Wine Writing is Broken? Viva Wine Blogging!

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While I would love it to be my full-time job, Another Wine Blog is something that I do in my “free” time – between the laundry, feeding the dog, making the bed and the one-hour commute each way to slave away as an attorney.

Since joining a new litigation project in March, I’ve been working weekends to make up for evening hours at wine tastings. Because the litigation is moving into a new phase, I’m advised that I should start averaging 55-hours a week. Add in the 2 hours (minimum) each way on the freeway, and we’re talking 65 hours a week. Who needs sleep, right?

Combine all those hours with the crashed laptop for a month and a half, and I’ve gotten seriously behind. So much so that I barely have time to keep up with wine “news” much less to read other blogs. So it takes something especially clever or infuriating to get my attention.

Last week I encountered both.

Blasphemous Tirades about Alcohol

The world of wine writing is insular. It treasures its own elitist terminology. It prizes information before communication. It jealously, gleefully guards its own exclusivity — a hideous, smugly masturbating gatekeeper — crooning and babbling, gollum-like, at its own shrivelled genitals. – Old Parn

I wish I had written that!

But it comes from Old Parn’s Wine Reviews. Old Parn aka Tom Parnell writes from Jolly Old England; Oxford to be exact. He revels in irreverence. He fails to follow proper blogger protocol. He asks not for permission from the self-appointed gatekeepers and swears with wild abandon. He ridicules the supercilious. And attracts the ire of the old guard, on purpose!

Gee, do we know anyone else like that?

So when I came upon his post Wine Writing is Broken, I thought to myself, I like this guy!

I want to be inspired. Or tickled. Or shocked. Or provoked. I don’t want drab, dusty sentences or bland, self-effaced meanderings. – Old Parn

I give Old Parn a Stephen Colbert, “Tip of the Hat!”

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Several of the more popular paid wine writers have taken particular notice of bloggers. They come in two varieties – the writer who disdains us outright, and he who fancies himself a mentor to the rest of us unwashed masses. The mentor targets up-and-coming bloggers, giving them tips on how to achieve greatness as a serious and respected writer — one who follows all the rules. Most certainly not in the vein of Old Parn!

Both claim hyper-concern with blogger ethics, so much so that they lobbied the Federal Trade Commission to create disclosure guidelines specifically for bloggers. Although paid writers and bloggers alike receive all-expense paid wine trips and free samples, the guidelines direct only the blogger to disclose how she came to taste a particular wine she reviewed. The press release announcing the guidelines spoke of an $11,000 fine for failure to disclose. This caused quite a stir back in 2009, and Dave Honig over at Palate Press posted a fine legal analysis to calm the furor.

Mass-produced crap might be less popular if trusted writers weren’t singing its praises while their employer reaped benefits in advertising.
Not all bloggers accept samples. As posted on a number of occasions, while we do accept samples. we rarely write negative wine reviews. Because we figure you don’t care what we don’t like, you’re more interested in the wine we do. We catch hell about this from other wine bloggers. How can we be pure and ethical, when we don’t trash the crappy samples we might receive? ‘Course we’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. The paid journalists claim we bloggers are to be trusted less than they, because we no doubt promote bad wine to “get free samples.”

There is one brand in particular we do not review. Ever. In fact, Joe gets mad when I accept the samples. He says our “no bad reviews” policy gives them license to send us crap (He uses the more “colorful” Old Parn vernacular). I just figure they send out the stuff to everyone – especially bloggers, because they figure someone, somewhere is simply whoring for wine and they’ll get a positive mention.

Imagine my surprise when I read one of the aforementioned mentors admit that he gives bad wine good reviews in his paid gig. Why? His own words seem a tad patronizing.

Are all the [Brand Name] wines good? No. Are they necessarily what I would drink at home? No. Fortunately, I’m in a position to drink better. But millions of Americans depend on these wines…

WTF? The guy has been recommending wines he thinks are not good, that he wouldn’t drink, because he’s better off than millions? The millions of Americans who depend on these wines? For what? A good, cheap drunk?

He goes on to talk about the impressive sales figures of the brand. That he helps promote. With no qualifier in the rating he gives to people who have paid to read it!

It occurred to me that perhaps a crappy mass-produced wine might not be so popular if the writers of trusted publications did not sing its praises in editorial while their employers reap the benefits in advertising.

Some traditional wine writers say bloggers lower the bar. I supposed there are some who do. But I imagine our lists see no overlap. On mine would be those who play it safe. Who follow a prescribed formula. Who pay homage to the gatekeepers and scorn the irreverent. The kind I give a Colbert “Wag of The Finger.”

Then there are the other guys. The truly inspired. Those willing to take a risk.

Cheers!

The WineWonkette

About Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and nearly 10,000 twitter fans. She holds certifications from International Sommelier Guild, regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events and is currently studying for her California Wine Appellation Specialist certification through the San Francisco Wine School.
  • http://wineharlots.com/ Wine Harlot

    Great work, as always Amy.

    Thanks for turning me on to “Old Parn.”  What a great wine website.

    I too did an eye-roll about the “No. Fortunately, I’m in a
    position to drink better.” I was laughing so hard I nearly choked – but I
    performed a Heimoff maneuver and my life was saved.

    All the best,

    Nannette Eaton

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Thanks for the kind words.  Glad you’re in a better position to enjoy your wine, now ;) 

      See you in Charlottesville!

  • http://www.1winedude.com 1winedude

    You know, this brings up another topic worthy of its own article, I think:

    Do critics give decent ratings to wines that they don’t personally like but otherwise are made well, just in a style that they personally do not prefer?

    I know I do – and have been taken to task for it several times on-line, but have always come back to the fact that I try very hard to minimize (NOT exclude!) my personal preferences when it comes to coming up with a firm rating / recommendation.

    Curious where you (and lots of other writers and bloggers, for that matter) stand on that one.

    Cheers!

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Great question!  I admire your ability to judge the wine on its merits versus simply your own personal taste. I have been trying to do that with heavy-malolactic fermented Chardonnay — not my personal favorite. It’s getting easier to do so, the more I taste them :)

      Cheers!

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

      Good questions, Joe. I think that the thing that we get taken to task for, only writing positive reviews, which stated another way would be to only write about what we like, protects us from having to face that quandary. It is an interesting question nonetheless. It also perfectly demonstrates why I am glad that we didn’t choose to go down the standard reviewing path. Personally, I know that there are certain styles of wines that I am not going to like. There are grapes that I dislike as well. Give me anything that contains Gamay and the best I can do is grade on a curve based on the fact that it doesn’t taste as horrible to me as some others. Add in the fact that I generally tend to prefer reds to whites and I’d say that I am better suited for telling people what I like than I am to be a pure reviewer. So, to directly answer the question, I would probably never recommend a wine that I did not enjoy. The only time I could imagine doing that would be if someone asked for something like a Beaujolais recommendation and I said, “Well, I did have this one that didn’t make me want to puke.” Kind of like if I asked you for a good Rhone blend with just a hint of bret on it. But I can’t see myself writing a review based on something not making me want to vomit.

      It really would be interesting to hear what everyone else thinks about this.

      • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

        I happen to like many Beaujolais! Especially the Crus!

        • http://www.1winedude.com 1winedude

          Me too.

          Joe – your new nickname is “the Anti-Gamay Lobby.”  :)

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