Yike-ee doodles. Hot stuff going on in the wine world. Long knives, too. And it is all centered around the otherwise dull and a little frowsy province of Ontario... where I live. What is it all about? Here is the original salvo from the website Palate Press from 15 December 2012:
The core of Ms. MacLean’s work is the publication of wine reviews and food and wine pairings. In addition to her own reviews, which are often a sentence or less, Ms. MacLean includes professional wine reviews by writers from other publications. The reviews sometimes include the writer’s name, but never the publication or a link. Rather, they are all accredited to “Vintages Wine Catalogue,” a Liquor Control Board of Ontario publication which runs fully accredited reviews, including author, date, and publication, to drive wine sales, much like any retailer on line or on shelf-talkers.
I've been buying wine through the government owned LCBO's Vintages sections for years. You can read their bi-weekly catalogues on line like this one from 8 December. The wines are accompanies by brief comments that send you scurrying to other sources of information like the annual wine buying guides of Hugh Johnson or Oz Clark or the website of Jancis Robinson for the global wines or Canadian writers like Tony Aspler, Beppi Crosariol, John Szabo or Bill_Zacharkiw for an additional sense of what's being sold or more and more often now being made locally. Unlike most beer, it takes a lot of work to figure out if a wine is worth getting into - and not only because the stuff costs more per litre. I find that off flavours disappoint more often with wine. That unknown sweetness or dryness levels undermine expectations. Beer seems to be more forgiving, to have more room for error even if, to quote the beer nerd's list of obligatory statements, "it is just as good as wine."
So, you want to trust the person that you are reading and especially that the person is sharing a strong personal track record. Which if fundamentally what is being claimed has been undermined in this case. Wine writer Richard Best takes events to remind us that as "wine writers, we are journalists. And we are consumer advocates" while John Szabo laments "anyone with a machine and an Internet connection can publish opinion veiled as fact, or fiction masquerading as observation, with virtual impunity." There are different aspects to the allegations. There's the use of ones words by another even if attributed as well as weak attributions which may look a lot like appropriations... not to mention the question of copyright infringement and even the "P" word - plagiarism. Strong words.
Do these things happen with beer writing? Perhaps in little ways. In this small corner of that world, I've had my photos lifted and received a couple of letters with the word desist twice, responding appropriately in each case... I hope. There would be no point in keeping up this blog, writing for coming on a decade about my explorations with beer and brewing - and all the things in society richly floating around the topic - if there was not a sense of at least honesty to the exercise. I can't make any great claims to excellence, insight or technical breakthrough. But I can hope to express what I see with the hope it helps or at least interests you. Which leads me back to one of those comments up there, the one that suggests wine writers are "consumer advocates." Hugh Johnson is one wine writer who consistently confirms there is a dislocate with wine between costs of production, rarity and price as he does in his Pocket Wine Book 2013. I had thought I had found another advocate for a sensible consumer's point of view with Natalie MacLean and in particular her book Unquenchable with its breezy, sensible and practical approach to learning about affordable wine regions. We'll see.
You know, we've yet to really find a central place for that sort of voice in beer writing. It may just be too early in the arc of the story of good beer. We need good examples of folk who remind us it is OK not to run after the most expensive, the least available or the unashamedly overly branded. And that it's OK to question dubious and uncited fact. Yet could the lesson from wine writing - and this story specifically - be that a significant scale of resource in terms of time, money and mind power is required to muster enough authority to overcome the forces of faux art and pathetic rock-star-ism and the always gaping maw of commerce - plus ego, intoxication and simple pleasure - in the search for an honest drink at an honest price? Whether it's labeled champagne or saison, it's OK to want to know where to find something that tastes good that we can reliably afford. But how do we find someone to trust to help us with that?