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Actor Michael Douglas disses wine tasting in Vanity Fair

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Actor Michael Douglas.
Actor Michael Douglas.

In the March issue of Vanity Fair, actor Michael Douglas, famous for his role as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, answers the Proust Questionnaire. In response to the question “What do you consider the most over-rated virtue?”, he replies “Wine tasting”. Robert Mugabe is the “living person he most despises” so we don’t completely disagree about everything.

Elsewhere, a very polite but intense debate is taking place on the Grape website about the need to transform wine writing to be more intelligible to the layman. On the one side, Andy Hadfield of Realtimewine.co.za who is promoting Twitter-length 140-character reviews for “the not so snobby” and who has a whole list of banned words including “acidity” and “tannins”. On the other, Grape editor Tim James who “finds it impossible to believe that anyone is going to find [Hadfield’s project] nourishing for long”.

A few observations on my part are that 1) wine criticism, as with all criticism, is not an entirely frivolous activity but goes a long way to shaping who succeeds and who fails in a commercial sense; 2) however dour wine writing often is, it depends on a shared aesthetic (and hence a shared vocabulary) among the wine enthusiast community in order to be meaningful.  As Wineanorak.com’s Jamie Goode argues in a recent blog posting entitled Controverialist: judgements of quality in wine, this aesthetic system is self-referential: ”It is (one) that people are schooled in, and like the English language, there are subtle modifications with time, but it remains largely the same”.

1 COMMENT

  1. I must say, I was utterly shocked and surprised to see such a civilised debate on Grape. For some reason certain South African wine commentators can’t quite get their points across without being nasty. I’ve often wondered about this lack of civility and apparent bubbling over of anger, as it is something that’s completely absent in my wine circles.
    For the record, I applaud Andy H’s efforts and hopefully they will attract a lot of people to wine. Speaking for myself, I will not be reading them as they’ll provide me without clues as to what the wine may be like (or, indeed, if it was perhaps faulty from the start). The only area where the vagueness becomes clearer, is in their preferences.
    I prefer tasting notes that provide as much info as possible. Judgements on balance, mouthfeel, wood, freshness/acid, fruit, character, etc. Thus I might read a glowing review of a wine, while at the same time getting the idea that I’d probably not like it and vice versa. Having said this, I realise that it’s far from an exact science and the same taster might write a substantially different review of the same wine one day later if tasted blind. But the “simpler, dumbed down” tasting notes are emphatically and equally vulnerable to gobbledygook, pretence and inaccuracies. There’s no way to write the perfect wine review that will keep everyone happy.

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