Wine, it's the other red fluid

Wine X's attempts at hipsterism evoke the not so subtle smell of oak barrel-aged fish. Plus: Geeks, freaks, fashion weeks and conspiracy theorists.

Published October 1, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Among Pinot Noir-scented candles and Special Millennial Wine Corkers at the Napa Valley winery I visited this weekend sat an untouched pile of Wine X magazines. For those who don't know, Wine X is a self-styled "zine" whose purpose is to communicate to us Beaujolais Nouveaus that wine's hip, baby. It's cooool. You like the Chemical Brothers? Wine requires chemistry! Coolio, Daddy-o! Or, as they put it, Wine X is "A New Voice for a New Generation of Wine Consumers."

Launched in 1997, when winemakers funded several ad and marketing campaigns geared toward snagging younger wine connoisseurs, Wine X is unabashed about its purpose. The front page of its Web site is loaded with links like, "If you market wine, Read This!" or "Marketing Wine to Generation X." The gist? Sure, these leather-clad pipsqueaks may only be able to afford a $5 bottle of Merlot now, but think of the cellar they'll build when those stock options vest! Addict them while they are young!

So here I am, the target demographic -- under 30 and into visiting wineries, no less! -- with $3.95 to spare. I buy a copy of Wine X, the magazine that's made for people like me, and I read it. I read it while drinking wine on a Burgundy-colored sofa.

Is there a smart, well-written, bullshit-free wine zine out there for wine-drinkers of modest means, but discerning tastes? Wine X isn't it. First off, Jason Priestley (never was cool) is on the cover talking about the Barenaked Ladies (a blip on the cool screen two years ago), alien abductions (whatever, dude) and -- pay close attention, folks -- "getting' hooked on wine." "Getting'"? I think they meant "gettin'." Apparently, Wine X's plan to win the hearts and palates of "Generation X" is to provide them with an abundance of excess apostrophes. Take this sentence from Publisher Darryl Roberts' intro to this issue: "Well, here it is late June goin' on September." Or this one: "Has the coming of fall got you thinkin' 'bout headin' to wine country?"

It's downhill from there, with a horoscope that tells me what I should drink this month and reviews of chick flicks ("The Gyno-American cinema movement"). Wine X tells me far more about what the people who market wine think of me than about wine itself. I apparently have a low income, like to cook for my friends, find Jason Priestley fascinating and don't flinch when a Duke Ellington tribute is in the section "Sex, Wine and Rock N' Roll." Frankly, I don't know how these folks have made it to Volume 3, Issue 5. Who reads this swill?

To be fair, I agree with Wine X that wine (and food, and travel) writing could be infused with some fruity style and down-to-earthy flavors. Apparently, Wine X started as a clunky black-and-white 'zine that dared to fulfill that mission. But, like so many good things, it's been co-opted by an industry, given the phony stamp of corporate America and sent out not to demystify a beverage that brings pleasure to millions, young and old, but to crassly hawk a product. Whatever, dude.

The Stranger, Sept. 30-Oct. 7

"Fuck New York, Paris, Milan and London" by Adrian Ryan

In this wickedly funny take on New York's Fashion Week, Adrian Ryan boils Seattle's fashion philosophy down to the essentials: "Seattle is blessedly free of label whores and name-droppers, and its style-savvy natives have boiled the true essence of fashion down to its simplest and most effective elements: A) Do I look like I just got fucked? B) Does it look like I care that I look like I just got fucked? and C) Will this look get me fucked again?"

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Detroit Metro Times, Sept. 29-Oct. 6

"Comic Booked!" by Devin O'Leary

For Banned Books Week, Devin O'Leary looks at how censorship has hurt the comic-book industry. His description of Mike Diana's 1994 conviction on obscenity charges (upheld by the Supreme Court in 1998) is an eye-opening example of how free speech is being stifled.

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Missoula Independent, Sept. 23-29

"Celebrating Censorship" by Blake de Pastino

Also in honor of Banned Books Week, this little essay is not an exciting read, but it does mention something that is: the American Library Association's newly published "Books Challenged or Banned in 1998-'99," which chronicles a year's worth of attempts to ban books.

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For reasons unfathomable to this staid unbeliever, an excess of stories about the paranormal, conspiracies and other "X-Files"-inspired madness seem to be gracing the pages of the weeklies this season. For you, a summary.

Ghost hunters! They work very, very hard to see dead people. Learn about "intelligent haunting" vs. "residual haunting," and what cats see when they spaz for no apparent cause. Intelligent ghosts repeatedly crashed my browser as I attempted to read this article. (Philadelphia City Paper, Sept. 30-Oct. 6)

UFO theorists Who cares if the truth is out there? What does it mean? Several men convene in a small western Washington town to hash it out. (Seattle Weekly, Sept. 23-Oct. 6)

Gamers A moment of your time, please. I have a confession to make. During my unglamorous early college years, I was a gamer. Not a devoted, fanatical gamer, mind you. But I spent my share of sunny Saturdays hunched over a game board in somebody's kitchen. Civilization? Eight action-packed hours of plagues, territory skirmishes and resin trading! Axis and Allies? Oh, honey! I sucked at Diplomacy, but survived several rounds of Nuclear War. And Rail Baron, sweet Rail Baron ... Then came bigger, faster computers with all their fancy-ass software versions of the games I loved. I became too busy to play my beloved games, but lamented the seemingly certain demise of the dice and cardboard medium. But no, sweet Jesus, no! Jamais Cascio takes a look at how the Internet has revived old-fashioned gaming. (Seattle Weekly, Sept. 23-Oct. 6)

Unnatural disasters Does Mother Nature cause hurricanes? Or do people? A cheery look at the latest in global warming theories. (Orlando Weekly, Sept. 22-28)

By Jenn Shreve

Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

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