A plea for more wine banter
By Christian Eedes, 18 October 2023
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.
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