are glimmers of hope that this can be possible with enough pressure on legislators. Washington State just got out of the state-run liquor business, allowing for competition by private companies. The law wasn't perfect, but it was a great first step. C'mon Texas and Pennsylvania, you know you want to join the party!

#4 Dogmatic wine assholes
As if wine culture didn't have enough of a problem with many consumers thinking of it as elitist and snobbish? Yet it seems that I hear more and more polarized, entrenched, and vituperative rhetoric from various wine factions every month. Everyone needs to chill the fuck out, and stop making wine into some religious landscape where the righteous battle the philistines. You want to make wine without sulfur? Great. Just don't imply that anyone who chooses to put sulfur in their wine is poisoning their customers. You think Biodynamic is the way to go? Fantastic. Then don't suggest that everyone who farms conventionally is producing lousy industrial swill. It's time to end categorical statements that ignore the complexity of reality. It's called growing up. And there's a lot of it to be done in the wine world.

#5 Styrofoam
It is the work of the devil. You can't compress it (without industrial equipment), recycle it (as a basic consumer), burn it (without poisoning yourself), or move it (without hurting your ears). And the claims that it is a much better insulator than cardboard or other packaging inserts do not seem to be conclusive. Why does anyone still think it is a good idea to package wine in this shit? Wineries, get with the times and buy recycled cardboard inserts for your wine boxes. Your warehouse managers, shippers, customers, and employees will all thank you.

#6 The never-ending parade of wine aeration gadgets and their promises
Air is good for many wines, to be sure. I always decant my Sangiovese, no matter what. But this cult of aeration has gone too far. How do I know that? Take a look at this ridiculous stunt. If you really want air in your wine, pour out a glass, push the cork back in, and then shake the hell out of that bottle. Not prepared to turn your wine into a shake-weight? Then just relax a little and open that bottle a little before you want to drink it, or pour it into something and swirl it around. Decanters don't need to be fancy. Here's what I use.

#7 TCA: 2,4,6-trichloroanisole
OK, maybe we've got only a slightly better shot at ridding the world of cork taint than we do of getting the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association to roll over and let us scratch their tender underbelly. But every time I open a bottle to the smell of wet cardboard I get so damn pissed off. TCA has ruined probably north of $400 worth of wine that I or a friend paid for and opened expectantly this past year. It's so ridiculous that we have to put up with this. It's so ridiculous that we DO put up with this. As long as I'm wishing for things, I'm definitely wishing for someone to solve this damn problem once and for all.

#8 Endless magical health claims (or danger claims) about wine
Haven't we heard just about enough from everyone wanting to convince us that red wine will either make us live forever, or will kill us just slightly slower than smoking? Let's just agree that there is some rock solid proof that a bit of red wine in moderation is good for your heart, and that drinking 750ml of anything alcoholic per day is going to hurt you more than it helps. The main hitch here is that those damn researchers love doing studies about drinking red wine because they have an excuse to drink in the lab. It beats the pants off of testing the latest artificial sweetener for carcinogens.

#9 Treating serious bloggers as if they're different than print journalists
From the FTC to some nincompoop Federal judge, to legions of old-school print-only journalists who don't understand the Internet, the time has come for people to stop worrying about the channel, and start worrying about the content and how it was created. If it acts like a journalist, writes like a journalist, and people read it like a journalist, then we all ought to treat it like one. And as for wine blogs in particular, well, some of us yearn so much to be thought of like regular wine writers, we'll even resort to writing inane lists of things at the beginning of the year. But then we'll use a couple of four letter words in the process and totally ruin the illusion.

Here's to a year where the scourges of the wine world, whatever yours may be, are vanquished!

Photo of 2012 calendar courtesy of Bigstockphoto.Com

Comments (55)

Adam wrote:
01.03.12 at 10:38 PM

I completely agree! Well said.

TexaCali Ali wrote:
01.03.12 at 10:45 PM

Bravo. #3 & #4 are tied for #1 in my book. Happy New Year Alder!

Ryan Megar wrote:
01.03.12 at 10:46 PM

#10 Moscato, this fad can't end soon enough, Merlot was king in the 90's, Pinot Noir in the 00's, not Moscato is the latest grape that everyone has to make a bottle of.

Kelly wrote:
01.03.12 at 11:51 PM

aw snap! on fire for 2012. thanks for your perspective on the upcoming year - I love a good list!

Andrea wrote:
01.04.12 at 8:36 AM

Is it wrong that I want to kiss you right now? I agree with Kelly--snap is right! Especially on #2, #3, #4, and #9! LOVE it. Tweeting this post immediately! XoXo

01.04.12 at 9:09 AM

I think I may actually be in love with you, Alder! Great article!

Alder wrote:
01.04.12 at 9:15 AM

I think I could do worse than having a goddess in love with me.

Joyce Bell wrote:
01.04.12 at 10:24 AM

Amen!

Gil Kulers wrote:
01.04.12 at 10:49 AM

You were able to get Shake Weight into a wine column. Nice!
Your wishes are my wishes, too.

01.04.12 at 11:14 AM

Well said Alder. Again. Wish you a great 2012!

Beau wrote:
01.04.12 at 12:04 PM

Number 5 is far too under-scrutinized. Good job for bringing it up.

Terry Hughes wrote:
01.04.12 at 12:05 PM

Well done, Alder. I'd list my 1-2-3 favorites, but there are actually too many that I wholeheartedly agree with. Although the decanter thing is a little unexpected but so very worthy of "hear hear!"

Keith L. wrote:
01.04.12 at 12:19 PM

I want my wine shipped in styrofoam. If people want to make a statement about recycling, they should find a line of work that doesn't involve shipping heavy, temperature-sensitive goods across long distances.

Katy wrote:
01.04.12 at 12:30 PM

Wholeheartedly agree. will seek out your Fine Cooking Magazine article. I love the wine niches of the world so much starting importing wines from Central Europe just to try something new.

Nikki wrote:
01.04.12 at 12:30 PM

Right on, every last one of them.

Annette wrote:
01.04.12 at 1:14 PM

Thank you for your inspiring wish-list for a "Better Wine World".
All the Best for 2012!

Doug Wilder wrote:
01.04.12 at 1:53 PM

I think this is a great list, Alder. I especially agree with 1,2,4, 5 and 9, and include 6 in a category of all the gizmos available in wine catalogs. What I would add is the is the debate over using ratings on wine. Everytime it is attacked, writers jump in to defend it which perpetuates the standoff. I just ignore it and use what works. (Maybe add that to # 4)!

Raelinn wrote:
01.04.12 at 2:12 PM

Fabulous! Hear! Hear! Bravo! and THANK YOU!

JD wrote:
01.04.12 at 3:03 PM

#1. Anybody who has hauled around or poured any amount of wine from those heavy bottles is real tired at the end of an event. And the thickness can't really be counted on to save the wine if you drop it. Even a Turley.

01.04.12 at 4:40 PM

No one has mentioned wine lists on Kindles, i-Pads or the latest handheld electronic trend. Maybe by the end of 2011, this fad has died out. Let's face it, most wine lists are works of elaborate fiction anyways, so at least should be printed and bound like a real book!

El Jefe wrote:
01.04.12 at 6:02 PM

Nine for nine. Well done!

Nick Marcus wrote:
01.04.12 at 6:55 PM

Honest and concise article, thanks! Comments, though, should pay attention to #4DOGMATIC. Stop making rules-don't like Muscat/Moscato the ancient grape? Don't buy it!

Dan D wrote:
01.04.12 at 7:43 PM

Regarding #7, you've got to watch the movie 'Certified Copy'. It's well worth it.

nora jean bush wrote:
01.04.12 at 7:54 PM

Very well spoken! Happy 2012!

Eric Lundblad wrote:
01.04.12 at 8:13 PM

Great list and write up...except you forgot to include premox! I really want that to go away.

Sam Waterstein wrote:
01.04.12 at 9:03 PM

So-Extra heavy bottles have a big impact on the environment from the standpoint of C02 emission….REALLY…add up a few emissions from Nancy Pelosi flying coast to coast on the weekends with her private jet or our favorite environmental billionaire, Al Gore, with his private jets and massive footprint that is his living compound and we are probably half way to matching all the C02 from wine shipments nationally- talk about dogmatic…assholes…. And finally, no serious intellect would want to be compared to a print journalist- that imprimatur is laughable- even I hope to a Stanford graduate.

Alder wrote:
01.04.12 at 9:10 PM

Sam,

This isn't the global environmental watchdog blog, its the wine blog. I'm not tackling the refugee crisis in Sudan, I'm talking about the wine world.

Sam Waterstein wrote:
01.04.12 at 9:51 PM

Who mentioned “global”??? You juxtaposed heavy wine bottles with its impact on both C02 emissions and the ever present carbon footprint. Why not go after the cows that produce the manure for biodynamic wineries because of the flatulence they produce? Clearly a greater impact on C02 emissions. People who continue to parrot the tired rhetoric of man made C02 emissions are nothing more than dogmatic assholes and we don’t want that, now do we.

Alder wrote:
01.04.12 at 10:00 PM

Sam,

I look forward to your research paper comparing the relative environmental impacts of methane emissions from cows on biodynamic vineyards to the carbon footprint of global wine shipping. Let us know when you're ready to publish.

Jake Fetzer wrote:
01.04.12 at 11:22 PM

Send me a copy of that paper too, sounds like a good read!

Bill Ward wrote:
01.05.12 at 5:38 AM

Great, great list, Alder. But I have to say that no. 9 seems like a bit of a straw dog. I work at a big-city newspaper and talk to journalists here and elsewhere a lot (including at the Wine Writers Symposium that we both attended), and it's been a long time since I heard anyone disparage bloggers.
I'm sure it happens among some low-hanging fruit in the Fourth Estate -- although not nearly as often as bloggers disparage print media -- but the "those guys write in their underwear in their mom's basement" jabs seem to be pretty much a thing of the distant past.
I agree that the FTC and that judge are bozos (that happens a lot, too). But I hope you see the irony in a post that ends by stating that the mainstream media is still bashing bloggers after starting with news of your work appearing in a MSM magazine.

Tom wrote:
01.05.12 at 6:03 AM

Fun post, Alder! Part of the issue with #2 is that the bottles aren't labeled properly. Rounding down and allowable "tolerances" (which are way too high) make it easy to disguise the true alcohol level. Whether it's because winemakers think that's what their customers want or not, they ought to label the wine with what's actually in the bottle. As for #8, I wish there were some scientific rigor in investigating amounts of red wine people actually consume (as opposed to having to drink 3,000 glasses a day) with a population large enough to mean something. But without coverage of the latest study of health benefits (good or not), there'd be almost no press about wine in the non-wine-related media.

As for #1, I once did a calculation about lighter champagne bottles and it looks like the impact on CO2 emissions is small. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done, just as we should all try to conserve energy wherever we can. And if the cows are producing manure anyway, we ought to at least use it for something.

Jean Wilson wrote:
01.05.12 at 6:32 AM

Here's hoping all you wine woes are vanquished as well! Cheers!

Fact Checker wrote:
01.05.12 at 11:06 AM

Styrofoam IS recyclable. There have been numerous trials, tests and studies that do show the wines shipped in Styrofoam vs. pulp have better insulation and are less likely to suffer from heat damage.

Alder wrote:
01.05.12 at 11:21 AM

Hello fact checker. Welcome to Vinography.

Please check and report back on which sanitation departments in each of these major cities allow consumers and businesses to recycle styrofoam: San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, New York, Orlando, Boston, Denver, and Philadelphia. (Hint: none). Just because some scientist or industrial processor has found a way to recycle styrofoam, that doesn't mean that I can.

Also, please cite studies that perform detailed temperature analyses like this one but come up with results that show styrofoam offers a significant benefit to temperature stabilization when shipping time is factored OUT of the equation: http://www.winebusiness.com/news/?go=getArticle&dataid=67958

Fact Checker wrote:
01.05.12 at 11:48 AM
Alder wrote:
01.05.12 at 11:53 AM

Shipping time. Shipping time. That study was just a test to see if wine shipped overnight by FedEx in styrofoam would be fine if it was hot outside. It did not compare styrofoam to other packaging materials. How's that recycling checking coming?

Fact Checker wrote:
01.05.12 at 11:59 AM
Alder wrote:
01.05.12 at 12:11 PM

Nice to see that LA city sanitation has added the capability to recycle polystyrene. I stand corrected. All the other links you provided are specialized drop off locations that are a pain in the butt for consumers and businesses, and they won't/don't use them in any real way. This is why many progressive cities have implemented curbside pickup of batteries, electronics, and appliances. Because when there were just "locations" where people could do it, it didn't happen.

Tim Patterson wrote:
01.05.12 at 6:32 PM

Pretty good list, Alder, though not good enough for me to fall in love with you. Perhaps another time, another post.

On my own list, I would add a cessation to wine writers talking about and claiming to taste "minerality" in wines they like a lot, which is mainly winesnobspeak for "lots of acid." It's perhaps the best example of how vinobabble can end up intimidating normal wine drinkers, who fail to taste rock essences, and think they're inferior. Fact is, they're right, since precious few minerals end up in the glass and those that do have no volatile character.

Maybe this could be the post that finally does make me fall in love: Ten terms to banish from wine writing.

Chris Lopez wrote:
01.06.12 at 2:17 AM

Yes, Bravo Alder!

I don't know if anyone else watched the "hyperdecant" video but i was flabbergasted.

@ Ryan Megar - look at it this way, Moscato is a much better 'gateway wine' than sutter home white zin. Neither are my thing but it seems Moscato is more authentic than the alternative.

01.08.12 at 8:06 PM

Awesome, thought provoking stuff. I will be quoting #4 regularly! Love it.

Karen wrote:
01.09.12 at 7:29 AM

Hey Alder! Can you add the little thumbs up/thumbs down icon, that you see on facebook, to your Comments section of this blog? I'd like to be able to scroll through the comments and vote "thumbs up" when I agree :)

alan wrote:
01.09.12 at 7:59 AM

Hey Alder, profanity makes ignorance audible!

01.09.12 at 11:30 AM

Great piece Alder.

Can I add #10? Making and marketing wine just for women. Ugh.

Dave Gardner wrote:
01.09.12 at 2:41 PM

Nice post that covers things I mostly agree with... however, since I ship wines occasionally to friends over long distances, I prefer styrofoam because it can handle the rough treatment that it gets seemingly better than the other ways of shipping it.

I'm not an expert with wines by any means... but since I live in northern California, I'm fairly close to Sonoma, Napa, Livermore, and Lodi (and just recently discovered the vineyards and wineries of Amador County in the California foothills).

CaliforniaWines have amazing varieties and types--and I'm enjoying exploring all of them. My brother-in-law does have a wine cellar and is a lot more informed on what's out there--he introduced us to those vineyards and wineries of Paso Robles and Santa Barbara area.

Thank you for providing the interesting information in your blog--always a good learning experience!

Rich Reader wrote:
01.09.12 at 4:04 PM

Let's include in the #4 Dogmatic wine assholes category every flaming diatribe about oak-free vs. oak-only. Let each wine have a conversation with its' winemaker, and let them decide what to do. If I have to chill the fuck out, then what's the correct temperature that I should be chilled to?

Alder wrote:
01.09.12 at 10:02 PM

I think 54 degrees would do.

Mel Knox wrote:
01.11.12 at 2:58 PM

I would like to see fewer wine merchants who wait for wine writers to tell them what they shld be selling. I have received three e blasts from merchants who have just decided that Randy Dunn is a genius winemaker...just after a certain publication changed its opinion of him.

And I am w Rich Reader and his struggle against dogmatism.For about five years we heard about the evils of ML in whites from people who confused di acetyl for lactic acid.

A local newspaper had a critics who used to criticize oak and then praise my customers. I finally sent him a note and volunteered to teach him about wine.

Alisa wrote:
01.13.12 at 6:38 AM

Well said,and on #6 it's not just the aeration devices but the wine glasses too

01.15.12 at 3:37 AM

NIce blog. What about wine writers complaining they get too many samples?

Claudia wrote:
01.15.12 at 4:24 PM

Simply because I like to think myself an Eco-friendly consumer, I would like to see styrofoam and heavy bottles nixed. My palate would also appreciate wine that is not stored in styrofoam.

Felix wrote:
01.17.12 at 4:38 AM

Gotta love the hyperdecant video. I thought I was watching another "will it blend" episode...

Thanks for the great blog post

ruesoleil52 wrote:
01.19.12 at 11:53 AM

Very well put Alder - I would however add to the list (and I know this has probably been suggested ad nauseum) the demise of the excessively subjective and much-abused 100 point scoring system among wine publications. This ties in with Mel Knox' accurate comment about wine merchants who have trouble trusting their own palates - i.e. merchants/consumers need to better understand why a wine is of a particular quality level and style and not just read (an often arbitrary) score. Of course the alternatives to this are still "incubating" in the minds of wine reviewers/geeks world-wide.

Chris wrote:
02.21.12 at 12:45 PM

Way to smash the stereotype that wine drinkers are sophisticated, sanguine, and soft-spoken.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.