Anyone who writes about the appreciation of wine, whether by reviewing it or recommending it, has to admit to themselves that they’re at least a little full of shit.
Yeah, that includes me too.
Talk to enough wine bloggers and you will hear, over and over again, how while we all comment on wine, talk about our and others' appreciation of it, that everything boils down to subjectivity. It’s all “my palate, his palate, her palate, your palate.” No right-wrong-good-bad (outside of major flaws or, perhaps, radical atypicity) but just “I like this better and that worse, maybe you will, maybe you won’t.”
And yet, we rate. We review. Whether we use an A-through-F system, a four-out-of-five (glasses, stars, whatever) system, the Robert Parker point system (or something like it), it doesn’t matter. We’re stamping it.
Now, if we aren’t totally full of shit, there’s a caveat. I try to make it very clear here that my reviews are my opinion, based on my taste and such. Everything is different every time I taste wine. It’s a different time of day. I might be in a different place. I showered at a different time that morning. I am wearing different clothes. My hair is slightly longer (or, if I’ve been to the barber, shorter) than the day before. The moon is in a different phase. The sundown time is slightly later or earlier.
The point is, even if I taste things with some kind of formal sameness, whoever drinks the wine that isn’t me is going to have a different set of circumstances. The biggest of which, of course, is that they aren’t me. This is why, to at least some extent, I am full of shit.
Feels good to say it, actually.
To be honest, I realized this a few months ago. Not that I’m full of shit, so much (ok, that’s a lie, I’ve always reveled in that a bit) but that wine writers/bloggers/reviewers are. At least a little. And I realized, hey, I can be full of shit, too.
Does this mean there is no value in what I and others do? I don’t think that’s the case, at all. There is value in experience, and education. There is value in writing ability, to communicate the wine drinking experience to others. I am constantly learning, gaining experience. Not just through drinking wine (though, that’s a huge part of any wine education, obviously) but through the formal education offered by groups like WSET and SWE.
The thing is, we write for consumers. And consumers are often scared. They want to hear our reviews, our ratings, to tell them “what’s good.” Wine intimidates them. But if they don’t realize that we’re all a little full of shit, they won’t get the overriding, unassailable point: Wine is unpretentious. People are pretentious about wine. If nothing else I write here today, potentially stunting my burgeoning “career” as a wine writer, holds true and strikes a chord, I want that point driven home. Wine is unpretentious. It is beautiful and raw and makes us tipsy. It tastes wonderful and lubricates otherwise untenable social scenarios. It is the fruit of working class labor. And it is sublime. But in our descriptions and reviews and ratings and classifications of it, we can really fuck it up with our pretentiousness.
I write about wine because I love it. Because before I did this, my friends and family came to me to ask my opinion anyway. And when I review a wine, I’m just relaying my experience. If I give something a C-, it isn’t because the wine is bad, it’s because I can’t recommend it. But there it is, a grade, a “score,” whatever, on the wine. Defining it.
The fact remains that, in order to put a “grade” on a wine, I have to accept the fact that I am just a little full of shit. And I’m cool with that.