Should wine bloggers write about wines they don’t like? (And Tracie P is looking great!)

Above: Tracie P and I couldn’t resist taking a dip in the salt water pool at the Four Seasons Las Colinas Resort in Irving, Texas, where I spoke at the seventh annual Texas Sommelier Conference on Saturday. Baby P is doing great and so is Mamma P!

During our Saturday seminar on wine blogging at the Texas Sommelier Conference, San Antonio participant Mark Fusco (author of 1337 Wine), asked Alfonso and me whether we felt there was a place in the enoblogosphere to write about wines we don’t like. Mark was referring to what we called “the golden rules of wine blogging,” including avoid negativity and write about things that you do like.

Print media wine writer Rebecca Murphy responded fervently, noting that “there are so many good wines out there, we can always find wines we like to write about” and avoid negative reviews.

After I posted the golden rules here yesterday, two of my European wine blogging colleagues — top print and virtual media writers Franco Ziliani from Italy and Wojciech Bońkowski from Poland — commented that “we must write also about things we don’t like [because] a critical approach to wine world of today is essential” (Franco) and that “it’s important to review bad wines, too, [because] from a reader’s point of view it adds balance to your praise, and makes you more trustworthy.”

Above: Alfonso snapped this photo of me with Mamma P on Saturday night at the conference speakers dinner party. I think anyone who saw her would agree. Tracie P is simply aglow right now. Me? I’m just happy to be sitting next to such a beautiful lady!

Others, including Alfonso, have weighed in: here’s the comment thread.

As Kim Pierce syllogistically pointed out during Saturday’s print media panel, many [print media food and wine] journalists are bloggers but not all bloggers are journalists.

As the lines of print and virtual media continue to be blurred and as many professional writers are increasingly prompted to contribute to commercial and institutional blogs, the question of where journalism ends and blogging begins becomes more and more fuzzy.

In my view, the main difference between traditional media and blogging is that the former is ostensibly objective while the latter is proudly subjective. By these terms, I do not mean one is better than the other. I am applying these terms as a semiotician would: they reflect the authors’s points of view. Personal pronouns — the lice of literature, as Gadda once said — are omitted in print media. They are embraced in social media.

As a child of historical Deconstruction and post-Modern critical theory, I am a firm believer that these terms are essentially irrelevant. (Not enough time and space to address this now and here.)

But I do believe that professional writers like Franco and Wojciech (and myself for that matter) are able to address thorny issues (like bad wines) in a judicious manner: they have institutional experience (and often training) that guides them. And as a result, they can be critical without agression or violence.

In social media, because so many of the writers lack these qualifications, unfounded controversy and imbalanced critical evaluation often takes the place of sound writing.

This is why I believe we wine bloggers should avoid negativity but not critical thinking. This is especially applicable for those of us coming to the table for the first time (like many of the participants in Saturday’s seminar).

I do think that Franco and Wojciech are 100% correct (and I am thrilled that they have weighed in here because I admire both of them immensely): we mustn’t abandon critical thinking. But can we maintain honesty without aggression and violence?

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in a comment!

22 thoughts on “Should wine bloggers write about wines they don’t like? (And Tracie P is looking great!)

  1. Point well taken Jeremy. Indeed criticising can be a thorny issue itself, especially when done without the appropriate justification. Actually many people including those who comment on wine forums and/or blog often become excited with criticising (thing or people). Criticising fairly is a difficult thing. But while I agree with others that there is a lot of good wine around, there’s also a lot of crap. Some of it expensive, with a well-known brand. It’s only fair that these wines get discussed too. Cheers!

  2. @Wojciech your insights are always appreciated here! thanks again… I agree with you…

    @Thor great to see you here, too. And I do agree with you (on both points!). But I was also trying to make a point by showing that all blogging is purely subjective even when ostensibly objective (blogging is in the eye’s of the beholder!).

  3. Firstly, Tracie looked amazing all weekend: Glowing, happy, just stunning. Secondly, coming from someone who hears a lot of reviews I think criticism is important. It helps people get a feel for why wine is different. It’s not just that you don’t like something, but you get a description of why this wine just doesn’t work in some ways.

  4. Of course all blogging is purely subjective. I think most wine folk, and that includes commentators in any venue, would be helped if they just banished the word-concept “objective” and its variants from their thinking. It does have certain limited uses, but it hinders, obfuscates, and falsifies far more than it helps.

  5. There are so many wines in the world- it feels like a waste of time to be angry, aggressive, or just plain rude about any of them. Maybe this is just the beach-bum Californian in me, but why waste time and energy?

    Also- I try to remind myself that as much as I might detest a wine, I am reminded of the immense amount of money, time, energy and thought that went into the end result. This is difficult to criticize- after all, at it’s roots (apologies in advance for all the terrible, unintentional puns!), wine is a combination of agriculture and art. Very hard for me to spend time writing (or even thinking) about examples I hate, when there is so much to be excited about.

    However, although I am personally uncomfortable with publicly denouncing the fruits of a winery’s labor, I appreciate objectivity, especially when a writer attempts to “rate” a wine. I want to know why it received the score it did, as this tells me something deeper about the person keeping the scorecard. I believe this is what JP means above when he says to avoid negativity, but not critical thinking.

    Bottom line for me: if you’re going to advise me about what to buy and when to buy it, you need to tell me why or why not, which might necessarily include some tempered criticism. However, if you are simply writing to write about wine, why bother focusing on the wines you hate? Tell me a story! Tell me about what you love, tell me the story about your passion for the wine, and tell me why I should go out and find it so I can try it too.

  6. The mark of any good critic is the ability to praise and to pan. Not every wine deserves a gold star and a pat on the head, and a good wine critic has the capacity to be honest with grace. (Though there’s also nothing wrong with going all Dorothy Parker on a bad wine too, if it’s justified.)

  7. @Alfonso I feel like this is the motto that is beginning to emerge as the best golden rule, no? thanks so much for being here and encouraging and engaging in the debate… :)

    @Joanie SUCH AN IMPORTANT POINT! If someone made and sold the wine, it means that SOMEONE out there likes it… so important to keep in mind… great perspective…

    @Janice Dorothy Parker! I LOVE IT! Satire is such a wonderful tool when it comes to criticism… you’ve opened a whole new and wonderful can of worms here! Love it!

  8. I found your line about being critical but avoiding negativity to be a good one. Of course, to some, depending on point of view, criticism will be interpreted in a negative light. Not many people have the ability to be objective about their own work. Also, I think that there are times when certain phenomena should be cast in a negative light, if it’s deserving of condemnation. Sometimes, simply being critical — offering a balanced critique — weakens the position taken by appearing to be TOO even-handed. Look at how much grief the president is taking for trying to be too bipartisan. I’d rather sift through some polemical language than be fed a constant diet of overly rational observations. Good food for thought. Thanks!

  9. One more thing. I think it’s possible to write about wine that you don’t like, as long as you understand what a well-made wine from that grape variety should taste like, and be honest enough to explain why or why not the wine is balanced, and what some of the attributes of the wine are that might make it appealing to some. You can even admit that it’s a wine you tend not to enjoy. I can’t get overly excited, much of the time, about cabernet, but I have no problem pointing out the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to those wines.

  10. I rarely post negative reviews on my blog but, well I don’t post many reviews at all. I write reviews for work, (newsletter and in store shelf talkers) and I spout my raw passion for wine on my blog. That being said I have taken a few cracks at Rombauer Chardonnay, sneered at Moet, Clicquot and the like but I can only think of once that I completely blasted a wine. I did so making it very clear that the wine was not flawed, was as it should be but for my palate was simply the worst (without flaws) wine I had ever had the displeasure to taste. I did so to let my readers get a scale for my palate, better understand my preferences. See unlike many bloggers I don’t accept samples, I write about wines that I buy and I am fortunate enough to work in a wine shop so most of what I take home I have sampled and liked well enough to spend the night with.

    I think for bloggers that receive samples that it can be a slippery slope. If they write honestly about the free wines they are shipped, not just the ones they like….well they are risking losing out on further shipments. Marketing companies aren’t too hip on sending people free stuff just to have them slam it. I personally believe that most will just write nothing about a wine they think is bad, others, like Benito, write about them but can also make it clear it was not their cup of tea without crushing it but….well, let’s just say there are plenty of blogs out their that are simply pimpin’ in order to stay on the free wine train. I do however think most people are smart enough to sniff out the BS. Those that are drawn to negative will always be drawn to it, take for example the pointless ranker about points, some keep yammering away and some of us are sick to death of the bickering and just stay out of it.

    So I guess what I am getting at is that I think people should write whatever they want, their audience, if there is one, will find them.

  11. At this stage of technology, there’s not a lot of truly bad wine out there, but there’s plenty that’s simply boring, and not really worth the time or effort to criticize. I’ve always preferred to simply describe the wines, and if I really enjoy something, I point that out. The example I always use is this: if I describe a Riesling as dry and smelling like gasoline and wet rocks, to me that’s a positive review. To someone who prefers their wine sweet and fruity, that’s a negative review.

    Negativity can be a lot of fun among wine enthusiasts–Samantha’s certainly given me some good natured ribbing about my preferences. But it can scare off those who are just getting into wine, and it perpetuates the stereotype of the snooty, elitist oenophile. “If they’re going to make fun of me, I’m just going to stick to beer.” This goes on to the broader point of the wine blogger as builders and ambassadors of the American wine culture, but that’s a longer story for another day.

  12. “At this stage of technology, there’s not a lot of truly bad wine out there, but there’s plenty that’s simply boring, and not really worth the time or effort to criticize.”
    @Benito: That’s a very good point. While an utterly bad wine would merit just crushing it on the blog, a pretty-much-average one is a waste of time. Agree on that. Though somehow I still get to taste enough plain disgusting overoaked superalcoholic Merlot / Chardonnay etc. for me to justify posting negative reviews.

  13. Interesting thoughts from all on this topic. I respect the consideration for the time, money and effort put into making a wine, but I feel if anyone is reading my thoughts on the wine while trying to make up their mind about whether or not to try it, I owe them my honest opinion. “Honesty with grace” is a noble pursuit, and I hope I hit that mark. It’s no more fun for me to drink a wine I don’t care for than it is to write about that wine. Admittedly, I’m not a harsh critic. I do try to be honest when giving my impressions, though. I’m happy to report I am not often so disappointed by a wine that a negative opinion is necessary. There is, in fact, a lot of good wine out there.

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  15. I write my tasting notes the same way I taste them. No need to sugar coat things if I don’t feel they are up to par, especially since I pay for all the bottles myself. I don’t accept free wine unless I am buying wine for my shop then I take the bottle but I’ll still let the rep and winemaker know how I feel. If people don’t want my advice on a wine they don’t have to take it, but I am tasting on behalf of others so they don’t make a possible mistake. Then again the wines you like might be different than what I like. This is what makes what we do so fun.

  16. Honestly, it’s not nice to receive a bad critic.

    You grow your grapes putting all your efforts in doing a good job, then the grapes come to the winery and you devote yourself trying to respect the beautiful fruit and the purest aromas that nature has given you this vintage, wishing and praying you will make “the” wine, your “perfect” wine this year. It happens sometimes, but not always, not every year.

    I agree: there are so many different wines in the world, and each of them can serve different purposes. There are wines made only for the market, often by companies that consider them as any other product to be sold and bought. And there are wines I cannot imagine my life without.
    A wine could be described in so many ways: it can be technically perfect, and still there’s something missing; or it can be far from being perfect, harmonic, balanced, and at the end it is fascinating, and it is just what you were looking for.

    So, why we (producers) are here for? I have asked myself this question so many times, probably every year in July, when I walk the vineyards early morning tasting the grapes and trying to feel the personality of the harvest, and trying to understand where my grapes want to go, which wine they want to become.
    I think we are here to share pleasure. Wine is culture and hard work, is passion, tradition, and so on. But, on top of that, wine is pleasure, that people around the globe want to share with their family, friends, the ones they love.

    If there’s no pleasure in a wine the winemaker should know. At least, I would prefer to know (nicely, please).

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  18. This is a very interesting post and yes,Tracie P. looks glorious as always. I believe that bloggers should look to be objective and balanced but honest. Of course, there are so many wines out there to try, most do avoid negative reviews that said, sometimes they are warranted when let’s say discussing vintage variation. A negative review on its own is somewhat uninteresting to me unless I know the person and trust their palate

    What though makes one a professional writer (publication of a book, articles in a paper??) and what wine qualifications to do we consider the necessary ones? Is it wine school, training on the floor at restaurants, marketing, sales, membership in associations. I think in someway, this entire discussion is a bit nebulous, no. Until we have standardization of what credentials do matter, this is all subjective. What I do care about even more is that all bloggers respect the efforts that wine makers and growers put into making their products. Even if you don’t like a wine, you don’t have to slam it and I would always err on the side of caution. Great topic.

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