Alder Yarrow of Vinography: Wine and Chinese food pairings as a ‘scam’, four overdone wine topics, and more


By Jim Boyce

Alder Yarrow of Vinography is often cited as among the most popular wine blogs, if not the most popular wine blog, in the world. I asked him about whether pairing wine with Chinese food is a “scam”, the four most overdone wine topics, the difference between wine bloggers and professional wine writers, stateside perceptions of the China wine market, and more.

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To what do you attribute the popularity of you blog? Will you end up the Robert Parker of the blog world and Alder-ize it?

While I may be a decent writer, and have worked hard on developing my palate over the years, the popularity of my blog most certainly owes a lot to what the business world calls first mover advantage. While there were a few other wine “journal” sites on the internet, I was for all intents and purposes the first to publish a blog about wine in the form that we expect blogs to take these days (daily posting, comments from readers, etc.). When I started, typing the phrase “wine blog” into Google didn’t get you anything. Now, of course, there are thousands of wine blogs in dozens of languages. In short, I have a two or three year head start on most people, and secured an audience and a name for myself when there was little or no competition.

Alder-ize the blog world? I’m realistic about my future. Blogs have a growing influence in the wine world, to be sure, but there are so many of them, at so many levels of quality, that internet savvy wine lovers can find it difficult to sort through them. I have no designs to become a full time wine writer, or turn Vinography into my full time job (by day I run a design firm called HYDRANT : www.hydrantsf.com). This is mostly because it’s tough to make a living writing about wine, and every day it gets tougher to be in the publishing business.

There is lots of talk about pairing Chinese food with wine, from claims it is impossible (since dishes with various flavors are simultaneously served) to suggestions for pairing individual dishes with wine. Given your post, “Wine and food pairing is just a scam” , what is your take?

That article of mine has a provocative title, but let me sum up the points:

1. The so called “rules” of wine and food pairing should be ignored in favor of experimentation.
2. Drink what you like no matter what. Life is too short to drink wine you don’t enjoy.
3. The only person who can truly say what wine goes with what food is YOU because only you know what tastes good to you.

I have enjoyed wine with Chinese food on many occasions. But it’s worth pointing out that I am one of the lucky Americans who actually knows that Chinese food is NOT what most restaurants in this country deliver in little white boxes. My wife is Shanghainese and so I have gotten quite an education on the regional cuisines of China and now clearly know the difference among Cantonese, Shanghainese, Sichuan, etc. Some of these cuisines are easier to enjoy with wine than others. The intense heat of Sichuan dishes are a very difficult thing to match with wine, while the much more subtle flavors of Shanghainese food lend themselves well to wine.

Yes, with many dishes on the table in a traditional Chinese meal there will certainly be hits or misses with wine, so anyone who claims to have the “one wine” that will go with dinner is crazy. People should try out a number of wines and find one they like, and if it doesn’t go with certain dishes, oh well. There’s always Tsing Tao beer.

There is plenty of talk of China being a top-ten wine producer, of having immense market potential, of Hong Kong being a fine wine hub, etc. What is the general view of China in the U.S. wine blogosphere and media?

Most people still think of China as a wine market, rather than a wine producer, though news stories like Chateau Lafite investing certainly are causing some people to perk up their ears and pay attention.

Have you tried any wines from China and, if so, what did you think?

Yes, I have. And one of them was fairly good. Please see my reviews here and here.

It seems many wine popular bloggers are not that distinct from professional wine writers, with the exception that they lack a mainstream media gig.

The main distinction between most bloggers and professional wine writers is that the writers actually get paid to write, whereas most bloggers don’t. Consequently, most bloggers don’t have editors, fact checkers, or other such institutional supports for their activities. Certainly there are those bloggers like myself who treat their writing with a level of professionalism that is no different that most wine writers, and Tyler Colman [of the Dr. Vino blog] is a great (and rare) example of a wine blogger that has transitioned to being a professional wine writer. Though it must be said, he doesn’t make a living by writing – his income comes from speaking and teaching mostly.

In this post, you call “wine lovers… whining about high alcohol wines” the “topic du jour”, and say that if consumers did not want such wines, they would not be made. What are you top five peeves, or “topic du jours”?

The top four topics that I would like to see a lot LESS writing about in the world:

1. Globalization is ruining wine and making it all taste the same.
2. Robert Parker and his 100 point system has turned consumers into sheep and all wines into fruit bombs.
3. Bordeaux is overpriced, and what are we going to do about it.
4. Wine was so much better when it was 13.2% alcohol, and these 14.5% wines are horrible.

And if I had a nickel for every social media web site for wine lovers that popped up since I wrote this article,  I would be rich man.

What is the best thing and the worst thing about being a wine blogger?

The best thing about being a wine blogger is getting to write about whatever I want and say whatever I want about it, and being able to swear while doing it, if needed. The worst thing about being a wine blogger is not getting paid for it.

(For more interviews with wine personalities based in and out of China, see the sidebar on the right side of this blog).

1 Comment on Alder Yarrow of Vinography: Wine and Chinese food pairings as a ‘scam’, four overdone wine topics, and more

  1. Good article. Yes ‘Chinese cuisine’ (whatever that is) comes under fire for its difficulty to pair with wines because of the ‘sharing of dishes’ style. But most dining styles will face some difficulties to some degree. Take a traditional American restaurant situation. Party is seated, offered drinks, wine menu handed to a member of the party who then chooses a bottle of wine, most of the time, before the other parties select their individual meals. It is too much to expect for one bottle of wine to pair successfully with everybody’s (different) meals at the table. The only way to attempt to successfully pair all meals with wine, is for all guests to order separate wines (by the glass?), if you are lucky enough to be in a restaurants that has a multiple range of wines available by the glass. Unlikely situation?

    Also agree that Chinese cuisine is so diverse that we should be wary of statements like ‘this wine is great with Chinese style cuisine’ (are any Gong Bao Chicken recipes the same in Beijing restaurants?), or alternatively, ‘wine does not suit Chinese cuisine’. Often this last statement is made by sommeliers that have a European wine/cuisine background, who are more comfortable working with more subtle flavours. There are an array of more robust flavoured wines that suit stronger/spicier cuisine styles.

    Lastly, from my experience, everybody has different tastes, influences, and abilities to perceive aspects in foods and wines. So even if one person loves a particular food – wine pairing, your spouse may think your tastes in cuisine is rubbish.

    But when you do find that fantastic match of the right wine with a particular dish, you’ll remember it for a long time.

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