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Over the years, with the old Underground Wineletter, we received many interesting letters.  Some complimentary, some less so, some critical, some constructive, etc.  I think you get the picture.  From this, I chose a selected cross section of letters to publish written replies.  One of these appeared in Volume III, #1 in 1981.

We decided to call this feature “Cork Poppers,” and it proved very popular with our subscribers.  We plan to continue this feature as a regular part of our web site.  And, to get started, we are kicking off with a real classic Cork Poppers from Volume, X, #1, in1988.

Cork Poppers


Dear Mr. Tilson,

At a recent tasting of Rhone wines of our tasting group, a copy of your Wine Journal was present.  We were all shocked  to notice that all of your introductory comments on the Rhone wines appeared to have been lifted directly from Robert Parker’s book on The Rhone Valley and Provence.  As a professor of English, I wonder if this is not blatant plagiarism.  Surely, it would have been appropriate to place a footnote acknowledging your sources in the proper academic manner.  By copy of this letter, we’re advising Mr. Parker and his publisher of this abuse.

On an unrelated matter, members of our tasting group who collectively receive a half dozen differing wine publications, have concluded that no publication has declined in quality as much as yours.  Ten years ago it was close in quality to Parker’s Wine Advocate.  Today your crass commercialism, preschool writing style (all the tasting notes sound the same), and constant cheap shots at Parker, have all made us conclude that you have turned into small, jealous, bitter people who have forgotten what a consumer advocate is all about.  Perhaps it is time for you to call it quits rather than become the National Enquirer of wines.

Sincerely yours,

Nancy Maile

Portland, OR


Dear Professor Maile:

I am in receipt of your little diatribe of June 13, 1988.  I must say in opening that your understanding of basic journalistic fundamentals is sadly lacking for a person of even rudimentary understanding, much less of your supposed “Professor of English” status.  Moreover, may I suggest that you check your facts thoroughly before even thinking of accusing anyone of plagiarism, much less of “blatant plagiarism.”

In my ten years of involvement with this wine publication we’ve been called many things, but your accusation of plagiarism is simply absurd.  All tasting notes are ours entirely, and factual information regarding production, vineyard acreage, etc., is obtained either from producers, negociants, wholesalers, or importers, or from various industry publications.

However, I am sure the ubiquitous Mr. Parker appreciates having such an alert and protective watch dog up there in Portland, ready to come to his defense at the drop of a cork.  And, I also feel compelled to congratulate you on your mastery of superlatives and exaggerations, lessons well learned, no doubt, from your listed sources of reading material.

With regard to your other comments, I can only say that your alleged familiarity with our publication leaves me a bit confused.  We show no record of you ever having been a subscriber.  And surely, with your academic background, you haven’t been violating copyright laws regarding reproduction of our Journal.  Therefore, I can only assume that you have confused us with one of the other publications referenced in your letter.

But, nonetheless, let me respond to your allegations.  First of all, we are many things, but I would hardly call us commercial.  I’ve never drawn a salary from this publication (10 years) and our editorial staff (with the exception of one person employed by the publisher) works without any compensation at all.  In short, we do it because we love what we’re doing, and not for the money.  If, in your view, this makes us guilty of  “crass commercialism,” I submit you’re confused on the meaning of this term as well.  Second, with regard to “preschool writing style,” I can only agree that we could invent terms as some wine writers are prone to do, and use terms that no one could possibly pretend to understand, or even use just a number to describe wines, but we just don’t find such elaborations or shortcuts either appropriate or descriptive.  We could also lace our commentary with an abundance of superlatives, but this is simply hype.  What we do try to do is describe what we see, smell, and taste as accurately and descriptively as possible, in understandable English.  And finally, regarding your allegation of “constant cheap shots at Parker,” I can only say that this is so blatantly absurd that I’m wondering if you might not be suffering from some unfulfilled maternal instincts!

So there it is, Professor, the cold, hard facts.  I hope this will serve to set the record straight, but since we’ve published our wine commentary without you for the past decade, I don’t really expect we’ll miss you much going forward, either.  However, I assure you that we will continue to taste and evaluate our wines, without any outside influence, for as long as our lives hold out.  We’re having a great time doing it and most certainly are not “small,” “jealous,” or “bitter,” as you accuse.  In fact, I am tempted to send you some candid photos just to prove this point.  And, if this interests you, please be so kind as to send me candid photos of yourself, as well as samples of your wine tasting expertise and wine writing style (preferably on your letterhead).  Then I’d say we’d be on a real even basis to continue our little pen pal club.  So, let me hear from you, if you’re up to it.  If not, I’ll understand.


John Tilson

Well, I guess you can see the controversy here.  But, my published reply seems to have quieted the storm that seemed to have been brewing up in Oregon.  For we never did hear back from the good professor and I never got any candid photos!

Going forward, we welcome your comments and inquiries (positive or negative) – photos, we’ll leave to your discretion!

In Vino Veritas,

John Tilson