Bad Press

National wine mags like Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine & Spirits are mighty drivers of the market, so it's rare to hear a wine retailer (for attribution, anyway) snipe at the publications that bring so much traffic through the door. But when Michael Teer of Seattle's Pike and Western Wine Shop opened the current Spectator last month, something snapped. The result was a remarkably candid little essay (shared with subscribers to P&W's weekly e-mail newsletter) about how the leading wine journals often unintentionally create as much frustration as satisfaction for retailers and readers. Proximate cause of Teer's irritation was a survey of high-scoring Washington wines by Wine Spectator's editor at large, Harvey Steiman, emphasizing the emergence of the cabernet franc grape as a favored varietal in this state. Teer didn't dispute what Steiman had to say about cab franc or the wine made here from it; what graveled him was what wasn't said. "I know that tasters can't taste everything, but they can call around and learn what the locals know and admire." Another problem: Magazines usually review only wines that are submitted to them for review, while some of the most prestigious labels of all—wineries that can sell every bottle they make without needing publicity—don't bother submitting. "You'd never know from the Spectator's listing that Quilceda Creek even exists," says Teer. Yet another problem, the worst of all: "Steiman lists 13 Washington wines as his top picks, and with one possible exception, every single one was sold out months before the article hit the stands. It's great to have a new customer walk through the door and ask for Christophe Baron's 2002 cab franc–based Flying Pig, but I can't sell it to him, because most, if not all of it went to customers on his mailing list." Is there any remedy for these problems? "Not really; the magazines could be more consistent about telling their readers how much there is of the wines they're recommending, because when you see the note, '25 cases imported into the U.S.,' you'd know up front that the odds of tracking some down are pretty poor. When the reviewers write up someone like Copain [a superpremium California producer], they could make it clear that your chance of finding a bottle retail are little to none." Teer doesn't say it for obvious reasons, but the biggest thing consumers can do to avoid disappointment is pay more attention to their wine merchant in the first place, and less to what's seen in the glossy magazines. Magazines are a great source of news and ideas, but at best they offer a grossly skewed picture of wine-market reality. "But I don't really expect the situation to change," says Teer. "What can you do? It's the power of the press."

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