ARGHHHH – I freaking hate wine reviews sometimes – if you ask me, it showcases how completely out of touch some members of the wine industry can be with the average wine drinker. I recently did a quick poll of my non-wine industry friends (who love drinking wine), and they all said the following review was not only useless, it actually alienated them from wanting to buy the wine.
This is the review that sent me over the edge….
Not the Real Name 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma USA *: Deep purple colour. Aromas of rich dark currants, nectarine skins, gushing blackberry, but lots of fragrant tobacco, rich soil, white flowers, smashed minerals and metal. Medium-bodied and saucy but racy acidity stabilises the wine nicely with the robust tannins. Deep red currants and ripe cherries, laden with mocha, loamy soil, charred herbs, pencil shavings, roasted hazelnut. Dense like characters that make it perfect for cellaring, however it is drinkable straight away once you expose it to the earth’s atmosphere. This is a delicious Sonoma Cabernet! Has been matured for 24 months in 2 year old 55% Tronçais and 45% Vosges oak. 95 points.
* (note: this actual review has been modified so it can’t be traced back to the original scribe. It’s not fair we single out individuals as these reviews are commonplace.
OK – hands up if that put you to sleep!! Seriously – I thought the job of a writer was to entertain and inform. I’ll down a Valium if I want to take some zzzzzzzzzzzz’s (with a Malbec chaser of course).
But what is the solution? I think reviews like the one above do have an audience, I just believe that audience is very, very small. There are exceptions, obviously; one wine writer whose reviews I can happily read all day is UK writer, Matthew Jukes – his tasting notes are both entertaining and informative.
So, how do you make wine appealing to the masses? Is social media the answer? Can these reviews be trusted?
Social media peeps that specialise in wine have exploded over the past few years, and The Wine Wankers happily sit within this group. These ‘reviews’ are different – they post photos of the wines they are drinking, the meal they’re eating, the wine regions they visit and so forth.
But here’s the rub, some scribes believe these #winelover guys and girls don’t deserve your respect because they haven’t paid their dues – technically – they aint ‘Wine Experts’!
They’ve never studied wine at university, they’ve never worked in a high end wine store, or trained as a sommelier – they just love wine.
Some would argue that it’s because they AREN’T wine experts, that they are so popular; they’re just everyday people with everyday wine experiences, and that makes them more relatable. They have nothing to prove, and nothing to lose. They can take greater risks, say stupid things, they can learn about wine as they post, and that is very appealing for the average person who can discover wine at the same pace. Is this better than reading a paragraph of wine jargon blended with obscure fruit references?
I once read a very public takedown from an established Australian wine writer who questioned the validity of these new ‘wine influencers’ (I HATE that term btw), because they ‘hadn’t paid their dues’. The published article reeked of elitism – of a person who did not want to share the sandpit with anyone else unless they were from the establishment.
You see, it could be very easy for me to slip into the old school way of writing. On paper, I’ve got all the credentials that could make a real wine wanker – I studied wine at Uni, I’ve been a sommelier, heck, I’ve even been that annoying promo guy who would offer you a taste of wine in your local bottle shop on a Saturday night! In my 20 years of wine writing, I’ve always tried to write from an educational point of view, keeping it light-hearted, and lots of fun. I’ve always thought, drinking wine is shitloads of fun, it’s what you do when mates get together, and reading about wine should also be fun.
These days, when Conrad and I write a wine review on Instagram, you won’t find a score out of 100, and we try very hard to eliminate as much jargon as possible (yes it does creep in every now and then – sorry). Having studied under the excellent Jancis Robinson School of training (her beginner books are perfection) means I always try and impart a little bit of education in the review.
Some members of the wine industry will no doubt come out against these wine ‘newbies’, stating they are merely puppets, willing to write whatever a publicist sends their way. And because their palates aren’t professionally trained, they could be recommending faulty or unbalanced wines, or those that are just too commercial and pedestrian! And others will state that these bloggers can be bought because they take advertising dollars from wine companies to promote campaigns. Remember, even newspapers and magazines rely on advertising dollars to survive. If a blogger declares the material is promotional, then what’s the problem?
What are your thoughts – do you find standard wine descriptors entertaining or useful when choosing a wine. Would you prefer a score that rates value alongside quality? Do you search for high scores in the 90s and that’s what influences your decision. Or are you more inspired by an image and a simpler description where a wine blogger proclaims their love for the wine? Or is it all just a combination / media mix? Let us know your thoughts below.
Disclaimer: the art of wine writing should never be under estimated. When words are written brilliantly, a good wine writer can captivate an audience and steer them towards exciting new regions, producers and wine styles. I’ve travelled extensively and met many wine writing colleagues over the past 20 years who I proudly call my friends – they are anything but wankers! My biggest beef is with wine descriptions, which are often referred to as ‘tasting notes’ in the industry. Cheers, Drew.