Is this the most ridiculous wine review ever?!

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).

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Blue sky thinking – what is the solution?! Pic: Wine Wankers 2015

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.

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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.

Or is this the solution!
Or is this the solution!

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.

jancisrobinson
Janice Robinson – busting out some Insta posts while drinking a nubile Malbec from Mendoza (probably)!

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.

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90 comments

  1. Hats off to you Drew and as a drinker of wine I couldn’t have put it better. To me the only test of a wine is when it hits your tongue. I have had expensive bottles I have spat out and cheap bottles I have really enjoyed, and vice versa. Wine is a bit like poetry, the people who have monopolised and dictated the industries are now being found out.

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  2. A good question is, what’s the value of anyone’s 100-point ranking? Generally very low unless (a) you’ve tasted enough wine rated by the same poeple to know what their tastes are and (b) their tastes align with yours. Robert Parker scores help me because when he give a Napa Cab 100 points, I know that it’s a “type” of Napa Cab. Generally not my style, so it doesn’t make me want to buy it, but I know what it’s going to be. I prefer the simpler VGS scale that we wrote about in our blog last week: http://www.topochinesvino.com.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. For me, wine numeric rankings are pretty useless for everyday wine drinkers who aren’t necessarily looking for the next amazing wine. It’s also so much a matter of palate. I like descriptive words that are down to earth and not pretentious, because that’s a huge turnoff.

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  4. Gumpf like that is just ridiculous if you ask me. I’m much more interested in being told what food the wine is suited to. I like to read opinions but just because one person likes a wine doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else will like it, or at least not to the same degree. I love some wines that my partner hates and vice versa. For example I’ve always liked Copertino although whenever I find some (it appears to be very much NOT in fashion) the reviews I’ve read are generally very scathing, saying it’s unbalanced etc etc. Doesn’t stop me buying and enjoying it though.

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  5. As a self admitted “not expert”, when I’m looking for a wine, I usually hit the Australian section first. I’m a fan of shiraz….and I couldn’t tell you shiz from shinola about all the subtle hints of blah blah blah. For me a wine and label wins if I smack my lips after that first bit hits my mouth, and then swallows smoothly leaving a good taste. Period.

    It is because of this my absolute GO-TO reds are in order: Yellow Tail, Jacob’s Creek, Black Opal. Notice something? They are all cheap as dirt, and taste better to me than stuff I’ve quaffed that costs 3-4 times as much.

    If I see a scorecard, I’ll check it, and the higher the number, the better the chances I’ll try it. 🙂

    Sign me a proud noob/doofus when it comes to the foo-foo. (And what the frack does a black currant taste like anyway? -snicker.)

    🙂

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  6. I could put on my super hero outfit, jump over the Indian Ocean and give you a tight hear hug. Of course, with me you are preaching to the choir so not a good benchmark but really, lots of people like wine and want to learn but don’t want to have to go through a PhD of sorts to understand the lingo

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  7. When I was a newbie (my French father raised me to believe that the only good wine was red and Bordeaux :)) and really trying to get a sense of what I liked and disliked, I found the “tasting notes” and numbering somewhat helpful. I came to expect a certain competence associated with a number or a description. But as my experience grew, I began to realise that these were often generalities that almost extended into nothingness. So, the numbering/tasting notes have their place as an introduction, I believe. The irony for me though, is that I’ve heard some people comment that they find them intimidating. I’ve very much enjoyed reading wine blogs – they’re very accessible.

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  8. I read that review too. I thought it demonstrated an interesting use of descriptors, some of which were quite handy. However in my humble view it was so over described as to be meaningless. Read it again, and ask yourself what the wine actually smells and tastes like. I try hard to avoid that happening, just as you guys do. See here:
    http://www.aneyeonwine.wordpress.com

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  9. I totally agree with you and I have stated often in my writings that I am not partial to all of the descriptors that are being used to describe wine these days. When I first discovered serious wines in the 1960’s there were no number assignments, just something like a “great Pauillac” or a typical “Morgon” and one had to have experienced enough of the wines to understand what was being stated. As for me, I will stick with the actual moment that I had the wine and how it added to the event, as prosaic as the event may have been. There have been plenty of wines that do not make the cut and the less said about them, the better. All of my learning about wines has been from drinking them and not analyzing them, and I have no initials or credentials to my name. I graduated from the School of Good Wining and Dining. Of course that could explain why I have never been offered any samples to write about.

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  10. I know my followers like what I do as I get positive feedback all the time. I post about what I’m drinking, what I like and what I think is decent. I occasionally win wine which is a bonus, but I’m upfront with those posts as well. I don’t drink expensive wine and the one paid gig I have is pretty obvious, so what I’m posting is personal unpaid opinion. My followers look to me to get ideas on wines which are reasonably priced, usually local, matched with easy to cook meals without the bullshit wine jargon.

    Besides the fact that, although I’m obsessed with wine, and it fills my every waking thought, I’m totally rubbish at describing it.

    I like it, I drink it and tell others to drink it too.

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  11. I agree the snobby reviews are a turn-off.
    However, the “influencers” can be worse.
    We recently had an army of them in NZ for Pinot 2017. They enjoyed an out-of-season summer holiday, free wine, food and airfares.
    When they left some of them Tweeted and blogged about how they could “really tell the difference between the New Zealand regions – where the pinots come from, particularly Central Otago”.
    Yet last week Wine NZ magazine held a blind pinot tasting with professional wine judges (including an MW) and they could no more pick the regions the wines were from than my schnauzer could. The guys could pick good wines, they could pick great wines, but they couldn’t tell Central Otago from Marlborough.
    The “influencers” were treated well, their heads were filled with nonsense and they were sent home to spread the word and “pay” for their trip with nice reviews.
    Maybe there is a middle ground?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Well, this is a bit embarrassing, but I just read the description either on the bottle or on the shelf below the bottle. I tend to go for New York wines, especially from my local Niagara Wine Trail. Once I even bought a bottle of New York wine because I liked the label and the color of the wine – and it’s actually become my favorite wine for evening sipping.

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  13. Great post on the pretension and preposterity (if that’s even a word) of some of the upper crust in the wine world.
    We just love wine. Enjoying some tonight

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  14. For me when I write any sort of tasting note I try to have the balance of what I personally think of the wine and some bits and pieces about where the wine is from. As you mentioned it’s about educating in a fun way based on my experiences in and out of the wine industry and through my WSET & other wine education courses I have done. At the end of the day, tasting notes are more for me as I have such a s*** memory and by writing it down it helps me! I would never give a wine a score and I always put a note at the end of any sort of tasting note I write to say that wine is subjective and constantly evolving so those are my opinions only and everyone should seek wines that their palate truly loves – not what someone else claims to love. Great read guys!

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    • Writing your own notes absolutely helps you appreciate wines more – it also helps educate your palate so you can determine if one wine is better than another, from a mere technical point of view. And practice makes perfect – so keep drinking and writing your own notes. Just make them entertaining if you’re gonna publish them! haha

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Nice one, Drew.
    It seems like you need to get a 95 or better for anyone to take any notice of a review these days. I used to work for a small winery, and a 94 from Halliday didn’t sway anyone. 94 point wines are a dime a dozen.
    Don’t get me started on pompous, bloated reviews by those just blowing smoke up their arses.
    …and as for influencers!

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  16. Hate the pretentious wankerspeak. A wine snob friend was here and I refuse to buy wine for him, he shopped by reading labels with his excellent skills and even he hated the wine he bought – too fruit forward, he said. Repulsive and sweet, I said.

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  17. Simple language is always appreciated whether you are talking wine or neurosurgery. It was years before I discovered that what I referred to as “cat piss” is what the industry refers to as “petrol”! Ha! I agree rankings can be misleading and at the same time occasionally helpful.

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  18. I 100% agree that this particular review boasts nothing informative for any drinker.

    I also acknowledge that your post targets ‘every day’ drinkers which is counter to wine blogging in general as everyday drinkers don’t read wine blogs?!?!.. so therefore there does need to be a separate dialogue between drinkers who want some assuring in their purchases and those who immerse themselves in wine in a very intellectual way. Some dorks like to know intricate details what is wrong with that? Wine should be complicated and interesting, perhaps not for a Jacobs Creek Chardy but why not for some obscure variety that is both new to a region of new to the winemaker behind it? Or for something special made by someone who puts their heart and sole into their wine regardless of price?

    I enjoy your blogs but you (and 1000s of bloggers and journos) don’t need to dumb all things down for all drinkers. I would love to see you all write some more negative wine reviews to help people find out what they should Not buy and to put some amateur winemakers in their place.

    Wine for thought…. sorry for the bad pun.

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    • hmmm – Negative reviews are a bit shitty if you ask me – the reason i say that – you are dealing with someone’s livelihood. A restaurateur i once worked for gave some great advice after he saw a scathing restaurant review in a newspaper. “Drew, review by exclusion. There are so many great restaurants out there. Focus on these. One bad review can certainly close a restaurant, it can be likened to the kiss of death.” The same could be said about a wine review, especially if it is delivered by someone with real clout. I would hate to have that on my shoulders, thinking that someone’s livelihood was washed down the drain because I attacked their wine (or restaurant) for not being good enough. I do not have that sort of clout however. Conrad and I have a mission statement to only focus on the wines we LOVE, and there’s certainly a lot out there!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I agree with the pretentious nature of the review you selected. My question is about the review under the pic of the Markham Chardonnay, Did you write that review? If so, I’m trying to figure out the educational part.
    Cheers

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  20. Good post, Drew. I think that the real issue is audience. If your audience is ‘experts’, wine industry peeps, and your mother, it’s OK to impress with terms, experiences that are either too esoteric or more fitting of people who might understand what pencil shavings taste like in a Cabernet Franc. However, don’t dis the people that are writing for a different audience. My readers are simply looking to gain a little confidence spending there money and maybe having a little fun at the same time. Like you, I try to educate a bit but also try not to lecture. There is a place for both of these writers. On the issue of free stuff – that’s not a problem in Ontario, Canada because we can’t get any. I buy everything I taste, experience it at the cellar door, or at a paid formal tasting function. I’ve never received a sample. I too just talk about stuff I’ve liked. My audience looks for things to buy not avoid. Once again good post.

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      • Drew, I always wonder what is the goal? Is the goal for the wine maker to find new drinkers with different pallets for their wine? Or, is it just to create a wine that is so important that it sits on the shelf to be watched and not enjoyed. My goal as a wine importing company owner is to bring new drinkers to wines I find interesting and fun to drink. I focus on those wines that please my pallet and all the history that comes with it. I find if the wine can capture the simple tastes of my Southern U.S. roots along with the refinement of my years of wine education (studying since 1999) without making me feel I don’t deserve to have a glass, then it wins with or without a numeric system. So, I suggest to wine makers that they work to expand the knowledge of the drinkers without insulting them into not drinking their wine at all.

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  21. That wine review was pretty funny. I do find reviews or tasting notes helpful in identifying my likes and dislikes. Exploring Sauvignon Blanc, I developed a dislike of the grassy element. After reading some articles and tasting notes, I found a few that were more tropical fruit-oriented. The reviews led me to wines that were more to my liking, saving me the time and money of random trial and error.

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  22. I believe tasting notes have strong objectivity to it and is not a great descriptive note. It’s very interesting to read personal notes of some experts of your choice that you like but it shouldn’t be considered a thorough presentation of a wine. I’ m just starting in the industry and even if i did the proper wine studies, I’ m still no experts and my tasting notes could easily be considered crap by someone with different taste. I still love to write about wine but I tend to share stories and history behind producers and winery. At least, it’s based on facts and it’s often extremely interesting and revealing.

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  23. Good post, Drew. I see that you enjoy Matthew Jukes’ reviews. I do too, even wrote a post on his best reviews that starts like this: Matthew Dukes is the Tom Wolfe (The Bonfires of the Vanities) of wine writers. ‘Wolfe writes Big and Tall Prose,’ says James Wood in the New Yorker, ‘big subjects, big people, and yards of flapping exaggeration. No one of average size emerges from his shop; in fact, no real human variety can be found in his fiction, because everyone has the same enormous excitability.’ https://www.bestwinesunder20.com.au/matthew-jukes-100-best-australian-wines-finding-gems/

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  24. I love this post, and I totally agree with your philosophy. I recently started writing about wine and I much prefer storytelling to stats stats and points. How did I come to try this wine, what memories did it spark, who did I meet while drinking it? And yes, not being an established “expert” does give you such freedom. I recently posted a recipe for “Non-psychedelic Aubergines”. Why? Because nobody told me I couldn’t. Here’s a link https://wineninjas.org/2017/01/15/recipe-psychedelic-aubergines/

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  25. Many years ago I received newsletters from a Canberra retailer, Candamber. The reviews and descriptions were lengthy, flowery and over the top, almost to the point that I suspected the author was writing a parody. I have since spoken to him a few times. He now is the owner and winemaker for a highly successful Hilltops winery. I cant find the old newsletters but can assure they give this current review a run for its money.

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  26. I totally see your point. Seems like to be a professional wine writer you have to write beautiful tasting notes with bombastic descriptions. Most of the time the descriptions are more pretentious than the wine itself. I think what you do (Wine Wankers without the wankery) is quite a breath of fresh air. I totally enjoy reading the Jeff W’s (whoever he is) review that you posted above too. We definitely need a little bit more sense of humour in this overly serious drinking (i meant, tasting) game.

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  27. Hmmm. Relatable v. Aspirational wine reviews is a conundrum. I like both, although the particular review you “showcased” was pretty over the top…”once it’s exposed to the Earth’s atmosphere”? Oh, Martha!

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  28. Love this – especially this bit, “They’ve never studied wine at university, they’ve never worked in a high end wine store, or trained as a sommelier,” i.e not an actual wine wanker(!!!) just – just a bonafide drinker and lover of wine – I FEEL THIS WAY ABOUT FOOD too! Thanks for the great post.

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  29. I think wine reviews are why I never really got into wines like I did beers. I never knew what I was drinking! I do believe I shall go out exploring later today and see if I can find some “smashed minerals.”

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  30. Totally agree with your comments about the wine review. While the wine world is replete with that kind of commentary, I continue to be amazed that little is ever written about food pairings in these reviews. Wine is meant to be drunk with food; what is delicious as a cocktail wine may be a total bust with certain foods. Perhaps most wine reviewers don’t know jack about cooking or food chemistry.

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  31. Great article! I’m no pro wine buff – I don’t have a wide palate. I like to note what I smell/taste and can appreciate a well balanced drop that suits me – but for me the real verification lies in just looking to who I’m drinking with and wether or not they enjoy it as much as me!

    BTW, pencil shavings…. that’s a new one to me! Time to go shave some pencils and appreciate the aromatics…

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  32. I like the write-up! Our blog was put together to prove that some of the worlds best wines are a lot more accessible than most think. There’s nothing more frustrating than talking to someone that “won’t drink” a glass of wine from a bottle that is under $100 – how absurd!

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  33. I agree with you however I also believe one should write what they love. Who says a resume has to be included? i have years of fine dining and hospitality management and also years of drinking all kinds of spirits but would never call myself an “expert”. Half the time i dont agree with the Experts anyways and everyone is welcome to their opinion.

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