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”.