I like to write about wine. I don’t think I have any particularly interesting insights about wine, but that doesn’t seem to be one of the qualifications for writing about it. On HoseMaster of Wine™, of course, I spend my meager talent writing about wine, or, more accurately, the wine business, from a satiric point of view. I suffer no illusions that my work on HoseMaster has any influence or benefit. Nor do I think very many people care what I think. But you don’t have to be in the wine world long to see how it drags the pretentious out of almost everyone. Casting a cold, hard eye on the “tastemakers” and wannabes in the trade is what I try to do. That, and try to exorcise my comedy demons.
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. Perhaps that’s because so much of it revolves around descriptions of aromas and flavors we, as humans, are poorly equipped to perceive, much less express. Wine outmatches us. I can summarize an awful lot of people in a few concise phrases. Describing Chave Hermitage, however, seems beyond my capability. And everyone else's.
It is often said that what’s interesting about wine writing is capturing the “story” behind a wine. Yet so much of what passes for the story is simple marketing propaganda, the glorification of a winemaker, or the Grimm’s fairy tale of an owner on a “journey,” or some mystical talk about the magic of their terroir. There’s more truth in an election year political ad. As soon as I read the word “journey,” my eyes glaze over, anyway, and my patented BullShit detector goes off.
I’m all for romance in wine, but romance, as we all know, ends most often in disappointment. Don’t fall in love with falling in love. So much of what I read about wine on wine blogs and in wine porn rags (Wine Spectator and such) is just that. Someone in love with the idea of being in love with wine, a new wine producer, or a new region. That’s not wine writing, that’s infatuation.
I have been kicking around the idea of doing some wine reviewing here. Though I’m no longer a sommelier, and no longer taste thousands of wine every year, I’m still constantly around wine, constantly tasting wine, and I thought it would be fun to add my voice to the cacophony (accent on the “phony”) of voices on the Internet. I go to winery open houses, I go to industry tastings, I judge in professional wine competitions, I still try to be involved in my trade, but, honestly, who cares what I think? Does the world need my opinions of Siduri wines, to pick an example? I know Adam Lee doesn’t. Does anyone care about my favorite wines at Family Winemakers? Now that I don’t have any direct buying power they sure as hell don’t. My opinion won’t sell wine, nor will it ruin anyone’s reputation. And God knows there’s not a marketing director in the country who’d send free samples to the HoseMaster for review. So why bother to even consider writing wine reviews?
I had myself convinced that I could bring my experience, along with a somewhat jaded eye, and a large dose of honesty, and that might result in something interesting to read. Maybe some long form pieces that focus as much on my personal history with a winery or winemaker, the setting where the tasting was held (at the winery, at home, in a cattle call tasting at a huge hall), the mood I was in at the time, as much as my impressions of the quality of the wines. It would be interesting for me to write. But I questioned whether it would be interesting for anyone to read.
Much of what bothers me about wine writing is how uncritical it is. I love wine as much as anyone I know, but I also really dislike boring wines, stupid wines, and what I think of as fatuous wines. And there are lots of them. I see them getting 91 points, or A-, or somewhere between 9 and 9.5 (so, 9.23567?) from people with the qualifications of a raccoon. I think, more worrisome (though it’s only wine), is the exclusion of wines from review that are subpar or overrated or stupid for the simple sake of not burning bridges, not offending someone, or, worse, no longer getting free samples. I understand it, wine is a gentleman’s sport and we abide by the rules of courtesy, integrity be damned, but it means I dismiss most of what I read for the propaganda or ill-informed opinion or ass-kissing it is. It is, I still believe, primarily the attention-barking of lonely poodles. I wonder, at times, if I could do better. The barking, I mean.
What’s always missing is context. Or maybe truth. (And usually talent.) Perhaps that the blogger is thrilled to have received free samples in the first place. After all, 1WineDude and Vinography get so many, and they can’t stop reminding us of how many. 1WineDude has an indentured serf to manage his, apparently. We’re meant to feel sorry for them when they tell us their tales of UPS shipper woes, though wine reviewing is the damn job they’ve chased for the past seven years. Talking about their free samples is a way to remind us of how successful they are, how important their opinions are. It’s notches on their conjugal wine headboard. I’ve been there, I’ve done the junket circuit, had my ego stroked like a soft kitty, I know the seduction. And I can’t claim at the time that I was any less affected or less blind to it. But I think I am now. Now that no one cares what I think.
There is so much blather about the influence the blogosphere has on wines sales. It may have some, though it’s so immeasurable as to be meaningless, maybe the equivalent of .01 of an inch of rain. The wine blogosphere is about the wine blogosphere, and almost nothing else. I think most of the bloggers I know personally understand that. It’s a strangely isolated island that the outside world doesn’t know exists, and even if it did, it would have no desire to visit. And it’s an island of humans prone to the usual human catalog of fallibility—jealousy, greed, hubris, narcissism, intellectual dishonesty and pettiness.
Which is what makes it fun for me to be here, hurling insults, pointing fingers and, I hope, making folks laugh.
So I'm still chewing on the idea of writing about wines from my admittedly limited and peculiar perspective. Those pieces may appear here, and, I'm sure, that will be a shock to everyone's system, all eleven of you. I won't be abandoning the satire you've all come to abhor, but I feel like doing something else now and then. Feel free to criticize, unsubscribe, belittle, or bemoan. Just don't act surprised.