A Times Critic on How a Diversity of Wines Has Transformed the Industry

From a Times Insider column by Josh Ocampo headlined “For a Wine Critic, Experience Ages Well”:

Boxed wine. Nonalcoholic wine. Even weed wine. Wine isn’t exactly what it used to be.

Perhaps no one knows that better than Eric Asimov, the wine critic for The New York Times. In his 25 years of swirling, sniffing, sipping and writing about wine, Mr. Asimov has seen trends come and go, from the polarizing rise of natural wines to the fervor for rosé all day.

“There are so many more different types of wine available today than there were 20 or 30 years ago,” he said in an interview. “I find myself constantly exploring, trying new things and learning how much I don’t know every day.” He says he finds stories simply by talking to people, visiting places, and of course, tasting new things.

When reporting an article, Mr. Asimov may sample 15 to 20 wines. Surprisingly, he doesn’t have a favorite — he enjoys whatever pairs best with his meal. “People should never trust wine or restaurant critics who complain about how hard their job is,” he said.

Mr. Asimov shared his thoughts on the expanding wine scene and the most common feedback he hears from readers.

You have been the wine critic for The Times for about 20 years and wrote about food and wine before then. How has your coverage changed in that time?

My coverage of wine reflects the wine culture of the United States in many ways — and of the world. That culture has evolved significantly. I started writing about wine in 1999. In the United States, there was a dominant critical line that favored powerful, fruity, ultra-ripe wines. Critics were not very tolerant of anyone who didn’t go along with that.

From the 1990s to around 2010, there was also great concern around the world that wine was becoming homogenized; that there was less growth of individual expressions of wine and that much of the culture around wine would disappear.

In fact, the opposite happened over that time in the United States. The wine scene has become more diverse. And around the world, as it turns out, people have an appetite for diversity rather than just a few dominant types of wine.

I’m curious what your inbox looks like. Do you receive pitches from winemakers every day asking you to sample wines?

Yes, I get pitches to sample wines, to speak to sommeliers, to go to restaurants. These emails are from all over the world. That’s another surprising thing that I never foresaw — how The Times has become so global and how wine is such a globalized product. I also get emails from people on the Upper West Side, for example, who are annoyed that they can’t find a wine I’ve written about in their local wine shop.

What do you often hear from readers?

A lot of people will disagree with things that I wrote. I’ve been told I have a palate of lead. A lot more people, though, will thank me for articles. I get emails from people seeking advice, like, “I inherited this wine from my mother 30 years ago, when should I open it?” Those are very difficult questions to answer because one of the things I like to preach about wine is that nobody is omniscient — not even critics. There are random factors involved in wine, and when to open a bottle is one of them.

Have you seen reader feedback change in your years at The Times?

These days, I am getting a lot more disgruntled people who think that no wine is worth more than $5 and that anything more is for gullible elites. Wine is very intimidating, so it tends to reflect a political divide.

What is challenging about covering wine?

I believe there are only two wine critics on staff at major newspapers in this country, and I’m the only one covering the wines of the world. The benefit of working for a place that believes in independent journalism, and has the resources to support it, is tremendously liberating and empowering.

As somebody who has been writing critically about wine and food for more than 30 years, I will say there’s a lot of responsibility because you’re often dealing with people’s businesses and livelihoods. You can’t write things thoughtlessly or carelessly.

What’s the one wine you wish more people knew about?

I’ll just mention a very well-known wine, Chianti Classico. To my surprise, it continues to be consigned to the stereotype of Italian restaurant wine. It’s one of the great wines of the world.

And one wider category: The wines of Germany are terrific, and there’s so much variety in them beyond riesling, which is wonderful in and of itself. I need to do that story — that’s on my list.

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