Wine Spectator

I'm not a Wine Spectator so much as a Wine Participant. I had the good fortune to attend a college that offered 800 or so of its 21-and-up matriculants the opportunity to take part, for actual course credit, in a massive weekly tasting session each semester. I left school functionally illiterate, but with a bulletproof liver and the knowledge that Thai food should always, always, always be paired with a piquant Gewürztraminer. If you take one thing away from this column, let it be that.

I'm told that Wine Spectator has bulked up its staff in recent months, but mostly it seems to have bulked up its repertoire of adjectives. Words used to describe new wines in the June 30 issue include "ultraripe," "superripe," "ultrajammy" and "superjammy" -- somebody get those crazy kids some new prefixes. Here's a question: Which of the following is more worthy of the description "a zesty spice bomb," the Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs 2005 or Shakira? The mind boggles.

Wine Spectator is the best at what it does by a wide margin, mostly owing to the staggering volume of information it conveys. I can mock the dippily worded reviews all I want, but they do a fine, if verbally redundant, job of describing a particular wine's appeal in a mere 50 words. The "Savvy Shopper" and "Collecting" sections play to the zealots, while the lifestyle content hits broader. In recent months, Wine Spectator has consistently excelled at the latter, whether a comprehensive Bordeaux region travelogue or the "Tastes" bits about brining pork chops.

Of course, the magazine mostly concerns itself with wines and the sniffing/sipping/immediate palate-preserving expulsion thereof. You won't find a better analysis -- and "analysis" is the right word -- of the 2006 Bordeaux or 2004-2005 Zinfandel wines anywhere on the planet. My interest was similarly piqued by the "Up Front" mix of news blurbs, especially the one on dogs sniffing out the "destructive mealybug." Get that mutt a dish of Portugese Albariño.

The mag's columnists, however, are a fairly humorless lot. The "Spirits" columnist weighs in on rum (his verdict: it's OK!), while another devotes several hundred words to debating whether pinot noir has become boring (it says here that such a determination should hinge upon whom you're drinking it with). Much more involving is the piece on high-alcohol wines, which calmly assesses both the pro and con arguments.

A quick thought: From the smiling-vintner-guy photos in the June 30 issue, it appears that it is no longer a requirement that one wear wire-rimmed glasses in order to enjoy wine. Can anybody confirm?

As for the cover story on "Green Revolutionaries," it's thoroughly reported and snappily written and all that good stuff. I just can't stomach another going-green/if-we-don't-save-the-earth-who-will?-surely-not-the-Republicans! story, is the problem. I beseech you, trend-grubbing editors of motives pure: stop assigning these pieces. The world's a mess and we need to do something about it -- we get it. At this point, I'd much rather hear about environmental scofflaws or cafeteria fiends who sprinkle asbestos "flavoring" on kids' cheeseburgers.

But that's just me; folks who aren't condemned to reading tens of magazines every week might feel otherwise. So yeah, the occasional spill (get it?) aside, Wine Spectator mostly works for me. To summarize my feelings, I'd like to borrow a few descriptive phrases from the issue's wine buying guide. While shy in aroma and a bit steely with tannins, Wine Spectator fleshes out beautifully if you're patient. It may be tight on the nose, but it is as untamed as its name suggests.

****** Since I don't feel like working on July 5, either, we'll be running a third edition of Uncle Larry's Magazine Rack Funtime Family Mailbag that day. Send questions to me at or post 'em to the Magazine Rack blog thing, assuming it still exists.

Published by: M. Shanken Communications, Inc.
Frequency: 16 issues per year
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