What’s wine without conversation? Here’s the best wine blogs of 2013.
Whether you’re a hopelessly committed oenophile like me, or a casual wine drinker looking to expand your basic knowledge and vocabulary, there’s an enormous amount of quality content out there that can enhance your knowledge of the subject. Better still, much of it seeks to amuse us at the same time – and often does a mighty fine job of extracting as much entertainment possible out of vines, grapes, and sniffy-sniffs.
A few days ago I finally decided to assemble a collection of the best wine blogs. It was long overdue, and I wanted to scratch the task off my to-do list and – more important – recognize these talented individuals, whose work I so often enjoy. I knew I hadn’t forayed into this territory on these pages in quite some time- at least a year or so, I thought. I was surprised when I checked the SI archives to discover four years (!) had passed since I had last taken a deep dive into the state of the wine blogosphere.
So I reviewed my RSS feeds, Googled in between periods of the Sharks game, and searched Facebook and Twitter to pull together a pool of candidates. It was a surprisingly long first pass. But upon further review, the cream began to rise. I whittled that initial list down based on a few factors:
Frequency of updating – a good wine blog (or one about any other subject for that matter) benefits from regular updates. Daily ones are typically more likely to garner regular readers; most of us are drawn to a personality if we hear from them more often. Remember how annoyed you were when you last sat down to watch the latest episode of Mad Men, 30 Rock or The Sopranos only to discover the episode was a repeat?
Quality of content – this is obviously tantamount. If the content doesn’t inform, entertain, or challenge the reader (the best will do all three) in some fashion, then it’s likely a non-starter.
Uniqueness – rote wine reviews litter the Web. Nowadays, standing out from the crowd matters more than ever. There’s a tonne of noise, especially now with thousands of voices clamoring to be heard on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr. Whether it’s a warped sense of humor, artistic presentation, a propensity to say “kick-ass” a lot, or just good ol’ fashioned quality journalism (yes, that’s unique!) about an under-covered region, grape, or law, non-conformists tend to do well. I like to celebrate those that take risks and push the envelope.
Domain knowledge – it probably goes without saying that if you write about wine then it helps to have some sort of knowledge on the subject. Not all knowledge is the same mind you, and just because someone is, for example, younger doesn’t mean they don’t possess the chops to educate (see Madeline, Wine Folly). Initials — MW, CSW, WSET — are well and good (many wine programs are quite challenging) but a field tested general without the formal pedigree could be just as respectable in this regard.
Perseverance – to succeed at anything requires discipline, relentless effort. Wait. Who am I? Dicky Fox? You get the idea.
And last, but not least:
Opinion and Point of view – don’t do what I do and be Canadian. Please have a strong opinion. Dig in. Defend your idea, your perspective. Don’t be unruly or obstinate about it, but do let us know that you’ve carefully thought through and possibly researched your position on alcohol levels in wine, or why California Pinot Noir will never command Cab-like prices, or life after Parker.
Two more quick points about this list of best wine blogs for 2013.
I realize that many will contest my inclusion of professional wine writers. After all, the province of “blogger” is often that of the amateur, the little guy waging war against traditional media. I believe that to be a falsehood and red herring – a matter of semantics. The Huffington Post was a “blog” and it sold for $315 million to AOL. Instead of splitting hairs I’ve opted to include those that run what its creator deems to be a “blog.” Whether it’s authored by someone who has a paid writing gig elsewhere or not doesn’t change the fact that they are writing interesting wine-related content on a free blog. At the end of the day this is about passion for the subject matter, so let’s instead celebrate those who would otherwise enlighten our very enjoyment of life’s special “elixir” (to coin a JCB expression).
Finally, this is a U.S. list. There’s hundreds of wine blogs from around the world, and many are great, but as I’m based here in San Francisco I tend to know the domestic writers best.
BEST WINE BLOGS 2013
In no particular order, here’s the best wine blogs based on the above mentioned criteria.
Wine Folly (Madeline Puckette)
Okay, it doesn’t hurt that Madeline is a bit of a slinky goth siren, her voice like Ellen Barken. She asks, “Do you drink wine?” I say, hell yes. Uh, what was the question again?
Relatively new to the wine blog scene, Wine Folly stands out not only because of Madeline’s quirky charisma, but also because her videos are so darn entertaining and informative. Videos are the wine blogosphere’s Snuffleupagus. If you see a good one, count your lucky stars because they’re a rare sighting, likely not to be seen again anytime soon. Also, the site publishes (and sells) creative wine posters. WF is not a traditional blog in the chronological stream sense that we’re so accustomed to seeing, and, yes, there’s obviously an e-commerce element; but Madeline and her team produce such a wealth of regularly updated content at such high standards with a focus on aesthetics that’s only bested by depth of information that it clearly warrants inclusion on this list.
Site: Wine Folly
Tasting note: Peppy, quirky on the nose. Appeals to those looking for basic wine knowledge (How to taste wine, how to decant wine, how to read a wine label, etc.). Served in a novel, entertaining way.
Steve’s an interesting character – he Facebooks about his dog Russ, recently reported blow-by-blow accounts of the Occupy Wall Street movement from the streets of Oakland, and seemingly has most of his body covered in tattoos. He’s also a talented writer, an author, and one of the few bloggers who steadfastly adheres to a regular writing schedule. Beyond that, Steve is the most likely to stir up an intellectual brouhaha. Each article he writes is so well honed and crafted that his point comes across razor sharp. A lot of the time — like when he questions the value of social media and its use by wineries and/or critics– it cuts deeply, raising the ire of the Twitter and Facebook faithful. Thanks to his skepticism, however, thoughtful follow-on conversation ensues in the comments adding further value to those who enjoy stopping by his site. Yes, most know, Steve writes for Wine Enthusiast. And he’s a wine gig veteran, with a keen eye for the California scene. Watching him extend the olive branch, and then slowly (at times begrudgingly) accept his role as the new media ambassador to the world of print has been one of the more interesting stories to follow over the past few years.
Site: Steve Heimoff
Tasting note: Purposeful, with classic California structure and tannins. On occasion might be crusty and require decanting. Never a dull vintage.
Juicy Tales (Jo Diaz)
I first met Jo, who worked the wine business before founding her own communications company in 2001, at the ‘PS – I Love You’ symposium in Livermore circa 2010. The event, which continues to grow, is all about the little grape that could, Petite Sirah. Jo has been a leading wine figure here in Northern California in raising its profile. Her husband Jose, whom I’ve not yet have the pleasure of meeting, is also a luminary in the local wine scene, and I often see his posts on my Facebook and Twitter streams. Jo’s blog covers the gamut, from interesting wineries she’s visited and winemakers she’s talked with to people she’d like to have dinner with (Michael Chiarello – to which I say, be sure to bring some Stella) and the ins and outs of sustainable viticulture. There’s a warmth to her writing; spend some time on ‘Juicy Tales’ and you might feel as if you’re chatting with Jo over a glass of Concannon Petite Sirah (of course!).
Site: Juicy Tales
Tasting note: Crisp, refreshing; like a warm summer day – well, except for the purple Sirah zombie teeth part.
1WineDude (Joe Roberts)
What can I say about Joe that you don’t already know? He’s proud of his band, proud of the Steelers, proud of his cute dinosaur-loving daughter, proud of his gig as wine writer for Playboy.com. I’m sure he’s also proud of what he’s accomplished with his wine blog 1WineDude (1WD). He should be. Of all the sites listed here, Joe’s is the one that best exhibits personality. It oozes personality. In spades. His voice is distinctive, opinionated but also welcoming, cordial. That combination makes his site one of the most engaging. Sure, I get frustrated by his curious and random use of bold typeface, cloying happy faces, and incessant parenthetical tangents. Not that my opinion counts here, but I’d suggest to not change a single thing (well, okay, maybe the quizz). The formula works, the transparency apparently most welcome. Also, Joe will forever be known as the Twitter wine review innovator. His witty 140-character zingers are a hoot, and he dutifully produces them on a weekly basis. His latest effort, the “Punchdown,” neatly uses Google+ to create a video talkshow format that appears to have some early fans. Finally, Joe gets out there. While some bloggers sit in their pyjamas, taking snarky jabs at others, 1WD is in France, Argentina, California, Australia and (I’m assuming) Canada, later this year for the Wine Bloggers Conference.
Tasting note: Expressive, socially adept. Aging well, though occasionally cloying. Gary who?
Hosemaster of Wine™ (Ron Washam)
And now for something completely different. To say the Hosemaster of Wine (“HMW”) is polarizing is possibly an understatement of 100-point proportion. Satire and Wine have never gotten along better. Victims, usually bloggers, can be found limping like the bastard poodles that they are alongside highway 29. There’s no recourse other than to smile and succumb and pretend you’re amused – because you will get thrashed. Wipe off the blood, apply bandages and be ready for a second heaping of hurt. There’s no crying in wine. Ron, a former sommelier, will forever be known for starting the blind-book reviewing craze: “I haven’t read Inventing Wine, so I hope it doesn’t turn out to be about spinning cones, reverse osmosis and Vinturis (it always seems to me that using an aerator before drinking a wine is like using a vibrator before sex—sure, you’ve opened it up and released the bouquet, but what’s the f***ing hurry?).” If he had a TV show, he’d be Colbert, but without the coif. No one is safe. Skewering Robert Parker, Natalie MacLean (especially), and James Laube? Child’s play. Sarcasm, however, is a double-edged sword and creative genius often comes at a price. Ron does push the envelope occasionally, even perhaps crosses the line (his recent Newton/NRA reference) and a lot of the talk here will make no sense whatsoever to anyone not familiar with the sophisticated, global machinery known as The Wine Blogosphere – in fact, without it, the HMW would sadly not exist. Hopefully we’ll keep feeding the beast because there is no better comedic wine writing (that burgeoning genre) anywhere on the Web.
Site: Hosemaster of Wine
Tasting note: Dry, very dry. Droll, very droll. Drink with caution.
1337 (Mark Fusco)
Mark is the Avis of wine blogging. The guy tries harder. And I mean lotsa lotsa harder. One of the lesser known and talked about personalities (being based in Texas doesn’t help and I’m sure the odd, mathematical-based ‘1337’ name doesn’t either), I’ve known about the donation-meister ever since he debuted his Gary Vaynerchuk lite video show in 2009 (“The Wine that Started it All“). It was awkward, ridiculous, and kind of bizarre. But like any good car crash, I craned my neck to gawk (and I’ve been there). Later, Gary V. would tweet or email me (I can’t recall which) and say jokingly, “They’re can only be one!” Of course, he’s right about that. Flash forward, and I’m stupefied to report that Mark is on his 267th episode. Not only that, it’s in HD, the camera doesn’t shake, and it’s shot on location, featuring an occasionally interesting discussion with winemakers in Texas (William Chris Wines). I think he’s also now sweating less. Forgetting people’s names aside and other sundry details, Mark’s on-air demeanor has improved substantially – though, safe to say, he won’t be replacing Jimmy Kimmel anytime soon. Still, he’s proof positive that just showing up often is half the battle. In an email Mark sent to me last September (which appeared to be a PR outreach), he called himself the “Last Man Tasting” – that the online wine format had died. He goes on to say, “The vast majority of my viewers are on TiVO. I don’t care about website hits. Hell, I don’t even care about video views. But I can tell you this. I’m the only current English language podcast on iTunes that’s available world wide.”
Tasting note: Brambly, feisty. A vintage that apparently may never die.
James Laube (Wine Spectator)
Alright, flack I am. Yes, he writes for the despised WS. Those who might not follow the ins and outs of the mighty wine blogosphere should know that the glossy pages of the Spectator are widely regarded as synonymous with evil – or, at the very least, Darth Vader. To me, it’s a juvenile supposition. James Laube – who moved to Napa Valley in 1978 — squeezes every ounce of interest (and controversy) out of the most mundane of wine topics (cork taint and closures is a recent favorite of Laube’s: Cork Taint in California Wines Hits New Low. That not only requires talent, but also an astute and well informed perspective on the wine world that can only come from years of experience. Say what you will — that WS wants to charge us for subscriptions (how dare they try to monetize content!), that they dare run ads, that they’re beholden to the wineries that sponsor them — but you can’t deny that you: (a) won’t come away from a Laube article more informed about the wine world; (b) may possibly disagree with his perspective which in turn results in Googling which in turn results in a more open mind regarding an issue you previously were resolutely closed minded about; and (c) realize we’re all galvanized by the same love for wine.
Site: James Laube
Tasting note: Clean finish. Rarefied insight. Some might suggest over-priced.
Vinography (Alder Yarrow)
When you potentially blaze a trail, you can let mythology takes its course. Alder Yarrow, by most accounts, was the first to establish a regularly updated blog on the subject of wine. His palette surely ranks among the best, given the sheer amount of wine he’s tasted and trade event he’s attended since 2006. Others, particularly those stumbling down the dungeons of a WBC after-party, would disagree, suggesting he merely lives off the past, and is harmful to fresh voices that are trying to emerge. I say ignore all that suspect backstory. Envy is as envy does. Alder is one of the best American wine writers not to have worked for a major domestic publication (though he does write for Jancis Robinson’s purple pages). He’s thorough (does anyone taste more wines at a tasting event?), and is clearly knowledgable about terroir, varietals of all stripes and sizes, and the winemaking process. I particularly like that Alder has refrained from jumping onto the Pinterest or Twitter Vine bandwagon – the Vinography web site template is a tried-and-true classic that has obviously stood the test of time and puts the attention squarely on content (tiny font and all), eschewing gimmicks that might otherwise detract from the subject at hand. Do I expect the next Big Thing to come out of Alder’s site. Probably not. Then again, I do expect the site to be around for the next ten years.
Tasting note: Thoughtful.
Journey of Jordan (Jordan Winery)
As I mentioned previously, it’s hard to find quality wine videos on the Web – either you get the shakycam, or you get the cliche weather reporter with mic, or you get some guy (a Prince of Wine?) skipping through vineyards to classical musical. When Lisa Mattson — resident videographer at Jordan — comes along you’re thankful. Thankful that someone is thinking outside the box; that someone has the skill and fortitude to try something new – even if it means doing it under the guise of a winery, in an effort to push some cases. Let’s be fair. We all have an agenda. Many of the bloggers mentioned above peddle e-books, wares. What’s the difference if that product is a bottle of wine? Yes, Jordan is a winery with a marketing message. There’s a lot of wineries out there with a lot of different messages. What I like about the Jordan team is that they truly take the effort to entertain and engage their potential customers, and to produce something above and beyond the standard video fare typically seen on YouTube. I have no idea if it helps them move more wine, but I do know I’m more apt to talk about Jordan and Video in the same sentence than any other winery I can think of out there.
Site: Journey of Jordan
Tasting note: High definition on the finish. Well framed, intriguing subject matter.
Fermentation (Tom Wark)
Next time you feel like taking down the U.S. Government give Tom a call. Direct-to-consumer? Yep, he’s your man. Some obscure political battle in Tennessee involving grocery stores and wine? Wark is on it! Conjunctive labeling and the state legislative? You’ve got to be kidding me, he figures all this stuff out in his sleep. Last year something happened to Tom Wark’s widely regarded Fermentation Blog. The cozy template featuring cramped line spacing and heart-warming red fonts disappeared. It was replaced with a serious new look. Thankfully the strong voice is still there, and Tom, a public relations specialist who runs his own agency, is one of the handful that writes intelligent, thought-provoking content concerning wine and the wine industry on a regular basis. I can’t say I read Tom every day or that I can get through every one of his articles, but keeping him in my RSS feed keeps me up-to-date on news and events I would’ve never have known about otherwise. And that is yet another one of the small pleasures of the world of wine blogging.
Tasting note: I probably already drank this one in Florida. No, hang on a second… that can’t be right, is this wine available in this State? Wait, let me check the local legislative body of…
OTHER NOTEWORTHY WINE BLOGS
Palate Press is a site that you should bookmark if you enjoy reading about wine. I wouldn’t qualify it as a wine blog- it features multiple authors, and positions itself more as an online magazine. Nevertheless it deserves a mention.
Michael Steinberg is a terrific writer, who occasionally blogs (Wine Diarist) when he’s not on assignment for Slate or other publications.
Same with Blake Gray and his Gray Report, an industry blog. I admit: I just can’t get my head around those funky red glasses. I’m guessing he lives in San Francisco – right?!
Then there’s Maker’s Table by Meg Houston Maker, well written though not updated often – Meg is a writer’s writer with a head on her shoulders.
UPDATE FEB 2, 2013: In my haste to complete this “short” piece I realized I had jotted down a few other wine blogs/sites worth a visit and failed to mention them. Quit Wineing may be one of the only wine blogs based out of Las Vegas (at least that I’m aware of). Courtney’s visual style is one-of-a-kind. Broadcast journalist Monique Soltani of Wine Oh TV is on the town as is Fred Swan of NorCal Wine. And how on earth did I forgot to mention the great Tyler Colman, aka Dr. Vino?!