Monday, July 28, 2008

What a welcome!


After standing back some, I ventured into a few bulletin board conversations and was immediately reminded why I chose to stand back.

It isn’t that debating issues about wine is no fun—to the contrary, it can be great fun. It’s just that debating via the keyboard and electronic impulses is a weak form of communication at best. It’s so easy to be misunderstood, and after that happens, control of your own words seems to morph into a game of who should own those words, you or those who disagree with you?

There will come a day when I will back away completely—I hope, I hope. But until then, I fear that I will find myself hopelessly drawn into debates about wine production processes and wine criticism, debates that cover much of the same ground and don’t seem to change my or anyone else’s mind.

What is it about wine that makes so many of us so passionate as to hurl at one another whenever a belief or an opinion lands counter to ours?

In my often non-humble opinion, the phenomenon is as complicated as a California fruit bomb with alcohol that rivals jet fuel (now is the time for someone to accuse me of slamming his or her beloved California Cabernet).

On one level, we wine nuts express camaraderie (me, I’m a nut, not a geek). But how easily that friendship can fall apart— if you don’t believe me, just attack the wines of your wine buddy’s favorite producer.

On another level, we wine nuts give lip service to the idea that people have different tastes. But how easily that can devolve into a conversation of hurling epithets as soon as one of us claims to have, well, different taste.

On still another level, we wine nuts agree that we all have opinions. What we don’t seem to agree on is that the opinions of others have any merit. On this subject, I get into trouble regularly, especially when I attack the opinions of wine critics who hold no credentials, have no training, and make rather bizarre claims. I value opinions, but only when they have been formed through knowledge, not just through will and force of personality, or luck at having been given a pulpit.

One of my latest brush-ups had to do with the issue about which I feel strongly: that to be a credible critic, one needs to at least have done a little legwork in the subject, and since wine is a subject with technical, creative, and practical applications, a critic’s duty is to learn what they are.

All too often, I read diatribes from certain critics that display a blatant lack of knowledge alongside a volume of opinions. Not to make a pun, but these wine critics leave me with a bad taste.

Truth be told, and this is where I get into the most trouble with my attitude, I don’t give much credence to the profession of critic. Mainly, a critic tells us what he or she likes or dislikes. Mainly, I don’t really care what someone else likes or dislikes, unless that someone can point me to a reason beyond his or her bias or prejudice. At least then, I can explore and decide whether the critic speaks truth or blather.

I know this is blasphemy in certain quarters of the wine world, but I cannot imagine the value in “calibrating” my palate to someone else’s. My fun with wine includes me doing the exploration, not me finding out what someone else explored and then running down to the nearest wine shop to gobble up the latest achiever.

But then, I never was a follower, so maybe it’s not the critics; maybe it is I who is the problem. Maybe I should just teach people who want to learn what little I know, drink the wines I like, and just shut up.

To do that last one, I believe I might have to throw this computer out the window!

Below is the thread that got me thinking. Notice in the moderator's post just before my final one that I am accused of having "chuztpah," unmitigated gall for living my opinions, and I am also accused of being prejudice and lacking creativity. Within the accusations are these hidden gems: subjectivity equals un-biased; objectivity equals prejudice; and, by extension, faulty logic equals creativity.

Talk about "chutzpah!"

Critic's Ethics

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
July 2008. All rights reserved.


  1. Touchy, touchy geeks. I am in the nut category myself and intend to remain there. Maybe you should swear off boards with an elaborate ritual that will cleanse you from this love-hate obsession. I'm sure you can cook up some appropriate involving food and wine.

  2. Hmmm. Have to think about that suggestion, Marco.

    Tell you the truth, a part of me loves being contrary. It occurred to me while in high school that there are ways of doing things that people cling to and there are different ways to do things that others like to explore.

    That realization led me to understand the difference between leaders and followers, and, as much as I was accused of having no creativity, of the importance of it if one wants either to lead or to forge a singular direction.

    I opted for the singular direction, probably because I am, at heart, a noisemaker. But also because I strongly believe that what the world needs are fewer followers. We've had that system since the beginning, and look where it has led us.

    My motto: creativity breeds chuztpah.

  3. Bravo, Thomas. Lemmings are not very inspirational or soul stirring.

  4. Thomas, interesting exchange. For the record, I agree with pretty much all points you made. I also found Daniel's take on Parker pretty naive in many ways. If you take a look at Vinography and a long exchange that took last year on the subject of CellarTracker and other wine review boards en vogue these days, I made many of the points you made and had to deal with numerous legends in their minds who think they are a wine critic becuase they have access to web (same exact point you made as well).


  5. I don't think Daniel is being naive, Greg. He's being both polite and political. He doesn't want to get in an online fight, and I agree with him. Why bother?

    You know by now that I am as polite as I can be, within reason, because I relish debate and discussion over insults. But you of all people understand how some of the idiots on those wine forum sites can tweak one's ire and blow out of proportion what someone posts.

    My position on wine critics mirrors my position on criticism in general. It's not that I don't accept critics. I just want critics to speak from a knowledge base and not from a self proclaimed sense of importance or, as we used to say, talk through his (or her) ass (some women wine critics are making their ignorance known these days, too, so I have to include them!).