Industry Spin Pimps "turn out" Food & Wine Magazine! - Printable Version

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- Botafogo - 01-02-1999 06:35 PM

The following is an open letter to the owners and editors of Food & Wine Magazine:

As a partner in a retailer with a national reputation for bringing the consumer outstanding values and the highest possible quality by offering over 150 Champagnes (mostly from Grand Cru owning single producers) every day, I was mortally offended by the editor of your magazine being "turned
out" by the Ho-Master Spin Gods of Seagrams, Remy Martin and Schieffelin on this morning's CBS News morning show!

For your magazine to flat out dismiss world-class producers like Villmart, Billiot, Egly-Ouriet, Guy Larmandier, Gosset and dozens more by saying "there are hundreds of producers but only twelve Grand Marques which are the ones you want to buy" and then pronouncing the flagship brand of the largest industrial producer (Dom Perignon) to be "the Big Magilla" of Champagnes you are doing a grave disservice to consumers who have the
opportunity to buy BETTER Champagnes for LESS money every day. We are but one outlet among scores nationwide (D&M in San Francisco and Pop's In Chicago are other good examples) but this small excerpt from our list should give you a clue as to what a magazine like yours would do if it was even vaguely interested in objective journalism:

"Champagne is WINE? Gee, I never thought of it that way!"

And the marketing weasels at the big industrial "name brand" houses (conspicuous by their absence from our selection of over 100 of the best Champagnes made) spend millions of dollars to keep most people thinking that the great, small production, artisinal wines are somehow "off brands" (this sickness pollutes the Cognac market too but that's another rant). In fact, Champagne is the northernmost part of Burgundy, growing the same varieties in an even more difficult climate and all the rules apply:

1) The best wines are made from Grand Cru and Premier Cru Vineyards.

2) The best producers are maniacal, hands-on grower / winemaker types, not jet-set pseudo-royalty who've inherited the figurehead proprietorship of a "luxury brand" owned and controlled by an insurance company or liquor distributor.

3) The best wines are NOT made in quantities of millions of cases (thousands of bottles is more likely!).

4) Most of the best producers are not in the industrial centers of Rheims or Epernay but out in the villages with fanciful names like Dizy, Bouzy and Ludes. Among houses who make more wine than any single cru can produce, quality leaders like Krug, Albert Le Brun, Gosset and Bollinger (all champions of the "British Style" of rich, substantial, full-flavored fizz) follow the philosophy outlined on the back of every bottle of "Bolly": at least 80% of the grapes come from classified
vineyards with more than half the blend being Pinot Noir, significant use of oak barrels is maintained and even the multi-vintage cuvées are aged on the lees a minimum of three years and often much longer (the Big Boys trot out theirs at 18 months, the legal minimum).

These houses are engaged in a battle for the very soul of Champagne with the industrial producers who want the French government to deregulate Champagne altogether. They need your support and their wines are better anyway!

Of special added consumer interest is that the marketing weasels have been so successful that the best Champagnes often cost far less than the commercial fizz due to lack of demand and the absence of giant ad budgets,
the need to pour Jeroboams over the heads of athletes or giving significant proportions of the inventory away at charity functions. A win-win situation for savvy buyers!!! This is not just our opinion: Robert Parker Jr. recently ranted that "Commercial greed has driven most firms to call nearly every harvest a vintage year...the quality of the non-vintage cuvées has deteriorated...the wines have become greener and more acidic, suggesting that producers not only have lowered quality standards but are releasing
their wines as quickly as possible." In a recent issue of The Wine Spectator the flagship bottling of a very famous house renown for their window displays and Halloween parties as well as a tradition of huge, toasty, yeasty, full-bodied wines was reviewed as"lean in style...lemon and
grapefruit flavors... refreshing if rather austere...85/100" although they also felt compelled for some reason (ad revenue?) to preface that with "this is very good Champagne". We would agree if it was $15.99 but since it is not, here are alternatives for those of you who want to pay for wine
instead of PR, ads and trips to Vegas for Liquor Lizards:

I deleted the list here as that is not the issue. Cheers, Roberto

- tomstevenson - 01-06-1999 01:43 PM

I realise that TV viewers in the former colonies are used to air-heads talking a lot and saying very little, but whoever said "there are hundreds of producers but only twelve Grand Marques which are the ones you want to buy" must have been close to brain-dead. For a start, the Grandes Marques were disbanded in 1997 and even when they existed there were 24 of them, not 12. Claiming there are hundreds of producers is something of an understatement. There are some 2,500 producers who churn out more than 12,200 brands (and the growers are just as much to blame for these fantasy labels as the houses). Multiply that figure by four, the average number of products per brand, and we end up with 50,000 "different" Champagnes. And somebody reckons only twelve brands are worth considering ..... Is Botafogo's rant accurate? I don't agree with everything he says (there are lots of superb Champagnes produced by even the largest of the former grandes marques - even Mumm produced good wines in 1995 and just wait until the 1996s hit the shelf), but he certainly does name some great growers and I would much rather browse through his 150 than brain-dead's 12.

- danberger - 01-06-1999 09:31 PM

Of course, someone has to buy Dom Perignon and if Mr. BD is appealing to anyone with his suggestion, he is appealing to those who have more dollars than sense -- meaning they are willing to spend $160 per magnum for 1988 DP (actual price at Costco this week). Thanks, TS, for the great post. It's always fun to read your stuff. Incidentally, I loved your encyclopedia.