WSJ’s Lettie Teague “On Wine” and My Tweets
I was pleasantly surprised to discover an e-mail in my inbox from Lettie Teague. She thanked me for reading her Wall Street Journal wine articles and also generously indicated that she has followed and read some of my blog posts. But her actual reason for the correspondence was to clarify the formats of the two distinct columns she writes: “On Wine” and “Drinking With.”
You see, if you follow me on Twitter (@ThomasFavorite), you know I am a loyal WSJ reader, and you may have noticed that I have not been shy with my opinions about some of Ms. Teague’s articles. Most of my Tweets have been positive, but there were a couple of snarky remarks about her “Drinking With” articles that included, what I call, celebrities. She prefers “accomplished and interesting people.” In her e-mail, she gracefully explained the focus of her two columns. “On Wine” is just that: commentary and information on wine appellations, producers, styles, etc. “Drinking With” is “intended as an entertaining (and perhaps, amusing) column featuring conversations with accomplished and interesting people, while drinking and talking about wine.” In my Tweets, I basically indicated that I wanted to hear more about wine and less about celebrities, but I neglected to at least acknowledge the focus of her two distinct columns.
Before I explain my angst over injecting “accomplished and interesting people” into wine writing, let’s get one thing straight about Lettie Teague. She is a successful, professional wine columnist and author. Me? I sell wine for a living and write this humble blog to share my thoughts and expertise, and I supplement it with Tweets. My opinions are based on many years of wine industry experience and travel, and representation of hundreds of wineries from around the world. I do not consider my writing to be in the same orbit as Ms. Teague’s. She is a pro and she is very, very good.
Lettie Teague, in fact, is currently a staff writer and wine columnist for The Wall Street Journal. She was also the executive wine editor at Food & Wine magazine for many years and wrote a monthly column called “Wine Matters.” She has won two James Beard Foundation Awards for wine writing, and is the author/co-author of two wine books: “Educating Peter: How Anybody Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert,” and “Fear of Wine: An Introductory Guide to the Grape.” Ms. Teague is also articulate and charming on camera; search for her on YouTube or Mitrasites.com and you will discover some well-done wine videos. You will also find a few more on her website at www.lettieteague.com.
With a resume like her’s, I honestly expected more of a firm reaction about my comments; but she was diplomatic, frank and appreciative of my patronage of her columns. I am just one of millions of WSJ readers and she could have easily afforded to jettison a whiner like me.
With that, I must explain my reaction to the celebrity component of her columns, and my thoughts about wine, in general. I am a purist. I believe that wine is food and that it is a component of a good meal. Wine can turn an ordinary meal into a great one. It is also a part of our culture—perhaps not to the extent of the French or Italians—but in California and other parts of the United States, it has become much more than just a beverage. A large part of its charm is that you can actually visit the place where it was produced, possibly walk through the vineyards, and even meet the people who crafted it. Conversely, you may experience a perfect steak but you will probably never be motivated to visit the cattle ranch that supplied it. People obviously become very passionate about wine and it regularly evokes nostalgia: “we ordered this wine on our first date and poured it at our wedding” or “we visited the winery and fell in love with this vintage,” or ” I always fondly think of my parents when I drink this wine.” It is always a great pleasure to share those stories and sentiments during a meal or over a glass on the patio. So why would I become so cranky and ornery about hearing the same passionate stories from celebrities or Lettie’s “accomplished and interesting people?” Unfortunately, from my perspective, some consumers have been lured into being too engaged in how expensive a wine is, who is drinking it, or how many points it earned from a critic, than in its unique quality, the romance of the place it came from, or the story about the hard-working and passionate people who produced it. Chris Erskine recently wrote a fun article in the LA Times that described patrons with “wine envy” at the Hollywood Bowl straining to check out each other’s wine labels (Man of the House: Hollywood Bowl and a corkscrew — a great match). Erskine’s observations mirror my belief that wine needs to be enjoyed more, and scrutinized less.
I am fortunate to be constantly surrounded by wine and food at work and leisure, and my sensitivity to over-exposure and manipulation is obviously enhanced by the way I make a living. I must acknowledge, however, that I welcome new wine drinkers who are influenced by Lettie Teague’s articles and those readers who learn something new about the world of wine and food. If some people are turned onto wine by something that may turn me off, then that is my problem, and ultimately I am thrilled to have them share my passion. Similarly, I am not a fan of white zinfandel; but if someone enjoys it, at least they are drinking wine. And eventually they will explore something more interesting.
In closing, there is just one more thing about celebrities that will hopefully help wrap up my snarky reaction to Lettie’s “Drinking With” articles. I deeply admire the incredible talent, hard work and perseverance of actors, singers, dancers, writers, athletes, painters and all of the other gifted people who may be categorized as celebrities. I enjoy learning about a celebrity’s work and how they got there, what they have overcome along the way, and where they are going. However, I am not curious about their wine preferences, political views, household product use, car choices, etc. It is just not interesting to me. HOWEVER, I am obviously in the minority or Lettie Teague would not be writing about “accomplished and interesting people” in her wonderful WSJ wine columns that reach millions of people. Please continue to read her excellent writing and commentary, and I will too. www.lettieteague.com