Review of the Wine Media: “Vintage Experiences”
The fifth in a series of reviews of wine publications
I’ve learned more about the wine industry from Dan Berger than any other wine writer. He’s one of those writers who cares deeply about wine, the wine industry and the people who people it. So it should be no surprise that I would call his weekly newsletter, "Vintage Experiences", a must read.
First, Berger has been at this for some time. He began writing about wine in the mid 1970s when he was a sports reporter in Los Angeles. He also has worked as a business editor. He was the wine columnist for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, the San Diego Union and at the Los Angeles Times for six years. He’s a noted wine competition coordinator and has judged competitions in the United States, Europe and Australia. He’s be presented with numerous awards for his contribution to the industry. And, the man knows everyone. Plus, he’s a wonderful writer.
Add this all up, give him a venue where he can report and editorialize at the level he’s capable and you have his newsletter, "Vintage Experiences".
The weekly newsletter arrives either via e-mail in the form of a PDF or via snail mail. Each issue includes a main story that is often a commentary on a particular issue facing the industry. Sometimes it will be a review of a region. It’s always topical and deeply researched and thought out. More often than not, two or three related stories. In the latest issue, Berger reports on the "Uneasy Accord" that exists between growers and grape buyers and how this has led to a recent re-evaluation of how grapes are priced. It’s a nuanced piece that takes into account the economics of grapegrowing, the demands placed on growers by wineries wanting grapes picked much later and at higher brix, the impact on wine quality and on vine health that results from excessively low yields in the vineyards, and the personalities involved in the issue.
Each issue also includes a page of wine reviews. Dan will often relate the results of recent tastings he’s done at home or with a producer, of wines he’s discovered at competitions or from tastings he’s attended. A "Wine of the Week" and "Bargain Wine" are also included in each issue.
Dan Berger has a reputation for not liking excessively oaked wines, wines with little acidity and wines that are victim of excessive extraction. I’ve read his reviews pretty close for a number or years now. His tastes can be misunderstood in my opinion. What he seems to want and sometimes pleads for, are balance wines. In today’s climate where huge, massively extracted monsters have somehow been called "high quality" Dan’s calls for balance can almost seem extreme, the product of a "luddite" of the wine world. This more a comment on the state of the wine industry than Berger’s palate.
His reviews almost always are concise and offer a context for the wine. As well as offering a "Wine of the Week" and "Bargain Wine" designation, wines are ranked as "Exceptional", "Highly Recommended" and "Recommended." Dan describes his wine rating philosophy thus:
Many of you know of my abhorrence for numbering systems as tools to the understanding of wine. The problem is obvious: wine is a living thing that changes almost weekly; wine is also a product not just of what’s in the glass, but also of the context in which it is consumed. Also, wine’s character is a result of its grape variety, the soil it grew in and wine-making goals and procedures. So it has at least three dimensions, the most important of which is the context. Therefore, a single number as a reflection of its general quality is just too simplistic a notion.
An example of his fine reviews from his latest issue:
2001 Arger-Martucci Pinot Noir, Carneros ($30): Fragrance of cherry, underbrush, and clove, but not oak-driven. There is a slight Burgundian feel here, with lower alcohol than most Pinots I see (13.5%) and a silky, yet still crisp finish. May be limited in availability, or call the winery, 707-963-4334. Exceptional
It’s all there, isn’t it.
Berger’s reputation and the respect the industry has for him means that a good review from him goes a long way among those who know him. Still, the indispensable nature of "Vintage Experiences" is in the articles and commentary that come with each issue. It’s like going to school when each issue arrives.
The Vintage Experiences website has a sample issue. The sample issue rotates each week but doesn’t offer the current issue.
$58 for 48 Issues Per Year