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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Interview with Wine Spectator Executive Editor Thomas Matthews: Part 3!

What are your thoughts on social media and how it has affected the wine industry? 

It seems right now that’s its still kind of a tempest in a teapot. I mean, there’s definitely a tempest, but it seems like it’s still kind of a small teapot. I’m sure as it develops it will have a broader and broader impact on culture as a whole and will be a more and more important part of a publication or media company that wants to get its message out and retain and interact with its readers. Wine Spectator has a Facebook Page and we're on Twitter, a few of our editors tweet but it's still kind of limited as we understand how people are using it. I would say our magazine readers are still not really social media people, and my guess is that most of our website users are not active either, but we do need to find a way to engage with the people who are engaged. I think the bottom line is real engagement with real people and how to really maximize that through social networks and we’re still experimenting.

Generally speaking, what are your thoughts on wine bloggers? 

You know people blog for so many different reasons from so many different angles that I think it's impossible to generalize. You have the trade people who are talking about the trade, you’ve got the explorers who are kind of learning and their blog mirrors their progress as they’re learning and that’s useful. Then there’s a few that are trying to be aggregators or pot stirrers so I don’t think you can really generalize, but it’s clear that some people are creating brands for themselves which they may or may not be able to monetize. I think, bottom line, the ones that I tend to go back to have a clear personal voice and point of view. They have a knowledge and a passion about wine you can see, and their content is educational enough so that there’s a reason to read it.
Was there one particular bottle of wine that sparked your love of wine? 

Many people have that epiphany bottle, but that never really happened to me. I mean really for me, I had drunk wine in college and after college and I thought I was learning about wine because I knew the difference between Margaux and Chateau Margaux but I had never really drunk any ‘great’ wine or nothing that really stuck in my mind. Just drinking the wine at the property [in Bordeaux] with the food that the woman cooked with the workers under the sun, that was enough. Since then of course I’ve had the great good fortune of drinking incredible wines and many of them have marked me in indelible ways but I wouldn’t say it was because of a bottle of wine that I fell in love with wine, it was really more the people and the place. 

What’s your favorite everyday wine?

A $15, 88-pointer from anywhere around the world. I mean I buy most of the wine that I drink. I have some very good retail shops in my neighborhood that I have good relationships with, so I’ll go in and ask them what they’ve tried that’s interesting, or I’ll read about something in a magazine that I’ll want to try, or I’ll just pick a wine because it’s from a place that I don’t know about. But on the other hand, my mother-in-law lives on our ground floor and she is a great cook and a real wine lover and unfortunately she’s developed a taste for Burgundy. So when I go down to her place for dinner, I have to take a Burgundy. I mean she’s ok with a Macon, but if I take a Chassagne she’s really happy, and if I take a Corton-Charlemagne she’ll cook me a Blanquette de Veaux

What are some of your favorite food and wine pairings? 

I like the classic pairings because I like the classic dishes and the classic wines like a Barolo with a Brasato, or a Burgundy with a Coq au Vin, or Bordeaux with lamb those are kind of where my tendencies go but I don’t feel like we should be that strict with ourselves most of the time. It’s fun to try to engineer a perfect match and it’s thrilling when it happens but I think random serendipity is also fun to try and some things happen that you wouldn’t really expect. When I was in Bordeaux I stayed for a night with my friends I met back in 1986 when I was living in the little village. He cooked fresh Brittany scallops that he does with a black pepper and bitter chocolate sauce and he served a 2007 Saumur Blanc. I mean that’s not a wine I would pick up off a wine shelf, and yet there was something about the mellowness of the Saumur that kind of nestled in with the sauce that was kind of hauntingly almost sweet and then there was the acidity that Chenin Blanc always has that picked up on the scallops so it just kind of "whoa"!

What would you like more people to know about Wine Spectator?

At Wine Spectator we’re critics yes, but we are educators first and foremost. Our goal is to help people understand the world of wine and find their way into it in a way that suits themselves. We’re not trying to lead anybody by the nose, we’re trying to encourage people to learn and engage and develop their own sense of joy and wonder and pleasure in wine. 

Secondly, we’re trying to be very professional about what we do. We have a big staff that takes a lot of resources, but we want to be fair and objective and authoritative in our wine reviews and balanced and authoritative in our stories. Really, it’s a mission of ours to be credible so that people will trust us as guides as they follow their own journey into wine. I think sometimes people see us as too commercial or as heavy-handed authorities, but we’re just a bunch of people who are passionate about wine who are trying to bring other people and ignite their passions for wine as well. I mean that’s been my journey, it was all serendipitous, it was kind of accidental and driven by passion and hope and risk and luck.

A big thank you to Thomas Matthews for sharing his fascinating story and helpful advice for those who are passionate about wine or interested in pursuing a career in the wine industry. To read the previous installments of this interview, please check out Part 1 and Part 2 here on The Glamorous Gourmet.

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