A plea for more wine banter

By , 18 October 2023



Credit: Hannah Peters/Getty Images.

Immediately after the recent Ireland-New Zealand Rugby World Cup semi-final won by the latter, All Blacks centre Reiko Ioane apparently said to outgoing Irish captain Johnny Sexton, “Enjoy retirement and don’t miss your flight”. Some may view this as not very classy, but the Irish give as good as they get, their flank Peter O’Mahony last year memorably telling New Zealand counterpart Sam Cane that he was a “shit Richie McCaw”, McCaw being Cane’s predecessor as captain and all-round legend.

The absence of banter in the world of wine debates, at least when it comes to formal channels, is curious. Why is this? For one thing, wine is not a binary matter of right or wrong, winners or losers. There’s an unavoidable subjective element to wine appreciation and this inevitably requires some circumspection and humility on the part of debate participants. One commentator might be more knowledgeable and experienced than another but ultimately, no one can argue that their personal taste is superior to someone else’s.

One of the best ways to learn about wine is to appreciate that everyone’s experience is different, and discussions are an opportunity to enrich your own understanding. Seeking to grasp the nuances of another person’s encounter with a wine and how it differs from your own is a highly effective way to enhance appreciation.

Another, less admirable, reason to explain the absence of banter when it comes to wine is that egos are fragile and reputations supposedly easily damaged. Criticise a leading winemaker or prominent property, however playfully, and you stand the chance of being quickly ostracized by the wine establishment.

Still, the missing banter in wine discussions is something of a disappointment. Wine enthusiasts are often regarded as having an exaggerated respect for the subject by the uninitiated and the absence of banter only exacerbates this. It is, to put it bluntly, a missed opportunity for a livelier and more engaging discourse.

As the rugby anecdotes above demonstrate, banter adds an element of entertainment and excitement. Wine discussions all too often become overly serious or academic and could certainly do with more light-hearted fun.

Those of us highly involved in wine world are kidding ourselves if we don’t recognise that outsiders see it as overly complex and elitist. More banter can humanize the discussion, making it more approachable and relatable to a broader audience. Describing wines as “masculine” and “feminine” is so last century and “minerality” is baloney. There, I said it…

Nor does banter always have to be confrontational. One area of wine where there certainly is a difference of opinion is between proponents of natural as opposed to regular wine and this often gets acrimonious. What would be far more useful is a bit of good-natured banter as a tool for mutual edification – participants encouraged to explore and justify their viewpoints, leading to a richer exchange of ideas and knowledge.

Wine appreciation is too often dominated by received wisdom – a set of beliefs and standards that people have come to accept as true: “Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t make serious wine” or “Added sulphur is bad” or “Swartland is hipper than Stellenbosch”. Banter, however, allows individuals to express their unique perspectives more openly, helping to keep the wine scene as vibrant and open as possible. Established norms and trends need challenging and those of us who love wine could all afford to take ourselves less seriously.

In closing, I can recommend the following three Instagram accounts that treat the wine industry with refreshing irreverence: 1). @frau.foudre – wine writer, Australia/New Zealand wine ambassador: 2). @shittywinememes; and 3). @six_parallels_south – producer of kosher wines from the Yarra Valley, Heathcote and Bendigo.


9 comment(s)

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    Richard Andrews | 31 December 2023

    I belong to an informal wine club (no membership fees or membership lists) in Napier, New Zealand. This club meets every Monday evening at 5pm, rotating around various members houses, and everyone brings along a bottle of wine hidden in a bag (your choice, white, red, dessert wine or whatever), and some food. The only thing taken at all seriously is the wine, and the banter & ribbing of the members can at times almost get out of hand. There is a set question format, whites, then reds, then any dessert wines. At special occasions a “Gem time” is called, when everyone brings a good quality wine.
    But the whole emphasis of the club is based on good humored banter, and no one is allowed to take themselves seriously. Anyone who struggles to take a joke at their own expense usually doesn’t come along more than once or twice.

    BvR | 1 November 2023

    Mmm this is a tricky one Christian. So my bantered view is that for the typical winemag audience, who probably almost exclusively drinks Super Premium and above (as your infamous Kruger NP post reiterated), im not sure what banter is appropriate. I think at a lower price point banter is highly appropriate as its unlikely to have any impact on the business of the producer and wine quality is so much more objective and vintage dependant. Its one thing to have a bit of banter saying the Alto Rouge is better than a KK Kadette or that the Four Cousins was probably not the best pairing for your fillet steak, but to engage in banter (which is probably in its very nature going to be derogatory?) about SAs finest wines has no upside for anyone. The producers that sell above the R500 or so mark have typically worked very very very hard over many many many vintages to eventually get to that price point and status. Not to mention those that go for R1000+. And for someone to banter and say that there is very little in it between, for argument sake, the current Alto Rouge and the Paul Sauer, is such a slap in face to the PS. Who and why would anyone, especially the audience that you keep across your platforms, go there? Fine wine is a more serious business and takes decades to reach that status, which could be ruined by some nonsense and uneducated banter?

    And to Ross and kwispedoor, in that same vein, I think there is most definitely a place for “what I drank last night” posts. Regardless of someone’s social status or disposable income, if they choose to invest it into SAs finest wines I think it should be applauded and not discouraged. And it’s highly unlikely that anyone really cares for their original insight into the wine (unless it’s an older vintage of a rare wine, when it would be good to provide a status update), as there are much better and more accurate views available from critics. What that does allow though is for those fine wine drinkers to publicly praise and congratulate the producer. It’s a vote of confidence and a vote of support that should be public. When someone chooses to open specific bottles for special occasions, like say the RWC final, or a wedding anniversary or valentines, thats a serious responsibility on the winemaker and the consumer puts massive trust into that bottle. There are likely to be others at the table for the occasion, which adds to the pressure but also creates another wonderful advert for the producer. You might construe it as “look at my fabulous wine life”, when in reality it’s free advertising for the producer, to a very curated audience, by superfan customers, and personally I think that should be celebrated.

    Dominic Bodenstein | 19 October 2023

    Bring back the Spittoon Saloon!

    Ross Sleet | 18 October 2023

    Hi Greg. There are many, many, wine posts that we all see that are all about the “Look at my fantastic wine life” with zero context. A qualified post with caveats and context are always welcome. I have bought wines based on people whose views I respect having commented positively on a wine. And I’m sure I am not alone in this. My issue, and in spirit of banter, is drawing a line between those qualified to comment, including “civilians” and those who do so to show off their “Fabulous wine life”. Wine is a great cultural good with amazing characteristics on so many levels and it has afforded me a life I couldn’t have imagined, but it is still just a drink.

      Kwispedoor | 19 October 2023

      Yes, Ross. Usually, it’s just the “look at my fabulous wine life” pics on social media, and not much writing at all, if any. Then you get the “influencers” – who don’t really influence anyone amongst their followers (real of fake) to actually buy something – who share some wine pics (but the pics of themselves are more important) with regurgitated marketing bollocks from the producer copied and pasted as accompaniment. If you’re lucky, they’ll share something original, but often that would only entail what the wine smells like to them. Usually, nothing about taste or taste components like acidity, body, texture, mouthfeel, aftertaste, or a drinking window – not a personal one, in any event. So, in a wholly misguided attempt to make wine more accessible, they just make it more pretentious and snooty.

    Greg Sherwood | 18 October 2023

    You hit the mail on the head… “requires some circumspection and humility on the part of debate participants.” Social media / multi media, like politics these days, is so polarised and if one critic scores a wine 92 and another 97… while both could be right on the day, one of them, or both of them possibly, will be lambasted by the armchair critics for poor skills. The end result… less discussion, less banter and less engagement. Constructive criticism does not exist in wine anymore.

    Ross Sleet | 18 October 2023

    Well put Christian – and can we all please develop a sense of humour around wine! It’s just a (very nice sometimes, spectacular rarely) alcoholic beverage. It doesn’t solve world peace (sadly especially now). It is an important industry providing lots of jobs to ‘000’s of people, including me (especially in the Western Cape). And it (sometimes) contributes to the social well-being of individuals and society. BUT its’ not the elixir of the Gods, you aren’t drinking the heavens, and for goodness sake no more line-ups of “what I drank last night/last weekend/this morning” No one really cares, and if they do, ask yourself why? #WineBanter #Wine

      Greg Sherwood | 18 October 2023

      Ross, don’t think there are too many official “what I drank last night” posts… more how our wines performed against the international greats… which I think most find enlightening.

      Specialorange_ | 20 October 2023

      Ross, one could argue that for example my “what I drank last night” posts on my instagram story last week may be considered banter, especially when I am very cheekily praising a competitor’s Sauvignon blanc knowing full well that I now have the freedom to do so (because my resignation is in).. and the competitor re-shared it also knowing full and well who I worked for.

      To all: Klein Roosboom for example is very good at tongue-and-cheek banter and I can’t help but think of their post about their Viticulturalist vs Groote Posts’ and their amazing little clap-back that followed.

      Banter is great when it is done in a tasteful way or with the intention to actually listen to the other person’s opinion but I would caution against ‘poking the bear’ just for the kicks of it – it can come off as unprofessional in some cases, however I for one love a heated debate and often walk away having learnt more (with no hard feelings or ill-intent) – to those who know me, there are no hard feelings, but to those who don’t…..I can only apologize in advance.

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