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Tag Archives: wine criticism

“Preaching to the choir and looking for agreeing nods from readers”

The joke in the wine blogging business is that the easiest and best way to goose your numbers is to write about wine blogging. And it works, actually, which says something about wine blogging that many of us probably don’t want to know.

That’s mainly why I stopped writing about wine writing. The people I want to come to the blog don’t care. They want to know about cheap wine, and anything else is a reason not to come back. If you’re any good, you write for your audience – not to please yourself.

That’s why I was so intrigued by Richard Thomas’ piece in the July issue of North Bay Biz, and not just because he said very nice things about me. That Thomas, an icon of Sonoma Country agriculture and wine, wrote the following means something:

I’m not sure how many of you read the multitude of wine blogs, Twitter feeds and so forth regarding wine. Some make a few good points, but in general, it sounds like they’re preaching to the choir and looking for agreeing nods from readers.

In other words, sloppy and boring criticism. That’s because too many of us reinforce the conventional wisdom, and we don’t ask the most important question a critic should ask: Why? Why is the business this way? Why does this wine taste this way? Why does this wine cost this much, and this wine this much? Why does this matter to our readers?

This style of criticism exists almost nowhere else, not in film and literature,  certainly, and not even in cars or electronics. Can you imagine a wine-style review in The New York Times Book Review: “87. Offers a hint of savory adjectives balanced by unctuous characters and a zesty finish.”

The Italian Wine Guy (who wrote knowingly about this in May) wonders if we are becoming as irrelevant as Pilates. The Hosemaster of Wine, never one to mince words, went even further last fall: “What amazes me is how wonderful and entertaining and fascinating wine itself is, whereas wine writing is, with few exceptions, dreary, pedantic, insipid and repetitive.”

The best critics are conduits, placing their subject in perspective and facilitating discussion, understanding that they are not the final arbiter but one voice among many. In this, they should be an intelligent, well-versed, and thoughtful voice that their readers can trust. The point is not whether someone reading the blog disagrees with me; the point is whether I have helped them understand enough about so that they are able to disagree with me.

Winebits 189: Wine and bikes, millennials and wine, wine criticism

Safe and secure: Because there is no way I can describe this in words:

Wine with friends: Yes, millennials are unique because some of them like to drink wine with friends. This is the one of the findings in a study from California researchers looking at how millennial wine consumption is different from the rest of us. And, as the author, noted, it really isn’t (though she desperately tries to find some difference). The age group born after 1982 or so drinks the most wine at special occasions and eating at a formal restaurant. The study will no doubt make my pal Tom Johnson at Louisville Juice fire off yet another of his eye-rolling millennial missives. And I’d have to agree with him.

What do critics want? To like the wine they drink, of course. This is quite well expressed by the Israeli writer Daniel Rogov, who is known as that country’s Wine Curmudgeon (something we have had a giggle about). “A great many may not realize it,” he writes, “but writing a negative review pains the critic. The simple truth is that that bad or mediocre wines have a deep emotional impact for the critic, who lives for the day when he can be entirely positive.” This, I think, is the difference between honest criticism and what passes for criticism these days, and especially on the Internet. The goal is to write truly (to paraphrase Hemingway). Too, many, though, prefer snarky, since they think it makes them look clever.

Expensive wine, better wine and wine writing

Buried at the bottom of post on a Wired science blog, which recaps research on the expensive wine/better wine issue, is this:

If the only story we can tell about wine is its price, then our pleasure will always be linked to cost, even though this link doesn’t exist in most taste tests. A much better (and more cost-effective) idea is to find some other narrative, to focus on aspects of wine that don’t require a big expense account. Knowledge is free.

Which is a damning indictment of wine criticism — and by science writer and Rhodes Scholar Jonah Lehrer, no less. He writes that it's accepted scientific fact, based on robust research, that expensive wine isn't better wine just because it costs more.

Then Lehrer asks the question that no one in the wine business wants to ask, let alone answer: If there is no correlation between wine price and quality, why does wine writing insist there is? Why doesn't wine criticism deal with what Lehrer calls the subjectivity of taste: "We’ve somehow turned the most romantic of drinks into a commodity worthy of Consumer Reports."

Regular visitors here know how the Wine Curmudgeon feels about that. What's interesting about Lehrer's post is the perspective he brings, which is to understand that there is more than "wine" going on when we drink wine, and he touches on neuroscience, psychology and even philosophy. What happens, he writes, is that "if we think a wine is cheap, it will taste cheap."

All of which, of course, is something that those of us who write about wine rarely take into account. Even I'm guilty of this sometimes. Championing cheap wine just because it's cheap is its own form of snobbery, and just as insidious as any other form of snobbery. What's better, says Lehrer (and what I hope I do more often than not), is criticism based on education. "We should realize that we can make our wines much more delicious, if only we take the time to learn about them," he writes.

Which seems so obvious, and yet is so rarely done.

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