IS IT POSSIBLE TO BE A “NICE” WINE CRITIC?

I experienced a bit of a “conundrum of manners” this past weekend, one that caused me to ponder it for a while – so I thought I would share it with you.

With my wife and daughter away at the Taylor Swift concert – and teenage son otherwise engaged – I thought I would take the opportunity to go check out what was happening at some of the Fraser Valley wineries. But at all three of them, I ran into wines that weren’t bad, but just not my style. At each of them, however, the pourer asked me “what do I think?”

Each time, I hesitated. Partially, because even after 25+ years of wine tasting, I still wonder sometimes whether I actually know what I am talking about. Mostly, though– whether because I am Canadian or just a nice guy – I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.

The result, each time, was that I was “careful” in my assessment. “A little thin” was one comment…”made in a different style” was another. Those kinds of comments were able to get me, mostly, out of trouble.

But then I also wanted to tweet my tastings. And tweets, partially because they are so short, don’t lie.

At first, because tweets are electronic, it thought I was safe. None of them were horrible – after all, none of the wines were “off”. But the reds were more Bordeaux in style, which isn’t what I like, and the whites just didn’t have enough fruit. So that’s what I said.

It was with a bit of horror, however, when I saw that a couple of the wineries retweeted my “least insulting” tweets!?!

On the way home, I thought about what a wine critic could – or should – say. On the one hand, if people are following my advice, I owe them the truth. On the other, however, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

So what to do?

In the end – and after considering what I had actually done and said – I came up with a solution.

Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows I am a big fan of ‘style’. It’s not about good and bad wine, just about the style of wine that you like. And that was how I had both talked, and tweeted, about all the wines. It was honest, but not hurtful.

So that is what I will continue to do. I will make sure people know the style of wine I like. If wineries make that style – and the price is right – then I will talk about it favourably. If not, then I won’t necessarily criticize it, but I will say it isn’t my style.

Hopefully that is the kind of compromise that will produce a review that is truthful but not hurtful to the winemaker!

SB

http://www.sbwinesite.com

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3 Responses to “IS IT POSSIBLE TO BE A “NICE” WINE CRITIC?”

  1. sipsinthecity Says:

    I was ‘outed’ on twitter over a poor review I gave a local winery a few months ago. I was mortified… but it was honest. I just thought it was overpriced and stand by what I wrote. However, whether it is a Canuck thing or a good manners thing, I still felt awful that they saw it. At least they didn’t call me any mean names in return!!

  2. the winegetter Says:

    I think you are totally right about this. We all have our style preferences and measure wines against that (btw, I am in the red-no Bordeaux but rather earthy wine, and white-I want fruity brackets with you). I think that is natural. And that is why it is important, as you say, to make clear what your preferences are. And you do that.

    I am also once in a while in that conundrum, and while I am not Canadian, I still struggle to tell a winemaker in his face that I don’t like a particular wine. To me, though, the thing is that I usually do find stuff that I can praise in a wine when I am talking with the producer. It might not come together in the way I want it, but there are often aspects that are good or fine. I focus on those then in my analysis shared with the winemaker.

    In writing, I focus on what I really enjoyed.

  3. The Wine DOC(G) Says:

    Really great topic SB!

    Before my formal somm training, I had a hard time coming to grips with this issue. If I didn’t like the wine, it sucked. Since then, I have learned to respect quality of fruit, styles of winemaking, varietal integrity, structure, balance, etc. I have come to learn, it is OK not to like a wine, but still find something positive to say about it. You are not compromising your integrity. I was in Italy recently tasting the 2009 Ornellaia next to 2009 Sassicaia – both $200/btl wines. I really didn’t care much for Ornellaia, but I found some favorable characteristics to share and posted my tasting notes accordingly. BTW, the Sassicaia would knock your socks off – worth a try, if you can. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have tasted some real schlock and I will be the first one to tell you about it. Keep the thought provoking posts coming!

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