Wine is one of those topics that everyone has an opinion about. And it’s usually not just a matter of liking a wine or not.
More often, conversation will turn to any number of trends and personal hot topics: the emergence of unoaked Chards now in favor in Napa; the evolving term of “internationalization” and how it simply represents a new version of “California”; another rant against Robert Parker for snubbing the blogging community; early prognostications on the season’s harvest and early barrel tasting results; comparing Napa fruit bombs, once again, to the smoother Bordeauxs. The list is exhaustive.
But one thing is certain: there are no shortage of opinions on the topic of wine.
On the Web, even only 4 years ago, it was hard to find these types of conversations. Aside from trusty print editions of Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast there wasn’t much else when it came to wine. In fact, according to Alder Yarrow of Vinography, when he searched the term “wine blog” in Google back then, zero results returned. He started Vinography, and the wine blog industry was born — or so the story goes I’m told.
Flash forward to today, and wine is a veritable free for all on the web. Video shows. Blogs. Ratings. Pairing engines. Social networks for wine lovers, the wine industry and even wine bloggers themselves. It is boom time.
But like any hype cycle related to the Web, a lot of noise will cloud the landscape for a short period, before the dust settles and true quality rises above the fray.
For now, here are my 5 picks for best wine blogs. I chose them for different reasons. However, they are authentic, thought-provoking, entertaining and sometimes even annoying. Perhaps best of all, they are opinionated… something the web is no longer without when it comes to wine.
Vinography by Alder Yarrow
Perhaps the father of the modern day wine blog, Alder’s informative site is a must. Lately though, it seems his real job that “pays the bills” is perhaps taking some time away from his ability to blog as frequently. And on occasion there are one too many simple “event” blog posts. But you can trust Alder’s authentic, unbiased and honest view on wine and the industry.
I don’t know of any other wine blog that evaluates batches of wines in such large numbers. In his recent post on the Taste of Washington (The Best Wine in Washington State: Notes from Taste Washington 2009) there must be over 200 wines scored from that one event alone, although I can’t be sure as I lost track trying to count them all. Give this guy kudos for thoroughness!
Alder also offers a unique square (not round, after all he says, our pockets aren’t round!) tasting tool that can be downloaded free. It’s a clever way to keep your vocabulary fresh when tasting wines, especially when you just can’t quite find that right word to describe that certain fragrance — ahhh, yes, “wet, Band-Aid!”
Wine Library TV by Gary Vaynerchuck
Granted this is not strictly a wine blog, but Gary’s influence is undeniable. Over the past 12 months, he has emerged as the Jim Cramer (of CNBC Mad Money fame, or infamy) of wine; energetically talking to the camera, emotionally stewing about someday buying the New York Jets, stammering about Viogniers and generally turning the wine industry on its ear. From the opening “vayyyy – nerrrr – chuck!”, you know Wine Library TV is different. And it annoyed me to no end. At least initially.
But Gary has a way of growing on you. No doubt it starts with a deep understanding of the wine industry, and his passion for sharing his knowledge. He’s very good at it. Then there was the show with the Great One. Wayne Gretzky himself sat in on an episode, tasting some of his own wines. How can you not be impressed by that? The laid back conversation in Gretzky’s office is truly fun Web TV.
Some may suggest that he’s biased and just trying to flog wine for his business. Further, West Coast wine critics may snub his New Jersey location. I disasgree on both counts. Watch his show (or try, don’t worry the shouting typically tones down about 45 seconds in, after some goofy wrist band stuff and shout-outs) and you’ll quickly realize why he struck a seven-figure book deal and is now the largest online wine entertainment brand.
Going from Gary Vaynerchuk to Steve Heimoff is the equivalent of switching channels from Mad Money with Jim Cramer to Inside The Actor’s Studio with James Lipton. Proper dress and enunciation are required. And let’s get this out of the way: yes, Steve, we know you ride limos, eat at fine restaurants, are an influential writer and critic and a key wine industry insider. I get the sense reading his blog a certain amount of pride with occasional self-confidence checks. It’s almost as if he feels the need to justify the fact that he needs to resort to blogging… I’m Steve Heimoff!
Ok, I’m being a bit facetious here. I thoroughly enjoy reading his blog: well-written, intelligent and the most likely of this group of 5 to provoke strong reaction. In a recent post, ‘No wine worth more than $10?’, he challenges the assertion by Fred Franzia about wine value and prices.
Maybe no men’s suit is worth more than $100 at The Men’s Wearhouse, and no car is worth more than $22,000 for a Camry. Still, many men still like to buy Armani and BMWs, if they can afford them. This is a topic we’re going to be talking about for a long time, and never resolve.
His blog occasionally treads soapy waters. Maybe not TMZ-level, but as close as wine can get to celebrity gossip. In Steve’s case it’s all about Robert Parker… conflicts of interest, “travelgate”, blogger bashing. Steve knows how to muster controversy. Once again I find myself thinking a lot of this is banal (this coming from a guy who writes about bird nests on this site!). Then again I check Steve Heimoff’s blog every day and read each of his entries. Definitely recommended.
Note: Tom Wark, of Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog, has a good interview with Steve Heimoff, Bloggerview #24: Steve Heimoff.
The Pour by Eric Asimov
Yes, I realize Eric works for The New York Times. And yes, that may, in some circles, disqualify him as a true wine blogger in that scrappy, low budget definition of the word. Too commercial! But I don’t see it that way. A blog is a blog is a blog. That is, if someone shares original thought, opinions, then why should it not constitute a blog — even if it is backed by a large commercial publisher?
Compared to his official NYTs column, I do wish Eric would let his hair down, ever slightly more than he already does. Still, he is another credible and well-respected voice in the world of wine blogs. Criticize me for lack of originality on this pick, but his writing is eloquent, and like Steve Heimoff, thought-provoking, although, unlike Heimoff, less likely to gossip.
Like everyone else in the world of wine blogs, he too has weighed in on Fred Franzia, aka Mr. Two-Buck Chuck:
Frankly, it’s easy to see him as a huckster and blowhard. Others might think he’s a shrewd, though perhaps unsavory businessman. I have little use for his wines, which he treats simply as commodities. He has no use for those (like almost everybody in Napa Valley) whom he regards as pompous and spoiled.
Dr. Vino’s Wine Blog by Tyler Colman
A real doctor, not just of wine, Tyler Colman’s blog has only recently hit my radar, and now is one of my favorite clickthroughs on Google Reader each evening. His blog rounds out the top 5.
Tyler’s posts receive high levels of comment activity. This provides extended conversation and engagement with his readers that enhances the topic in question. His post for example on wine ethics, Wine Advocate Writers Spark Ethics Debate – Wall Street Journal, citing the Wall Street Journal, has sparked 62 comments at last count — and not just the “good post!” kind, these are thoughtful and intelligent responses. Bloggers kill for this type of reader interaction, and Dr. Vino gets it regularly.
I read a lot more than the above 5 wine blogs, and I’m sure you do too.
So here are others that make my bookmark or Google Reader cut. Some are small, emerging voices. Others are mainstream media. The common trait is passion for wine and authenticity. Salut!
Tom Wark’s Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog – in-depth, focuses mostly on the PR aspects of the industry.
Tastings by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher of Wall Street Journal – laid back, husband/wife team, entertaining videos.
Jason’s Wine Blog – covering Trader Joe’s wines.
Wine Blog – best name of the bunch.
Wine Biz Radio – the one and only with Kaz and Randy out of Sonoma.