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WINE WRITING – WHAT IS IT?

John Tilson • 2/28/14        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

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I recently read an article written by Richard Jennings on the 10th annual Professional Wine Writers Symposium where Robert Parker appeared for the first time and was the featured speaker. It is a rather lengthy article that summarizes the event so I can only imagine what the actual event was like (You can read the entire article by clicking here).  I want to focus on the big picture of what is wine writing, but there were a couple of statements mentioned in the article that were made by Mr. Parker that I find very strange and worth noting:

  • “…I don’t know any quality producers that use megapurple and enzymes. If they do it, they’re doing it really well….”

This is quite a statement to say that you don’t know of any quality producers using ingredients to manipulate wine. Does that mean that the only ones who do are not “quality” producers? Stranger still since many wines have changed so dramatically due to over manipulation and additives (To read my articles on What is Wine? click here and  What’s In Your Wine Bottle click here and  to read my article Attention All Wine Consumers – Wine Ingredient Labeling Is Here click here).  I wonder how much effort has been devoted to finding out exactly what is going into many wines? Judging from the comment that “If they do it, they’re doing it really well…”, it sounds like this is of little interest to Mr. Parker. In fact, it is very similar to a comment made about fraudulent wines many years ago, that said something like: I don’t know if the wines are fake, but if they are, they are great. Talk about missing the point!

  • “The wine world is so big. Yes, there are styles of wines I don’t like. Orange wine, natural wines and low alcohol wines. Truth is on my side and history will prove I am right.”

Everyone is entitled to an opinion on what styles of wines they like and don’t like. No problems there. But, to lump Orange wine into the same category as natural wines and low alcohol wines makes no sense. And, speaking of not liking natural wines and low alcohol wines, does that mean that unnatural and high alcohol wines are better? Sounds like it. Finally, “Truth is on my side and history will prove I am right.” This sounds bizarre and seemingly even a bit paranoid. What is the truth?

My view is that wine writing today has been largely debased and reduced to big numbers. The descriptions often bear little resemblance to the wines being described.  When I first started drinking and learning about wine, I very much respected the opinions and writings of people like Harry Waugh. You could learn about wines and read notes that actually described the taste of the wine. But, that all changed with the advent of big numbers which brought in a new style of verbiage to go with the big numbers. Nonetheless, some of the wine writing that is done today without big numbers can be interesting and worth reading. Here I am talking about the writing done by importers and retailers such as Kermit Lynch and wine writing done by columnists and authors such as Eric Asimov and Jay McInerney. Amongst the circle of American 100 point wine writers who write about thousands of wines and do massive tastings (To read my article Vinous Drive-By – It’s The Drive-By Sip and Spit! click here), there are few who write brief, understandable notes that are not overly hyped. Writings that are brief, understandable and accented by stories and anecdotes are interesting to me. The other writings which emphasize wine notes that are detailed and exaggerated are more often appropriate for a comedy routine than as a basis for a big numbers score. And, it seems that often the more over the top the wine is, the more over the top is the description.  I have often noted this fact and would encourage you to take a look at Birds of a Feather – Laughable Wine Descriptions click here, Birds of a Feather click here,  and The Birds Are Still Flocking – Watch Out Below click here as examples of what I am talking about.

So back to my question: Wine Writing: What is it? That’s a bit of an enigma wrapped in a riddle. But, what I do know is that wine writing is varied and covers the entire spectrum from fact to comedy and from interesting to just plain boring. Some wine writing is designed to intimidate the reader. Some is designed to promote and exaggerate the subject. And, some is nothing much except a number. And, in these categories are notes (such as the ones referenced in my articles) which are really laughable. Then there are notes that are interesting, detailed, and factual and notes that are brief and understandable. In short, it depends. And, for my money as a consumer, I could care less about numbers and wine descriptions that make no sense. To those who just follow a number or just think that they do not know enough to question a verbose wine description, I say this is the wrong approach. Pay no attention to numbers and exaggerated wine descriptions. (To read Tasting Wine vs. Drinking Wine – Is There a Difference? click here) Drink wine with food. Try new wines. Ask your friends about their favorite wines. Find a good wine merchant and get recommended wines to try. And, when you find a source of information with wine recommendations that match yours, stick with that. The Underground approach is to recommend wines that are balanced, food friendly, and not overly extracted, overly manipulated, or overly alcoholic. This has been our focus for nearly 35 years and it has not changed. We are not drinking the kool aid!

Wine writing or no, The Underground motto is Drink What You Like & Like What You Drink  (To read that article click here).

Bonne Dégustacion!

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

 

 

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2 comments for “WINE WRITING – WHAT IS IT?”

  1. Good article John. As one who writes copious notes at just about every opportunity, I appreciate receiving viewpoints that support writing up reports/ notes “that are interesting, detailed, and factual and notes that are brief and understandable”.
    I too share your preference for wines “that are balanced, food friendly, and not overly extracted, overly manipulated, or overly alcoholic”.
    Thanks for continuing to provide clear and responsible, fair and balanced reporting.
    Cheers,
    Blake

    Posted by Blake Brown | March 1, 2014, 9:42 am
  2. Thanks Blake.
    I found the article on the Symposium to be very enlightening. Not so much for what they said, but for what they didn’t say! Things have really gotten over the top in many ways!!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | March 1, 2014, 5:56 pm

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