What Constitutes a Golden Age of Wine Writing? 10/31/11

Last week a provocative article about the current Zeitgeist of wine writing was posted by Joe Roberts (of 1WineDude), in response to another piece posted by Tom Wark (of Fermentation) about the same topic. The two disagree as to whether we are in a so-called Golden Age of Wine Writing. Wark believes that we are, citing the night-magical ease with which we now can access wine info and tasting notes, as well as the unprecedented diversity of voices participating in the vinous conversation (mostly a result of bloggers). Roberts, however, feels the need to make a distinction between wine writing and wine coverage, and states that while we are certainly living in the Golden Age of the latter, the great wine writers of yore have not yet met their modern matches.

Wark begs to differ on this point, but essentially what their disagreement comes down to is a matter of terminology. What constitutes a Golden Age of Wine Writing anyhow? In my own comments I noted that we are, if nothing else, in the midst of the democratization of wine writing, where anyone can join in the discussion, and I agree with Wark in that such an immense diversity of opinions – along with so many channels by which to access them – is a wonderful development for the world of wine. But I also agree with Roberts, and my fellow commentator RichardPF, that “never before have so many wine writers said so little.” While there may be a greater number overall of talented wine writers today than there have ever been before, the sad reality is that the blogosphere is still full of garbage, and the vast majority of wine blogs aren’t worth reading at all.

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Hey…

Attention spans are shrinking. The sound bite has replaced the debate, the infographic the essay. We are gradually losing the ability to read uninterrupted blocks of text, and as a result, articles can’t be written as such, however well composed their prose may be. As Roberts puts it, “we must be entertained.” So when he talks about Gerald Asher’s A Vineyard in My Glass (which I have not but do intend to read), he must admit, despite the praise he showers on the text, that it’s “boring, and I mean boring in the way that your Grandfather telling you a story with a dozen tangents is boring. It’s boring in the way that Melville is boring when he goes off on those lengthy ‘this-is-how-worked’ descriptors about life at sea in Moby Dick. It’s boring because it’s masterful and beautiful and damn-near god-like in its lucidity, and we mere mortals simply lack the patience to deal with it.” If wine writers must compete for attention – and today they must, as a consequence of their sheer numbers – they will necessarily need to make compromises in their writing, pandering to the masses in a bid for readers.

Now this is a gross oversimplification, so forgive me, but it seems that the crux is this: Wark defines a Golden Age of Wine Writing by the amount and plurivocality of talent in the writing pool, while Roberts considers the proportion of talent relative to the total pool of writers. Going solely on this basis, I agree with 1WineDude; I wouldn’t say we’re in a Golden Age right now (presuming an “Age” is a period of around a decade – there’s another murky definition for you) because the bad simply outnumber the good. But to take things a step further, I don’t believe we even can enter a Golden Age of Wine Writing as Roberts defines it, because we are societally mired in a Dark Age of Reading, to which writers are by and large forced to bend – even the talented ones.

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Artistic integrity is overrated anyway. Just ask Nicolas Cage.

In summation, I can’t really decide which side I’m on yet. We are certainly in a Golden Age of Wine Coverage, and I feel Roberts’ distinction between that and writing is an important one to keep in mind. But Wark makes a lot of good points, and truth be told, I can’t seem to find any I disagree with. Even if we’re not in a Golden Age of Wine Writing, it is undoubtedly a Golden Age for Wine Writers (bloggers included – just look at Alder Yarrow, whose success prompted the Golden Age article in the first place). Indeed, without the advent of the blog as a medium of expression, I would not be writing about wine at all, and I doubt I’m alone in this respect.

But what do you think? How should a Golden Age be defined? How should wine writing be defined? Does the ADD-addled state of society prevent writing of the same quality as in the past, or merely change the definition of quality writing? Should a good wine blog be informative? Elegant? Funny? Alliterative? Should it have pictures? Videos? Music? Stupid captions everywhere? Are wine reviews in general as useful as rants/commentary? More useful? Less useful?

Also, I figure here is as good a spot as any to ask for recommendations; for a wine writer, I’ve done embarrassingly little wine reading. So who are your favorite wine writers? Which medium(s) did they write in? Are they still active? Retired? Dead? Unborn?

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Undead?

I welcome all your thoughts – and of course, the sweet, sweet brains that generate them.

Happy Halloween everybody!

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6 Responses to this article

 
Ben November 2, 2011 Reply

I think that one of my biggest questions (and these definition based articles are so fun) is what actually constitutes wine writing. Before you can define a golden age, you need to decide what wine writing is to you. Is it everything ever written about wine? Is it only reviews? Is it general writing that includes a review? I consider this blog to be the third and all three definitions I mentioned to constitute wine writing.

I wonder if there are purists who only consider a Jancis and the like to be true wine writers. So before we can delve into what makes great wine writing (maybe access to awesome wines, a fabulous palate, or perhaps something that’s simple and fun to read), we need to first figure out what is under this umbrella of wine writing. I agree that the volume is writing related to wine has increased…but should it all be considering wine writing?

Are you, Jason, a writer who happens to enjoy wine as a topic? Or are you an eonophile who sometimes likes to write about his experiences? Does it/should it matter? Would both versions of yourself be considered to engage in wine writing?

 
Jason November 3, 2011 Reply

I think one of the most encouraging things about Alder Yarrow’s Jancis job is that it proves bloggers are now capable of being taken seriously as wine writers, even by other, more traditional wine writers. Everyone’s definition of what constitutes wine writing will be slightly different, and the criteria for “good” wine writing are even harder to pin down, but the sheer volume out there (and the diversity of perspectives) basically guarantees that everyone can find what he’s looking for in a wine writer, somewhere.

As for your other question, I’d say I approach the blog as a writer first, oenophile second; but every so often, a wine comes along that sort of takes over. Remember Carmin?

 
Saul November 3, 2011 Reply

It’s a strange world we live in, to be sure. I’m turning 23 this week, and I’ve spent most of my life drinking Capri Sun and the like. When I look back on college a decade from now, I’ll likely be astounded by how quick the transition was from “Virgin Strawberry Daiquiri,” to “Bacardi 151.”

In terms of alcohol, much like our virtually limitless access to free entertainment, we have a lot of choices. We can choose the frozen mocha with three shots of espresso, and we can choose the Four Loko. We can choose to import absinthe if we’ve got the money, or just take the Everclear.

In terms of wine, most of us (myself included) are rather naive and unlearned. I savor the occasional opportunity to train my palate with something really spectacular, but I also admittedly fall in for gimmicks. It’s in my blood to grab the most gaudy thing on the rack, as long as it’s within my price range. In regards to whether or not I think this is a “Golden age of wine writing,” I’ll only put forth that, while I’ve been lucky enough in my young adulthood to have had quite a few memorable wine tasting experiences in quite a few countries, I was never an avid “Wine reader,” until I started reading this site.

 
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