The decline of wine writing?

Many of you will probably have read the article entitled "Writers, Bloggers & Tweeters" by Andrew Corrigan MW in the July/August 2010 edition of "Winestate" magazine.  Though there were some balancing remarks, the article was generally quite critical of wine blogging sites.  Critical points to flow from the article include:
  • commentators and readers of blogs are not time-poor and have a prediliction for cheaper wines;
  • the reviews are very long with lots of personal lifestyle comment;
  • the reviews are not very good - they are usually gushing in enthusiasm and technically poor;
  • a user can't get a relative rating;
  • some tend to rubbish older wine commentators for "not getting it"; and
  • there is more interest in telling a personal story, than recording useful information.
I think the difficulty with this sort of generalised criticism, is that it is very easy to be wrong.  It doesn't explain why established wine writers also use the blog medium (eg James Halliday in Australia (http://australianwinecompanion.blogspot.com/) and Andrew Jefford in the UK (http://www.andrewjefford.com/blog/)).  It also seems a little unfair to infer that wine blogs will generally share these faults: I see no logical reason why many of the same faults couldn't or wouldn't apply to other forms of more traditional wine media.  Like any media, in my humble opinion, it's up to the user to form their own view as to its usefulness and adjust their intake accordingly.

For what it's worth, for the most part, I find the online wine reviews I read to be useful, factual (sure in some cases are occasionally a bit long - but that doesn't really matter), offer a relative rating, review wines from all price points (or at least if one wine review doesn't, another will) and technically around the same level (and certainly not worse) than the reviews that I read in more traditional media publications.  To me at least, individual online wine reviews are also an improvement on the boring "faceless" group or "wine show" style wine reviews that appear at the back of many traditional wine media publications that I always skip over: I actually like to get a sense of the particular reviewers' soft spots and prejudices over time - for me, it leads to a more accurate assessment.  I've also read many grandiose descriptions of howling wines in traditional wine magazines too!  I also don't see a lot of "rubbishing" of other commentators or older commentators.  Indeed, I probably tend towards the opposite - why not benefit from others' experience?

Perhaps this is because I like to read everything I can about wine, no matter what form it comes in - books, magazines, newspapers and online.  Perhaps though there is some merit in a lot of these sites, and it must be said that the medium facilitates the expression of a greater variety of wine opinion and stops wine reviewing being the exclusive preserve of the necessarily few who write for traditional media publications. Therefore, at least in my humble opinion, the position as put by Mr Corrigan is not so clear cut.

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10 comments:

  1. Sean,

    I don't read Winestate and so am unlikely to ever read the original article, but it seems to me that his comments, that you have summarised, seem inconsistent with the facts.

    The facts being the 10 - 20 excellent Australian wine blogs that I read, that have at their core, wine reviews.

    I do think some of his comments would apply to some of the wine blog content from the US, which I also like to keep up with, but on the whole the Aussie wine bloggers I read seem to be excellent, to the point and technically capable.

    Does he provide specific examples to support his generalisations?

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  2. Good little piece Sean - and very diplomatically put.

    Like Ed I don't BUY Winestate (it's actually given away in Adelaide from time to time), but although I haven't read the article I have caught wind of its existence.

    I'm also unsure of how he came to the realisation that any of those points relate to many of the Australian wine blogs I read.

    I must ask, who are these wine bloggers who have a preference for cheap wines? Like yourself, I read as many opinions on wine as I can for a broad coverage (including blogs), and find that cheap, mass produced Australian wines are 'generally' rare in Australian wine blogs. Personally I'm always looking for a good, cheap drop, and could use some more advice from people who sit down and drink the wine in its entirety in the relaxed home/social environment, as opposed to, as you say, the 'faceless' group or wine show style....... ;)

    If Ed's reading this, I wonder, as an experienced Australian wine blogger, how has he seen the medium evolve over the years?

    Cheers,
    Chris P

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  3. Agree with all of the above and would also just add that at the end of the day most wine blogs are simply a personal outlet for people who have a passion for wine. Whether the posts are long or shot, gushing or matter of fact etc. is a matter of personal choice. The reader can decide what blogs they read and find helpful and useful.

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  4. Well said Sean,

    Who would of thought that a wine blogger could succintly summarise - and counter - an argument written by a mainstream wine writer?

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  5. Sean,

    One more thing, obviously, I am biased, but the wonderful thing about blogs and the new media is the ability to have rapid access and customization. With an rss account I can choose my content and read literally hundreds of reviews each day, keep abreast with hot issues and find out what my blogging peers are doing. I can be on both sides of the screen, which a magazine, no matter how wonderful can never provide for.

    Chris, you've made me feel even longer in tooth than I am! Two notable changes would be the increased number of bloggersl, which is excellent and the increase in outlets, specifically Twitter. What has not changed has been the almost collegiate support from your peers.

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  6. Excellent post Sean, and some great comments from everyone else. Makes me even happier I didn't attempt to address the article. I wouldn't have done half as good a job.

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  7. Thank you everyone for your kind and interesting comments, which I agree with. Ed, I also certainly agree with your additional observations on the benefits of new media, and on re-reading the Winestate article I don't think that any specific blog examples were given, so we are largely left with generalisations.

    Oddly, I think, the only tangible references to specific "offenders" in relation to only one of his points (the rubbishing of older commentators), were to writings of Matt Skinner and Ben Canaider. However, closer examination reveals that this observation has been picked up from comments by the former in an English newspaper "The Observer" and the latter in a published book "The Perfect Glass of Wine". I haven't read either of these publications, but somewhat ironically (and apologies if I've used this term incorrectly), even if this view were correct, the apparent logical gap is that the source of the complained of content wasn't in a wine blog or on twitter, but rather in very traditional wine media! Hmm ... The other anti-wine blog arguments remain largely unsupported by examples.

    Cheers
    Sean

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  8. Personal experience in wine making is important so you can write a good piece realistically.

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  9. Margaret River Wineries - true, it certainly helps to be familiar with the winemaking process to be effective as a wine writer, though if you are suggesting you need in fact to be a winemaker to write about wine, I respectfully have a different view, as I think the former is sufficient. I suspect that few wine writers out there, wine bloggers included, would be unfamiliar with the goings on in the wine making process :)

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  10. As each of our palates are different, We also have different means of expressing our thoughts. I think adding personal lifestyle comments make the review more interesting.

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