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Wine Truisms

by blog on November 1, 2013

-Weather influences what you drink more than the recommendations of wine commentators or bloggers

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-The overuse of technology in winemaking has resulted the exaltation of clinical mediocrity

-Wine journalism tends to focus on the product at the expense of the vineyard or the vigneron except in the cases of those winemakers who are adept at hyping themselves and then it focuses on how good the quality of the marketing is.

-Wine trends are 99% PRspiration and 1% winemaking inspiration

-It is seemingly more important that a project succeeds because of blanket social media coverage than because it is inherently interesting.

-Apparently, it is more important to believe in the product of scientific research than in the product in the bottle and your own sense of taste.

-You can create massive waves in the navel-gazing wine world by being (apparently) controversial for the hell of it.

-Wine is treated by the media as an arcane discipline which is over-complicated and shrouded in pseudo-scientific jargon, the intellectual domaine of a select few. This has resulted in a new kind of wine infantilism, wherein the wine world is made accessible by going to the opposite extreme and dumbing down the issues in favour of “sound gulps”.

-The vast majority of wine in the world is made in factories dedicated to denaturing wine.

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-Champagne has coasted on myth and bubble reputation for centuries. Because of this, top quality hand-crafted growers’ champagnes are less appreciated than they should be.

-The power of brands is the result of the human desire to conform and is the ultimate manifestation of our insecurity about wine.

-Virtually all wine surveys are pointless. And patronising.

-The average consumer is both a straw man and a caricature for much of the wine trade.

-The wine trade has managed to concoct a critical mumbo-jumbo which debases the language featuring buzz-words-and-phrases such as gatekeeper, path to market, SKUs, revenue channels, inventory management, UPCs, EANs…Zzzs

-Globalisation has resulted in the exponential growth of social media conferences.

-Much winemaking avails itself of technological tools for the sake of using tools. This often results in pretentious wines as the more you have to use these tools, the less of the original you end up with.

-Enjoyment and pleasure are peculiarly absent from the language of wine criticism.

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-Over-analysis of wine leads to emphatic over-banalysis.

-Some critics seem philosophically incapable of understanding the difference between faults and flaws. Flaws are imperfections, the deviations from the norm, the rough surfaces that give individuality to the wines. Flaws are what give us our personalities. Most critics view flaws as faults and thus wine is invariably construed as the sum total of its faults.

-It is better not to make wine than to pollute the environment with chemicals. It is better not to make wine than to sacrifice biodiversity for the sake of profit.

-Wine judging more often than not rewards the lesser of two evils – bland correctness triumphing over problematic interest.

-The bigger the marketing budget, the blander the wine

-The glossier/thicker the brochures, see above

-Romantic photos of sun-kissed grapes, pretty tanned people stomping grapes by foot, and old dusty cellars generally mean the wine has really been made clinically and spent more time in a laboratory than a cellar

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-Heavy bottles=small man syndrome

-Expensive barrels= *see above

-Expensive consultant=*see above

-Happy slapping wine: 16% oak monsters that slap you across the face before even touching your lips (see above)

-Wine shows are more for the industry to pat each other on the backs than to truly try and determine the best wine (what IS best anyway?!). The biggest penis always wins.

-Australians have bret-a-phobia, are obsessed with judging wine, revere the winemaker (the viticulturist is still for the most part a separate entity and a lesser being), still deep down want their wines like their morning jam-on-toast, and take wine far more seriously than their laid back personas portray

-The Margaret River is overrated (gasp shock horror!)

-An astonishing number of wines are returned in restaurants and returned from restaurants to suppliers as “corked.” When they are out of condition, they are often oxidised, sulphurous or sporting a variety of faults – but not corked.

-The world of wine might stop turning if there weren’t competitions and comparisons and general lavishing of baubles, bangles and beads. So – Go Compare!

The best vintage
The best grape
The best sparkling wine region
The best palate
The best marking system
The best of the best

Simply, give it a rest

-Mark-ups in restaurants bear zero relation (plus vat and service) to the value of the wine inside the bottle.

-It is more important for bean-counters to make a precise % profit margin on every bottle of wine than to have happy customers who return to an establishment frequently because they can afford to drink there.

-The new wave of boutique wine producers talk a better game than they play.

-Trade mags are seemingly only interested only in:

*The Chinese market

*Record auction prices

*The incessant vanity projects of actors, rap artists, footballers

*Diageo & Pernod Ricard

*Pernod Ricard & Diageo

*Bordeaux, Boredeaux, By Now Totally Boredeaux

*Summits and conferences about either incredibly niche topics or the bleedin’ obvious.

-Wine writers are swift to recant if they find themselves expressing views that contradict the received wisdom.

-Natural wine might not exist as a perceived phenomenon if critics did not fan the embers of controversy.

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-The best bottle is the empty bottle – drunk by people who enjoy the taste of wine.

-The worst bottle is the empty bottle – emptied down the sink.

-(The use of) sulphur is not the issue; too much sulphur should always be an issue.

-The vast majority of restaurant wine lists in the UK are incomprehensible, unimaginative, poorly-laid-out and might as well be written in a dead and forgotten language.

-The system of gross profit margins that operate in the UK on-trade is retrograde and penalises people for drinking better wine. It also puts all wines in the same product-for-a-purpose-basket.

-Most back labels on bottles are not worth the paper they are printed on.

-A lot of Argentinean winemakers evidently think that opacity is a sign of quality, oak is a sign of seriousness and alcohol is a sign of virility.

-Many of the wine organisations that came into existence notionally to promote and protect standards end up as tax-and-spend bureaucracies, throttling individuality and stifling diversity.

-The French regional interprofessions are not noted for their imagination nor their sense of humour.

-When dealing with difficult customers and perennially angry or self-important bloggers or tweeters do consult your biodynamic calendar. It may be a “nut day”.

-In the wine trade everyone knows each other’s business more than they know their own. And cherish their own opinions. Refer to Harry Callahan’s (played by Clint Eastwood) aperçu on opinions in The Dead Pool.

-Talking ad nauseam about great (expensive) bottles of wine you have drunk is no different to enumerating your sexual conquests.

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-Oak is a container not the main flavouring agent in wine – so many winemakers are still into over-seasoning.

-People who claim that their barrels have a medium toast shouldn’t be allowed near a toaster

-Twenty years ago only French wines displayed terroir and winemakers from other countries rubbished the term as typically Gallic mystical malarkey. Now every country has wines that reflect… er… the region from which they originate.

-Critics have oddly selective palates.

-Food and wine matching is 50% common sense and 50% uncommon nonsense.

-Marketing your wine on the basis of its unique terroir is tautological. All terroir is surely unique; some terroir is simply better for vine-growing than others.

-Wine bloggers spend an inordinate amount of time praising other wine bloggers on social media in the hope that they will return the favour.

-Skin contact wine is not weird or revolutionary. All red wine is the result of skin contact.

-Ordering wine in expensive restaurants is playing Russian Roulette with your bank account.

-In the Loire Vin de France is a badge of honour.

-Simplicity and complexity are not mutually exclusive qualities for a wine to possess.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Belford November 1, 2013 at 11:40 am

Ah, so many uncomfortable truths. Brilliant, from brett to barrels and bunkum and back again.

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Jamie Goode November 1, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Brilliant if v uncomfortable reading!

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Helen Hall November 1, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Gosh! Particularly love this point:
‘Champagne has coasted on myth and bubble reputation for centuries. Because of this, top quality hand-crafted growers’ champagnes are less appreciated than they should be.’
I’ll second that!!

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Robert Joseph November 1, 2013 at 1:58 pm

A few hastily penned responses… Everything else I agree with 100%

-The overuse of technology in winemaking has resulted the exaltation of clinical mediocrity
And the demise of much filthy, vinegary wine that was widely produced in Europe in the 1980s – and gave rise to the use of “flying winemakers”

-Wine journalism tends to focus on the product at the expense of the vineyard or the vigneron except in the cases of those winemakers who are adept at hyping themselves and then it focuses on how good the quality of the marketing is.
Wine journalism focuses on the tastiness of the stuff in the glass – which is what interests most 0 though not all – consumers

-The vast majority of wine in the world is made in factories dedicated to denaturing wine.
50% of French wine is – and has long been – produced by cooperatives which frequently denatured wine by allowing it to become spoiled by bacteria or oxidation

-The power of brands is the result of the human desire to conform and is the ultimate manifestation of our insecurity about wine.
the power of wine brands – like clothes and all sorts of other brands – reflects a normal human need for reassurance

-The average consumer is both a straw man and a caricature for much of the wine trade.
the consumer is someone in whom most wine producers has little or no interest

-The wine trade has managed to concoct a critical mumbo-jumbo which debases the language featuring buzz-words-and-phrases such as gatekeeper, path to market, SKUs, revenue channels, inventory management, UPCs, EANs…Zzzs
The traditional wine trade has created a mumbo jumbo made up of meaningless appellations and tasting terms such as “elegant” and “austere”

-Some critics seem philosophically incapable of understanding the difference between faults and flaws. Flaws are imperfections, the deviations from the norm, the rough surfaces that give individuality to the wines. Flaws are what give us our personalities. Most critics view flaws as faults and thus wine is invariably construed as the sum total of its faults.
Some “natural” wine fans imagine that flaws are innately desirable. Most people are as keen on spending their hard earned money on flawed wine as on being served tough steak in a restaurant.

-Wine judging more often than not rewards the lesser of two evils – bland correctness triumphing over problematic interest.
And it helps to raise average standards. Bland correctness may actually be more pleasing than dirty faultiness/flaws – see above

-Heavy bottles=small man syndrome
Heavy bottles =welcome gift to non wine-enthusiast

-Expensive barrels= *see above
are probably better than cheap ones – but possibly no more useful than well used oak chips, which are almodt certainly excoriated by the author of this blog because of the agreeable flavour they might add to wine

-Expensive consultant=*see above
Might conceivably be a welcome arrival at a winery that’s making substandard wine

-Wine shows are more for the industry to pat each other on the backs than to truly try and determine the best wine (what IS best anyway?!). The biggest penis always wins.
Like other agricultural shows, they exist to improve overall standards. And they do. Anf thre biggest DON’T always win

-Australians have bret-a-phobia, are obsessed with judging wine, revere the winemaker (the viticulturist is still for the most part a separate entity and a lesser being), still deep down want their wines like their morning jam-on-toast, and take wine far more seriously than their laid back personas portray
They don’t like wine that smells and tastes of stable floors. How strange of them!

-The Margaret River is overrated (gasp shock horror!)
So is Bordeaux. So what?

-An astonishing number of wines are returned in restaurants and returned from restaurants to suppliers as “corked.” When they are out of condition, they are often oxidised, sulphurous or sporting a variety of faults – but not corked.
No, they’re not faulty. They’re fascinatingly “flawed”. See above

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Martin Moran November 14, 2013 at 10:57 am

Brilliant reply Robert. Full of conveniently ignored ‘truths.

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Chris Losh November 1, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Loved half of it, hated half of it. Suspect that’s probably about normal. Comments on margins/lists in the on-trade are bang on. Liked the point about wine bloggers praising other wine bloggers in social media in the hope they will return the favour, too.

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Daniel Honan November 1, 2013 at 2:28 pm

This is a gift. Thank you.

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Juel Mahoney November 1, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Brilliant – especially about the weather. If a wine has great points, recommendations, media coverage it doesn’t matter a jot if you don’t look out the window first. An analogy of the whole media/wine show complex – it can be myopic. It is obsessed with “the health of the wine trade” treating wine like a suspect who they are saving the consumer from (move on, don’t patronise people – they.know more than trade gives credit for, especially insights on taste). Very rarely I see much about enjoyment or pleasure. It’s quite maudlin. Some points are quite harsh, but it is good to rattle the cages. OK Before this sounds like rant, I am signing off and starting the weekend. Salute!

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Emma Bentley November 2, 2013 at 7:52 am

Great post. One point particularly hit home:

‘The power of brands is the result of the human desire to conform and is the ultimate manifestation of our insecurity about wine.”

The power of brands is a totally normal response to 21st century consumer conditionning.
The simple recognition of a label is often the difference between the consumer buying the bottle or not. We can’t change this… so we’d better learn to embrace it!

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Andrew Graham November 2, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Lots to agree with on that list and plenty to disagree with.

As for the Australian examples, I’d suggest that if you think Margaret River wines are overrated then you’re definitely not drinking widely enough – a fair argument though as it isn’t the most progressive of regions. The comment that ‘deep-down (Australians) want wines to taste like jam on toast’ is a laughably ignorant observation (but wouldn’t have been a decade ago). Australians do revere winemakers over viticulturists though (and it’s annoying), however so do Americans, South Africans, Spaniards…

This is my favourite paragraph of this whole piece:

-Champagne has coasted on myth and bubble reputation for centuries. Because of this, top quality hand-crafted growers’ champagnes are less appreciated than they should be.

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Winerackd November 2, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Hear hear.

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Louis November 2, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Brilliant!

Would you mind commenting on my blog now, please.

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Alistair Gibson November 3, 2013 at 10:33 am

There is nothing like a good list on a Sunday morning to stir up the grey matter. As above love some of it hated some it but clearly thats why it was written – some of this is ‘Master of the Bleedin’ obvious’ territory and some is just ‘hand grenade lobbing’. Lists…..they’re overrated!

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Tim Atkin MW November 3, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Agree with Chris Losh. Half of this is spot on, the other half rather less so. A few axes being ground at the expense of wine critics, too. What about wine merchants who knowingly sell faulty (sorry, flawed) wines?

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Peter Troilo November 3, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Such a great read on Sunday morning. So many truths that so many try to deny.

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Jack Everitt November 3, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Too many truths here…head exploding!

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Tai-Ran Niew November 3, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Nice! Especially comments re: media …

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doug November 4, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Thanks for all your comments and observations!

There is good and bad in the world of wine. The wine trade itself is an amorphous beast. There is a head (lots of heads in fact), plenty of heart and a colourful rainbow of opinions. There is also a Panglossian status quo. Vive la diversité!

Only the superior wine arbiter is allowed the presumption that the customer, or wine buyer for restaurants and shops, is incapable of recognising a faulty wine and therefore must have absolutely no sense of taste whatever.

If the wines were self-evidently faulty the wine merchant wouldn’t be able to sell them (because no-one would buy them) and then the wine merchant wouldn’t buy them in the future unless they wanted to bankrupt themselves very quickly. If they are quirky and interesting (but not necessarily to everyone’s taste) there will always be an audience that welcomes a change from the quotidian tried-and-tested.

Perhaps we should content ourselves with Lucretius’ observation: “What is food to one man is bitter poison to others.” Or to put it another way: ““There are the wines that I like,
that he hates. And there are the wines that he likes, that I would never drink. And
somewhere in the middle are the wines we both like drinking and we drink together.”

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Samuel Guibert November 4, 2013 at 6:18 pm

From a winemaker ‘s view,
it is very exciting to see that the topic of wine can still create so much interest and discussion!
For many of us wine is a form of art where personal expression and passion plays a big part.
As a result it can only lead to mixed answers, some liking it some not.
Most of us don’t produce awine for a medal, an appraisal (other than from the end consumer) or to be remembered.
The ultimate goal is to share a bit of pleasure, an emotion that came from the land where we farm for so many years
Ultimately it is the final consumer who will decide whether that act of love between Nature and humanity is worth drinking or not.
That’s what makes wines to exciting and so challenging to reduce to simple attribute!
Fascinating debate!
Merci

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Chris Williams November 5, 2013 at 8:11 am

Amen to most of the points, hmmm to the rest. All in all though, very thought provoking and amusing.

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Gemma Adams November 5, 2013 at 1:58 pm

I wish I had dared to write all this, whether it’s true or not. Great read thanks.

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Fabio (Vinos Ambiz) November 7, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Interesting post and interesting comments. Thanks for the good read y’all :)

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