Tirelessly mordacious wine blogger Terry Hughes recently published a post in which he compared contemporary wine writing to New Criticism. His spirited, pungent observations reminded me of my graduate-school days when I used to wrustle with deconstructionists, structuralists and post-structuralists, formalists, and Lacanians (some of whom i actually liked).
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, New Criticism was a “post-World War I school of Anglo-American literary critical theory that insisted on the intrinsic value of a work of art and focused attention on the individual work alone as an independent unit of meaning. It was opposed to the critical practice of bringing historical or biographical data to bear on the interpretation of a work.”
I found Terry’s analogy apt because the current trend of wine writing, with its emphasis on subjective tasting notes, seems entirely bent on disregarding historical, biographical, and – most regrettably – topological information. Like the New Critics who conjured up a new critical theory to deal with modernity, the “New Wine Writers” have concocted a language that disregards history, people, and place: ecce points-based, florid tasting notes.*
That’s not to say that I don’t like “modern” and “post-modern” literature. In fact, I am a lover of that Caesar of modernity, Gertrude Stein, who published The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933 (that’s Alice, above, left). In this work, Stein writes her own auto-biography by writing the “auto-biography” of Alice. In doing so, she reveals that the process of writing is by its nature subjective, intrinsically and inexorably. Consider the following notion: when a wine writer writes her/his impressions of a wine, she/he is really writing her/his autobiography. Voilà, Alice B. Toklas, wine critic. I’ll say no more…
In other news…
Although she did not write The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Alice B. Toklas did write a very famous cookbook, the aptly titled Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (1954), which included a now famous recipe for hashish fudge (the precursor to many of the now ubiquitous pot brownies recipes).
Does anybody remember Peter Sellers’ hilarious 1968 film I Love You Alice B. Toklas?
I bet Terry does.
The “Groovy Brownies” clip below is long and corny but worth it.
* I owe Peter Hellman this classic example of modern wine writing, where two famous wine writers review the same lot with almost diametrically opposed results:
Parker: “The 2003 Cornas La Louvee is a blockbuster. Glorious aromas of flowers, blackberries, roasted meats, espresso roast, and white chocolate flow from this full-bodied, concentrated, modern-styled, impressively-endowed, full-throttle Cornas. Drink it now and over the next 15+ years. 93pts”
Wine Spectator: “Tight and structured, with lots of iron and mineral notes framing the black cherry, plum, briar, tar and olive paste flavors. Long finish sports mouthwatering acidity. Very impressive for Cornas in 2003. Best from 2007 through 2015. 800 cases made. 92pts”