Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Best Wine Blogs You've Never Heard Of

As often happens, comments that follow a blog post can be more provocative and helpful than the original posting. Thus, thanks to Paul Mabray of Vintank, a Napa-based "digital think tank for the wine industry," I've been introduced to several stimulating wine blogs. They are the spinoff of a list that Mabray posted a few days ago under the intriguing headline, "The 9 Most Important Wine Bloggers in the US."

At first, I thought Mabray might be pulling our leg. Surely, both that headline and his opening claim suggests he was setting us up for April Fool's Day: "They are the most influential to both the trade and consumers. Their voices influence thousands of other wine personalities and tens of thousands of wine professionals," he says of the annointed nine. Who knew there were "tens of thousands" of wine professionals? In reading the post, however, I find nothing to substantiate his conclusions. I was hoping to discover hard evidence to convince me why these nine are the most influential wine bloggers in the country, but there was none, not a bit. The folks at Vintank may do a lot of thinking, but based on this example of its research it isn't the Rand Institute when it comes to backing up its conclusions.

Nevertheless, I agree with Mabray that the nine are hard-working, stimulating and entertaining, which is why I include on this blog links to six of them. Now I may have to make room for a few more, only one of whom Mabray mentions, and not as one of the nine but as "one to watch." The others were suggested by readers who followed Mabray's commentary with a few comments of their own, often along the lines of, "Hey, you forgot to include...."

In cursory fashion, I checked them out, and found a few I'll be reading again, and who you also might enjoy:

- Wine Without Worry is the blog of Jameson Fink, an erudite Seattle wine enthusiast, which explains his focus on wines of the Pacific Northwest. His frequent posts are tightly written, light, smart and helpful. Anyone planning a trek to the vineyards of the Northwest would be wise to spend some time first at his blog.

- Girl With a Glass is the blog of Alana Gentry, about whom I know nothing. By a quick reading of her recent posts, I can't even tell where she is based. Her view is broad, in other words, as well as even-handed and non-intimidating. She posts fairly often, and her writing has a tone both cerebral and jaunty.

- Cheap Wine Ratings is the blog of two Cincinnati chaps, Tim Lemke and David Germano. As its name suggests, it's all about everyday wines, which they think shouldn't be priced more than $20, though they occasionally include recommendations slightly above that threshold. The point is that they write of wines that deliver value, and the wines they write of are approached with a sense of joyful discovery, without prejudice concerning varietal, region, style or so forth. I'm sure they write of Ohio wines, but in my brief scan of their material I didn't see mention of a single one. Instead, their view is ecumenical, their perspective fresh. Their choice of wines is timely and varied, their attitude breezy but informed. And their blog is a model of organization and maneuvaribility. And note that they note the wines they receive as samples, a nice touch of transparency.

- RJ on Wine is written by Richard Jennings, a passionate, self-described "wine geek" based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has an unrelated day job, but you wouldn't know it by the comprehensiveness and reach of his tasting notes, which are numerous and long. How does he make time to do all that? His tastes are diverse, his tone serious, and he obviously enjoys providing readers with deep background on the history, region or style of wine he is addressing in his latest roundup. His photos are boring, and he avoids prices, but he's endearingly enthusiastic, with no axes to grind, no positions to defend.

- Simple Hedonisms is a collaboration of several Sonoma County contributors, most notably vintner William Allen. While the attitude is enthusiastic and the focus is Sonoma County, this isn't a booster blog. The evaluations of wines are diverse and they ring with knowledge and candor. The information they provide is pragmatic and empowering, with the kind of confidence and balance that makes you eager to go out and grab a bottle to experience the wine for yourself.

It's interesting to me that two of these five, as well as others mentioned in the comments attached to Mabray's remarks, are decidedly regional in their focus. It's just a hunch on my part, but I suspect that the day is drawing near when regional wine blogs will have the most influence on the wine community. Why? Well, let me pull a few thoughts out of the air. The locavore movement is cultivating more appreciation of goods produced close to home, for one. Secondly, the world of wine is so wide, deep and diverse that no one person adequately can cover it all; this realization is fostering the rise of wine critics/columnists/bloggers who are content to study, experience, and report on specific regions, whether they be as big as Chile or as small as Napa Valley. There will remain a role for wine writers with a national or international platform like the New York Times and the Wine Spectator - provided, of course, there's still a New York Times and a Wine Spectator - but for everyday information on what's fermenting in their backyard I suspect wine enthusiasts will look closer to home for most of their guidance. I've no statistics, analysis, metrics or anything but intuition to back up this prediction, which pretty much qualifies me to be a fellow at the think-tank Vintank.


  1. Aside from the snarkiness regarding VinTank, great post.

    These are all fantastic bloggers who we truly respect and we know all of them personally and also consider them friends. I enjoy seeing great writers like these get even more publicity like this. Thank you for featuring other great wine bloggers.

  2. Hi Mike, I just recently ran across your name as well, nice to know you virtually. I like the way you describe my writing and I look forward to following your blog. Yes, I keep my location a secret...just kidding...I'm based in Marin County, smack in the middle of Sonoma, Napa and San Francisco. I have a very high interest in wines from around the world while benefitting greatly by being in the mecca of Northern CA Wine Country.

    I think your blog is terrific and look forward to meeting in person one day. Cheers~

  3. When you consider tens of thousands of liquor licenses in the US, plus all the people working in production and distribution, "tens of thousands of wine professionals" is a reasonable guesstimate of the number of people directly involved with wine. A large number of whom are at least theoretically influenceable by wine blogs. The scope and impact of that influence is very hard to measure, but it's good that companies like VinTank are trying to quantify this.

    1. There may be tens of thousands of people working in the wind trade, but sometimes I wonder whether most of the "professionals" are the truck drivers. Example: In Australia last year I stopped into a branch of a high-profile wine chain and asked a uniformed assistant where I could find their section of Margaret River cabernet sauvignons. "Is that a white wine or red?" she replied.

  4. Richard Jennings is a very good taster and writer covering a wide range of wines(for himself, and Huffington Post). Clearly under the radar, and highly respected. If he went pro, I would be his first subscriber!

    1. Doug,
      Thank you for the very kind comments. The fandom is very mutual.

  5. a great work covering wide range of expertise.

  6. Many thanks for your kind words Mike. Blogging is an often unpraised labor of love, so appreciation is always welcome!

    Simple Hedonisms has evolved into one of the wider read Bay area blogs (sometimes I wonder how) with 5-10k readers a month.
    It's funny, I had never intended to make wine reviews the core, but thats how its evolved. Partially because I don't have the time to do the creative journalistic stories I had hoped for, but people seem to enjoy these. I try to always incorporate some nugget of education.
    When Two Shepherds (my wine label, 2nd vintage) new website launches, I hope to do some writing there.
    Many (not all) of the event articles are local, its true. But my wine review focus isn't meant to be Sonoma focused on purpose. (and you will find reviews from all regions...the recent Rhone focus b/c of Rhone Rangers somewhat slanted things recently.)

    I love my adopted county, but I am as keen on Mendocino/Anderson Valley, Paso, Willamette, Santa Ynez, El Dorado.I guess being remote, I don't receive many samples from those areas, in fact I think I get more imports. I should reach out more, but don't.

    Not that I am begging for samples, or that samples are all I review. I do try and review interesting samples when I can, those are perhaps 40-50% of my reviews. The world is a big place, and many wines aren't variable locally, so its always great to get them on radar.
    I encourage wineries to reach out and ask. I am always up front, and will refuse a sample if I am fairly certain its not going to interest me.
    At a mininum any sample opened, I try and put into Cellartracker, and share with about 7k social media followers.

    Thanks for the love. Will add you to my roll if don't mind.

    Cheers! (and congrats on the WBM pickup)

    1. Thanks, William. When you figure out how to make "creative journalistic stories" pay in the blogosphere, please pass on the word. I didn't mean to suggest you are Sonoma exclusive, but in preparing that post I made this a very brief visit to a number of sites and chose those that I felt would provide wine enthusiasts with the most solid, timely, helpful and inspiring information.

  7. Mike,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. What's funny is I'm actually quite the Francophile (Europhile, really) when it comes to wine, but made a resolution to focus more on Washington wine since I live in Seattle. (I know, not rocket science here.) But there are plenty of Piquepoul and Muller Thurgau posts sprinkled in.



    1. Thanks for the input, Jameson. As I indicated, my visits to mentioned blogs were brief, and I went with instant reaction rather than deeper reading and reflection. However, I look forward to your take on Muller Thurgau, as well as other wines beyond the Northwest, though so much is going on in that region that is exciting and unrecognized you can keep plenty busy within a day's drive.

  8. Mike,
    I'm very honored by your inclusion of my RJonWine.com blog in your list yesterday. I think your description of it is quite accurate. (Yes, the photos are plentiful, but probably on the boring side. Time for a new camera.)I'm glad you find the enthusiasm endearing. I do a shorter, less geeky take on a lot of the same topics weekly for HuffingtonPost.

    Thanks also for introducing me to Cheap Wine Ratings and Girl with a Glass.

    I'm also a fan of your blog, and appreciate your excellent writing, journalistic approach and general skepticism.

    A friend pointed out Vintank's list to me a couple days ago, and claimed that most of the bloggers on that list had ties to Vintank. I just thought it was peculiar that they included a long defunct blog (Asimov's) on their list. The others are the "usual suspects," I suppose.

    Another blog I think you might find interesting is Fred Swan's NorCalWine.com.

    Warmest regards,

    1. Thanks for the tip, Richard. I'll check out Fred's blog. I don't have a clue about any link between VinTank and most of the bloggers it listed, but perhaps Paul Mabray, Alder Yarrow, Joe Roberts or one of the others can enlighten us about that. While Eric Asimov's blog is defunct, he does contribute to the paper's Diner's Journal, and perhaps that is what VinTank intended to reference. Along the same lines, the link to Jon Bonne's blog takes you to his last stand-alone post, which concerns mezcal, nearly two years old. Methinks maybe the folks at VinTank are spending a bit too much time thinking and not enough reading. For what it's worth, what I found most peculiar about the most-influential nine was the omission of one blogger who brings traditionally spunky journalistic reporting to his posts (W. Blake Gray) and one who brings more experience and depth to coverage of the California wine scene than all the nine combined (Charles Olken), with the possible exception of Steve Heimoff.

  9. Hi Mike (and all).

    Speaking only for myself here, I've no affiliation with Vintank. I'm just a fan of what they do, particularly with their Social connect product which I've been imploring wine brands to use for a long time now (before it was called social connect, actually).

    I think these lists get overblown, and quickly. I believe quite strongly that alternative media for wine coverage (such as blogs) will continue to gain increasing influence as a younger generation who is more apt to turn to their authors as taste-makers start to take over jobs that move cases of wine (at retail, distributors, importers, etc.); but we are not there yet.

    The time will come, but that time isn't now. That list probably represents the majority in the wine blogosphere who are best positioned to capitalize on that migration, but it's only a current snapshot.

    So while I'm happy to be on Vintank's list, I would caution not to read too much into it.

  10. RJ and Mike,
    We have no affiliation with any of theses bloggers other than meeting all of them in real life (just like meeting many of the bloggers you have on your list and 100's of more not on this list), having a deep respect for their work, and analyzing their influence through our software.

    We have deep respect for your work.

    Your continued snarky comments must be a key indicator of your real life personality. Sorry we put an old link up. It still does not diminish that Jon's one of the most important wine bloggers in the world.

  11. Paul,
    Thank you for the explanation, and for your kind words.
    In terms of your software analyzing influence, don't know if it is capable of taking into account blogs posted elsewhere--like Huffington Post and the Yahoo Patches--which I do as well as my blog. Just curious, as I know you mentioned Joe's reach through his new Playboy online pieces in the Vintank blogpost about influential bloggers.

  12. Great information! I will need to check more of these sites out in the near future.

    Andrea Jackson
    The Traveling Vineyard

  13. I would say one of the best and funniest wine blog I've ever read is www.12x75.com - they are also the same people that started the #7WordWineReview