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Deception, by nature, is often hard to spot. And hard to define. After all, in many cases deception itself can be a matter of opinion, and on top of that there are matters of degree.

The recent blog- and forum-driven storm over wine-writing ethics has focused on factors that can be very hard to get a grip on, namely the possibility that wine critics’ assessments of individual wines (and/or entire portfolios) can or have been impacted by unseen/unspoken perks (trips, dinners, insider access, etc.).

That firestorm, along with a more general publishing issue—the ethics of advertising being integrated into actual magazine covers (story here)—got me thinking that now is a good time to visit the question of: When is a label reproduction that appears in a wine magazine actually a paid promotion rather than an editorial graphic? Read the rest of this entry »


I had the honor of participating this past Saturday in the oldest wine judging in America: the annual Hudson Valley Wine Competition. How do I know this is the oldest event of its kind? Simple: take a look at the logo!

OK, I exaggerate. But it was a fine event, and fun (which is important when the pay scale is precisely “lunch”). Read the rest of this entry »

It began as an innocent search. I was looking for an old homie out in Sonoma. Came up with the bio at, home of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Then I notice that the site is loaded with bios, and there appears to be a photo of the 2009 judges.

Check it out. Go here and scrollllllllllll down. There they are –the 2009 Professional Wine Judges. 

Now, click on the photo to enlarge it…  Go ahead.  Gets bigger, right?

Now click where it says “Click to Enlarge”… Wha–? You get this:

It has become clear in recent months days that what is clearly needed in the wine world today is education.

Yes, education. But not about wines, and their myriad combinations of distinctive grapes from far-flung places. We’ve got that part settled. Everyone who knows anything about wine knows: it’s all about personal taste. Find and follow your own palate. The rest is gravy. The age of needing critics to guide one to specific vintages from specific producers is gone.

No, the training people need now is how to deal with the trappings, the minutia, the devilish details that have come in the fast-paced, Web-driven new age of wine. With that in mind, I hereby am opening the E-cademy of Worldwide Wine. Or EWW {pronounced Eww!}.

All classes will be conducted via twitter, tumblr, facebook, Yelp, YouTube, Ning and/or other online platforms. No tuition, no need to register, just “Tune in or tune out,” as the great wine critic of the 1960s, Dr. Timothy Leary, used to say. Our first batch of classes will include… Read the rest of this entry »

I’m really trying to get the hang of this blogging thing. Went to a big tasting yesterday – Provence in the City – table upon table of jewel-like bottles of fresh rosy vins, with representatives at the ready to espouse as well as pour… Doing my best to poast at blogger’s speed, and yet, here I sit, more than 24 hours later, trying to muster up some passion. To paraphrase a song from A Chorus Line, “I feel nothing… I feel nothing…”

It wasn’t the wines’ fault. I tasted maybe a third of them. Enough to sense correctness; the wines as a group were fresh, clean, pure, mildly fruity and more than ready to take on the fig- and olive-centric array of edibles on hand at, conveniently enough, Fig & Olive restaurant in the meatpacking district. But there was something missing… Read the rest of this entry »

Those who have followed my writing in recent years are well aware of my disdain for wine ratings done on the nefarious 100-point scale. Call it my 90-point bugaboo. Occasionally I plan to focus on a certain aspect of the ratings issue, making my reasoning as clear as Vinho Verde. Today’s focus—partly in honor of Earth Day—is the forest vs. the trees. Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday, ethics were represented by a big gray blob. Today I pry open the proverbial can of worms, replete with a Rockaway twist. Consider the following dilemmas:

Dilemma #1) In February I accepted a fellowship to attend the fifth Professional Wine Writers Symposium in Napa Valley, sponsored by Napa Valley Vintners and held over three days/nights at Meadowood (I am still using the soap I brought home). Moreover, the particular fellowship I won, through a “blind” (bylines removed) judging of three writing samples (not focused on Napa, in fact), was funded by a specific winery. I don’t believe they “chose” me, but somehow I wound up with theirs; and a dozen or so other writers earned other winery-specified awards covering the cost of the entire symposium, food, lodging and (naturally) swag. {Yes, my new favorite baseball hat has a NVV logo, cleverly designed to make people ask “What’s the ‘N’ for?”} We were told that our only obligation as recipients was that we had to sit with our designated winery’s representative at the closing dinner. Sounds kind of Sugar Daddyish, I know… but think about it—not a very tough deal, eh? Should I disclose my sponsoring winery here? Should I deliberately avoid writing about that label? How about other brands under the same ownership? And what about all my wine-scribe homies and their fellowships; should the public be wary of partisanship toward their begotten winery underwriters? Food for thought. Read the rest of this entry »

OK, I am finally blogging, having been spurred on by the recent invigorating posts related to wine-writing ethics over at my compadre Dr. Vino’s blog. The topic is way too broad to resolve or even present in one post, but it is certinaly a fertile place to start.

I used to have six-bottle wine bag from Cambria Vineyards and a leather backpack from Piper-Sonoma. I also used to have a cherry tree in my front yard, courtesy Sebastiani Vineyards (it died in our harsh Westchester winter…). My post-it notes say “Think Red. Think Cotes-du-Rhone.” My kids have gone to school with pens from Rioja, notepads from Sterling Vineyards and flashing pins from Georges Duboeuf.

Should I feel uneasy about any of this? I think not. It’s just the usual swag (as they call it in media circles)—publicity-driven tchotchkes. Then again, in wine the swag extends to, well, sample bottles…and freebies beyond swag entail tastings and dinners and wine-country accommodations and even all-expenses-paid trips. Read the rest of this entry »

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April 2009
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