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Monday Manifestos
Taste The Wine, Dammit, Then Make The Call

By Stephen Eliot

What ever happened to talking about wine? Real bottles, not styles…and one bottle a time. What happened to thoughtful and informed tasting, i.e., bonafide empirical study? These days, the stuff that really gets discussion stirring is not about a given wine being right, as much as it is about all wines in a style or from a particular place being wrong.

Every so often, we all stop and think about what it is that we do and why we do it. Here at Connoisseurs’ Guide, we write about wines. We think a good deal about what it is that we do, about the craft we have chosen and the responsibility it brings, and just what it means to be a wine writer and critic. We think and regularly talk among ourselves about what wine writing is, was and likely will be in a wildly changing future that is increasingly about tomorrow more than next year or even next week. And, there is no question that like everyone else in the writing game, we think about the impact that the internet has had on professional journalism.

The complaints, questions and threats to hitherto safe sinecures are now so routine as to be yesterday’s’news, and continued debate seems increasingly driven by defense of either the status quo or the new electronic democracy (anarchy?) that claims there are no experts…or that everyone is. Egad, how many times have I heard the claims, both joyous and rife with sad lament, that professional print journalism is dying. Maybe yes, maybe no. Darwin’s perspectives are as valid in the way of social circumstance as in the realm of DNA, but I would argue that if print journalism may be getting a bit gray at the temples, genuine professional journalism is not about to disappear any time soon. It is, however, in the process of changing.

Now, I cannot speak for sportswriting, political commentary or business analysis, but as far as our little corner of the journalistic world of winewriting goes, one of the fairly significant changes, it seems to me, is the degree to which contentiousness and negativity has become de rigeur. All too often, the stuff that really gets discussion stirring, both in print and especially online, is not about a given wine being right, as much as it is about all wines in a style or from a particular place being wrong. The editorial waters have become so roiled that some professional wine scribes cannot deign a wine or wines worthy without taking a shot at those that are not. Conspiracy theories and warnings of secret cabals abound. Damnation, we are told, awaits the sinister secret societies that have mortgaged their souls and would sacrifice ours on the alter of “manipulative” winemaking. The path to hell is clear and is paved by the heresies of megapurple, reverse osmosis, spinning cones, acid-adjustment, overripeness, alcohols higher than some “proper” percent and the painted jezebel of far too much expensive French oak…and the responsible writer’s calling is to crucify those that embrace them and their “fellow travelers” now.

Quick litmus tests as to alcoholic content, pH, blending and the like strike me as uninformed shortcuts that ignore the single most fascinating thing that I have ever learned from wine, and that is that each has its own immutable voice and a story to tell to anyone willing to listen. Some wines will inspire, and some might serve as soporifics, but you cannot know which it might be until the cork is pulled and a glass is poured. Perhaps, I have become too conservative, or maybe even reactionary in my old age, but I hold stiff-fingeredly true to the notion that opinion worth paying attention to must derive from some kind of calm and objective base, as far as the latter can be achieved. In other words, do the work…and do it over and over again.

Yeah, I am old school in that I believe in blind tasting and in the crafting of tasting notes. I think that the professional wordsmith can indeed meaningfully communicate more about a wine than that it is sweet or savory. To argue other, it seems to me, is the same as limiting a review of the opera as being quiet or loud, or of the latest museum showing of an old master as being blue or green. I believe that there are good wines and bad wines outside of the subjective realm, but I have for a very long time tasted and studied and sipped my way through most of the world’s fine wine regions, and I have yet to find the very broad brush with which too many folks use to so conveniently paint one family of wine or another into an inescapable corner. I am aware of what I like and what I do not, and there are well-made wines that are simply not my cup of tea. I would like to think that I can describe their character without resorting to a sneer and interjections as to why x, y or z is a nobler, more authentic and worthwhile effort. I will describe those that do not please accordingly. I am in the business of opinion, but I have yet to encounter any wine or wines that speak for all those that share the same provenance or style

At the end of the day, it is about wine…one glass at a time, not about cabals, conspiracies, Old-World enlightenment or the craven New World’s creations of latter-day golden calves. It is only wine after all, and if the really great ones are justifiably referred as art, beauty as always lies in the eye of the beholder. If you see through different lenses than mine, I cannot argue. I suppose I am just asking that you take the time to look and listen. Every bottle has something to say.

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