I have seen the future of wine criticism, wine dialog, and wine expertise.
Wanna see it? Great – go look in the mirror. Because the future wine experts look an awful lot like you. You look great, by the way – did you cut your bangs?
A little over a week ago, Slate.com ran a piece penned by Mike Steinberger in which Steinberger, among other things (like skillfully recapitulating the recent kerfluffle over code of ethics violations on the part of Robert Parker’s staff, and ending sentences with prepositions), offers a glimpse of what he sees as the future of wine writing and wine experts:
“Like other journalistic niches, wine writing is in crisis at the moment… We are moving from a monologue to a dialogue, and this reflects a fundamental truth about wine: It is a matter of taste, and taste differs from one person to the next. There’s still a need for expert opinion, but authority is going to have to be worn a lot more lightly going forward, and it isn’t going to command quite the deference that it used to.”
I know what you’re thinking: Did Joe actually use the word kerfluffle? Also, what’s the big deal about that? This post isn’t about blogging, is it?
Don’t worry, this post is not about blogging. It’s about you, and (albeit tangentially) about how Steinberger might have gotten it just a bit wrong.
You see, wine writing isn’t in a state of crisis, unless you get paid for it, in which case it’s in no more a state of crisis than any other form of paid journalism – welcome to 2009, folks. If you’re a consumer of wine information, on the other hand, then wine writing is actually in a state of liberation.
I think Steinberger is right on the money when he says that tastes are ultimately personal, and that there will still be a need for expert opinion – he’s just missing the point of where that opinion is, which is of course with YOU. That’s because YOU are the new wine expert…
Take me as an example in terms of a potential wine “expert.” If you look at the header of this blog, you will see various wine certification credentials. Do they make me a wine expert?
They make me a potential expert on the topic of wine, which only means that I can tell you a lot about wine itself (how it’s made, for example). I can bore you to tears, and drive you to near insanity talking about it, actually. That doesn’t make me a wine expert any more than writing a book about day care makes you an expert on how to best relate to any one child in daycare that is having a bad day and missing his mommy. What worked for one child in that circumstance probably probably won’t work for all of them.
The logical final conclusion of experts not wearing their authority heavily, coupled with the general embracing of the subjectivity of taste, is the abdication of their authority in terms of that authority being based on knowledge. In other words, my certifications don’t give me any more knowledge over and above what you could freely obtain on the Internet. What matters is how that knowledge is utilized to help you connect with your inner wine-tasting god or goddess.
What matters most when it comes to knowing wine is not that you memorize arcane details (e.g., how different soil types impact the styles of sherry); what matters is that you get the most enjoyment out of wine that you can, and that you push the wine industry to continually offer a better quality product for your money.
Wine is a consumer good, but it’s also capable of being a work of art. Few other consumer goods have that kind of breadth. Are there basic levels of quality that underpin all wines? Maybe – and that’s where those 100-point scores might be useful. However, no matter how talented any expert wine taster might be, fundamentally they cannot tell you whether or not YOU will enjoy that wine. That’s where the 100-point scores fall flat. Guess what – only one person on earth can make that kind of call.
That’s right, mirror boy: I’m talking about YOU. Experts? Please – in the arena of finding wines that you will love, any expert’s skills are worth precisely f—k-all unless targeted at you in a useful way. Forget about wearing their authority more lightly – in this case, the experts’ authority is like wearing the Emperor’s new clothes – transparent and ultimately totally useless. It’s a bit like the ‘readerly’ view of postmodern literary criticism – just as the novel cannot exist without the reader, the wine expert is ultimately worthless unless somehow helping others to enjoy wine in some way.
At this point you might be thinking, So why should I be listening to you then?
Well, that’s easy: if you want to learn about wine in general, listen to me. If you want to learn what wines are best for your palate, then don’t listen to me, listen to your palate!
If you want to become an expert on the topic of wine, by all means go ahead and do it. Or rely on those you trust who have already made the time investment to become experts – there are many out there and several of them are very, very talented. But if you’re looking to those people to tell you what wines are the best wines for you, then you need to remove your head from the sand and manifest your real destiny.
That destiny is to become your own personal wine expert. And there’s only one person ever born who can actually step up to that challenge. That’d be you!
(images: cstv.com, 1winedude)a