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Professional Wine Tasters Are Full of Sh*t | 1 Wine Dude

Professional Wine Tasters Are Full of Sh*t

Vinted on February 2, 2010 binned in commentary
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Pro wine writers are among the most full of sh*t professions (statistically); so saith, where “Wine Tasters” make their recent list of The 6 Most Statistically Full of Sh*t Professions.

There are two things that surprised me when perusing the list of chosen six:

  1. Weather Forecasters, while predictably ranking high on the list, came in at #2 (Sportswriting took the ‘top’ spot).
  2. Wine Tasters came in only at #5 (c’mon… can’t we do better than that?!??).

Frankly, despite the lack of actual statistics in the article, I’d say that we (speaking collectively for the larger wine writing lot) actually deserve the dubious ranking.

Well, sort of.

As the reaction to my recent interview with Robin Goldstein (author of The Wine Trials, which showcases budget wines that beat out more expensive options in blind tastings) showed, the wine tasting devil is squarely in the details.  And as a group, I think that wine writers / tasters / pros, generally do a crap job when it comes to helping the public understand those details.

Not that this is a new phenomenon.  Thom Shaw once wrote “in wine tasting and wine talk there is an enormous amount of humbug.”  If you substitute “bullshit” for “humbug” you’d probably get an accurate read on the perception of wine tasting, right?

Well, ol’ Thom wrote that back in 1863.  Nearly 150 years later, it still rings as true and cuts as close to the bone of a wine writer as a Dilbert strip does to a cubicle worker – funny, but painfully funny.

So maybe we have helped to make the crow sandwich we’re supposedly having for lunch (hmmm… what pairs with crow… think I’ll pop open some Retsina…)…

I have the distinct (and frightening) impression that there are wine pros reading this right now who are busy sharpening any nearby stones and getting ready to throw them my way, but hear (read?) me out on this one before you start lobbing those galets.

What we have isn’t necessarily a bullshit-overabundance problem as much as a transparency-dearth problem.

Sure, there’s plenty of BS to be found out there, just as there is in any public medium.  But enough people profit from keeping the glass dark in the windows of the wine writing factory that a good deal of the public still thinks of it as a place that houses machines churning out barrels of very brown, very earthy, very barnyardy stuff (if you catch my drift).

Now, blogging is among the most transparent of media these days – not every successful blog is transparent, but chances are if you’re not at least mostly genuine the blogosphere will eat you alive.  If anything, we are good at keeping each other honest in this massive, on-line global community.  It follows that wine blogs are among the more transparent of wine media, because, well, they’re blogs.  And transparency about how wine tasting actually works has got to be good for reversing the stereotype of the snobbish wine bore expert, right?

When we’re transparent, we can state without fear of being called a bullshit artist that subjectivity can’t possibly be totally removed from the equation of wine tasting, and people will still trust our tasting notes; we can be honest about how it’s better to develop your own tastes with the help of experts than to slavishly follow someone’s recommendations (no matter how impressive their legacy or credentials) and then in fine pop culture fashion tear them down viciously from the pedestals onto which we ourselves placed them…

At least it would lower the height of that pedestal and the fall won’t be so bad, right?

But we have a looooooong road ahead of us, people.

Think of it this way – How old are wine blogs? is widely regarded as the first, the granddaddy of wine blogging, and it just turned six.  So, wine blogging (in terms of being a combination of the blogging media and the wine writing message) is about six years old.

Six years old.

That’s hardly old enough to keep from pissing your pants when laughing at fart jokes. We haven’t even reached the awkwardness of puberty. Wine writing of course has been around much longer. And for most of that time, it’s been dominated by mind-numbingly boring, excessively complex treatises, or centered on the deconstruction of wine to a number after a series of mind-numbingly boring, excessively complex treatises.  The first exposure that most people have to wine writing is probably not the lucid but accessible prose of Hugh Johnson or Jancis Robinson.  It’s somebody using obscure and needlessly long tasting descriptors, followed by a number – and if that’s not a mixed message, I don’t know what is.

Do I feel like a bullshit artist?  Nope.  But do I understand why other people would think that about people who taste wine?  Yep.

One thing’s for sure – I certainly feel like we need to keep on keepin’ on; we got a long way to go yet!


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