Dorothy, here you come again

Half-jokingly, a wine publicist and good friend recently remarked to me: “I mean, come on, let’s face it. No offense, but how many people read your blog anyway?” As much personal satisfaction that my blog gives me, I recognize that I’m no Eric, Alder, Tyler, or Franco.

But that’s partly what makes me all the more angry (and I promise this is my last rant for the week) when one of the truly influential sources of food and wine journalism publishes disinformation, like Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher’s supercilious take on 2004 Barolo, published last week in The Wall Street Journal, or their truly offensive and imbecilic “10 Ways to Save Money Ordering Wine,” published on Saturday. (I apologize in advance to my friend J, a WSJ editor and writer I admire greatly for this second harangue about his colleagues: the poorly delivered humor in my post about the 2004 Barolo piece was simply that — poorly delivered.) Especially in this day and “age of responsibility,” when many of our nation’s restaurateurs find themselves gripped in a day-to-day battle for survival, Dorothy and John’s tips for not being “hosed” by restaurateurs (they actually use the word hose! in the WSJ!) and the accusatory, paranoid tone or their article are no less than nefarious. It’s important to acknowledge that restaurant-going consumers are feeling the financial pinch these days as well: Dorothy and John’s readers would have been better served by “tips on how to find value on the list at your favorite restaurant.”

Here are some highlights from their piece…

1. Skip wine by the glass.

I studied Italian literature at university but it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out that a glass of wine costs less than a bottle. Wine by the glass is one of the ways that we find new wines we like without having to pay for the bottle. Better advice would be: when ordering a wine by the glass, ask your server if you have the option to purchase the whole bottle at the bottle price if you like the wine.

3. Bypass the second-cheapest wine on the list.

A generalization like this is simply stupid, irrelevant, and inappropriate. Honest restaurateurs (and most of them are honest) price their wines in accordance with the prices they are charged by wholesalers. Better advice: figure out what you want to spend and ask your server or sommelier which wines in that price point meet your expectations in terms of style, aromas and flavors, and desired pairing.

6. Never order Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio.

Even Eric and Charles — two palates who really do know something about Italian wine — liked Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio when they tasted it blind in a New York Times tasting panel. Dorothy and John, come on: this is insulting. Better advice: order what you like and enjoy when you go to a restaurant. Whether you like Pinot Grigio by Santa Margherita, white Zinfandel by Beringer, or first-growth Bordeaux (wines many would consider over-priced but coveted and thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless), then go for it. You go to a restaurant to have fun… not to be scared of being ripped off!

9. BYOB.

Dorothy and John, I hate to break it to you but bring-your-own-bottle is appropriate in two cases: 1) when a restaurant doesn’t have a beer and/or wine license; 2) when you bring an illustrious and expensive bottle that doesn’t appear on the restaurant’s list. And remember: whenever you bring your own bottle to a restaurant, be sure to order a bottle of equivalent value. Thrift, Dorothy and John, is no excuse for rude behavior or bad tipping.

Here you come again, Dorothy and John, Just when I’m about to make it work without you.

Bite your tongue, Dorothy

tongueMy Google Reader overflows with feeds these days. It’s hard to keep up with them all and I regret that it took me a few days to catch up to Alice’s post on Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher’s article “A Waning Affair with Barolo”. In their piece, the wife-and-husband team priggishly express their disappointment with the 2004 vintage of Barolo. (I read The New York Times daily. It’s my tie to the Big Apple. And I dogmatically avoid The Wall Street Journal — required reading for the rich, a manifesto and manual for capitalist subjugation of the proletariat. As a result, I was unaware of the piece.)

They say they set out to find 50 bottles under $70 so it’s not clear how many they actually tasted. But their unwarranted, superfluous, and supercilious take on the 2004 vintage is decidedly negative. The wines, they write, “really just weren’t that impressive. You can’t imagine our shock and disappointment. Flight after flight left us cold. They weren’t bad. They were pleasant enough. But with wine after wine, we used a word that should never be used to describe Barolo: simple.” Pleasant enough? Simple?

In another one of her excellent posts wherein she continues her struggle (la lotta continua) to defend the world from Parkerization (and here I take her concept of Parkerization as it relates to the arrogant, chauvinist attitude that his followers — more so than he — exude), Alice rightly laments: “I have a hard time when writers smack down vintage. In this case, especially as they really don’t seem to be experienced when interpreting young vintages, it seems irresponsible.”

It is more than irresponsible. In fact, it’s reprehensible.

When you taste a great wine (like Barolo) in its youth from a great vintage (and it certainly will prove to be an excellent vintage, if not a great one), you don’t look for greatness in the wine. You look for the potential for greatness in the wine. Beyond its tannic structure (dominant in this phase of the wine’s evolution), you look for the presence of defects. In their absence, you can begin to assess the wine’s potential for development. You also ask growers and winemakers what they think of the vintage (they know better than any) and you do your homework by reading your colleagues’s assessment of a given wine.

I looked up Franco’s post on a tasting of 57 bottlings of 2004 Barolo in September 2007 with Roy Richards, Nicolas Belfrage, David Berry Green, and Stuart George. (Dorothy and John, if you don’t know who these guys are, please add them to your reading list. They seem to know something about Italian wine.) According to Franco, Barolo 2004 was “classic vintage.” He noted that “2004 seems to be a great vintage and there are many wines worth buying and cellaring — with all likelihood, wines that will get greater over the years… [In 2004], Nebbiolo triumphed with its elegance and its singularity… One thing is certain, 2004 Barolo is a great wine and it deserves our attention, our trust, and the consensus of all lovers of great wine. In English, you would call these wines fine wines: they are elegant, refined, complex, and nothing less.”

Arrogance, hubris, chauvinism, superciliousness, ignorance, disinformation: these are words come to mind as I ponder Dorothy and John’s irresponsible and reprehensible journalism. Once again, the haughty American attitude shows its ugly head. Once again, American wine writers haven’t considered the most important elements in any wine: the people who made it and the place where they live and work. Bite your tongues, Dorothy and John.