Wine Talk

Snooth User: Stephen Harvey

Is this Really Snooth

Posted by Stephen Harvey, Jul 13, 2010.

Quote from Jancis Robinson - is her address to the Wine Communicators of Australia [formerly Wine Press Club - ie Journos and Wine Writers

At the risk of subjective editing here is some grabs

"Anyone can get on-line and pontificate about wine"

In response to questions around the impact of on-line sites, logs, tweeters and other new age communication technology on wine commentating, she said

"Lest you consider me to be an old fart who does not face up to new technology, I'd better clear up the principles and hard facts. A principle of wine commentating is that certain consumers wish to learn about actual wines to purchase and also wine culture. A tough fact is that the higher-earning demographic sectors buy more wine and also higher-priced wine - and they are busy people who want a businesslike presentation of wine list suggestions and wine stories. Often they they are time poor.  It is pretty clear from browsing blogs that the commentators and readers are not time-poor - and they have a predilection for cheaper wines.

I'd say there is an instantaneous contradiction here - premium wines and small producers wines are sought by higher-income consumers - but blogging sites are geared towards a different sector: consumers who are seeking a bargain and have time to turn their wine interest into an e-social activity.  Perhaps this is why wine producers have been slow to embrace blogs and tweets.

I've spent a lot of time reading blog reviews of wines I know.  There are two problems.  First, the reviews are very long, with lots of personal lifestyle comment that is irrelevant to the wine. Second , the reviews are not very good; they usually gushing in enthusiasm and technically poor.      "

The Full article appears in Australia's Winestate Magazine July/August 2010 issue if you are interested.  Note I have no interest other than being a casual reader of Winestate.

I would be intrigued by everyone's thoughts

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Reply by Andrew46, Jul 13, 2010.

Well, I think some winemakers think all (or nearly all) wine writers are full of BS.  Perhaps she is no exception?  I tried to read one of her books, but after the 3rd or 4th factual error, I put it down.  Hard to take what she is saying too seriously. 

Is the print wine media any better than the online crowd?  How about people who give out scores but don't blind taste?  I think anyone who gives one wine a 91 and another in of the same varietal an 87 but does not blind taste them against eachother has lost the plot.  So, perhaps it is not just online writers who have some issues?

I think she generalizes pretty stongly.  I am not sure that everyone is looking for bargins.  If you really want bargins, go to trader joes.  I think some people here are looking for interesting info on small producers who might not be big enough to pay for an ad in WS or WA or whatever.  Or to gather info about areas that they might want to dig into and they can get a few tips on where to start.

I do admit that some of the wine bloggers I have found are posting things which are clearly factually incorrect.  Some of the basic nature of the bloggosphere is that it will contain re-gurge with no real understanding.  One error will be passed around as people recycle the free content of other writers.  But there are bound to be a few lame ducks in every flock.

My 2 cents.

Reply by StevenBabb, Jul 13, 2010.

interesting comments that she made... i would have to say that i haven't had a day off in 3 weeks, mainly because i choose to work two jobs, but i make time to learn about wine.... and that's what i use snooth for... to learn, and share what i have learned....and also to fine tune my writing skills.... and this has been a GREAT place to do all of that!

snooth is made up of quite an eclectic group of wine lovers, from all different levels.... from those in the vineyard to those who distribute, and those who sell direct to the consumer from either retail or restaurant generalize and say that ALL online blogs/forums are just people with too much time on there hands that only enjoy cheap wine is crazy....

i work in a wine bar with around 50 wines by the glass.... all excellent... (well, maybe with one or two exceptions in my opinion, hahaha).... it takes a level of experience to be able to communicate and help teach people about all the wine that you represent.... and i write in an online forum....

i think good ol' jancis is a little out of touch, or maybe just reading in the wrong places.....

maybe she should join snooth...!   : )

Reply by ChipDWood, Jul 13, 2010.

StevenBabb commented: "maybe she should join snooth...!"

...and THAT is a fantastic idea.

I say, for perhaps no other reason than the very FREE PR it would get the site, someone should outwardly send an invite, and ask her how she likes some of the lower end Spanish wines, or perhaps some of the nicer selections from Virginia ;).

Not to fuel any skeptics mind you, but rather to offer an open hand, rather than the back of one.

She's not trying to be snobby or condescending, you can tell she tip-toes around the term "wine snob" with every touch of the pen to the parchment above.  I bet she's a wonderful gal, and did have a chance to meet her once at work but was busy, ya know, working so I couldn't.  She did want us to pimp her book though.

Ya know, maybe in her spare time she could stop by and offer her own critiques of the finer wines that the Snooth audience (or more than 75% of the known world) can actually, ya know, AFFORD.  BUT, I digress.

Someone should make an open invitation to her, on a major forum, say the Times for instance, or with Food & Wine magazine so it's seen by as many as possible.  A well-penned letter, open, honest and engaging- maybe even a touch "cheeky", to get her to try the world of the Snoother.

The tone of the letter as well as its timeliness regarding the growing wine market, not to mention the vast amount and divergence of Snooth's daily readership could endear it to such a forum.

Let her know she's welcome at the party, and we'd love to have her.  Philip?  Greg?

Lalala, lalala, lalaLALALA...

"The decision is your's Mr. Jefferson.  Do as you like with it."

Reply by John Andrews, Jul 13, 2010.

I have to admit, I do agree with one thing she says:

"Lest you consider me to be an old fart who does not face up to new technology"

Yes, I do.  

Frankly, I find her comments very obnoxious, elitist and ignorant.  She has obviously lost touch with the reality of the world.  Maybe she should be more specific about who she is talking about ... the trophy and image seekers.  They are the ones that rely on her judgement to tell them what they like.

More and more, believe wine critics should disclose their affiliations and provide more transparency to their ratings as financial analysts do.  If you are going to rate a wine with a 95, I want to know what your connection, interest and kickback from that winery is. 

Reply by ChipDWood, Jul 13, 2010.

HJ: and to a large extent: A BUNCH of the snobbish retail buyers that I have come across as well, who "pretend" their sensing flavors, aromas, and aspects of wines from whole cloth.  Making up the snazz and razmataz in order to impress their greatness upon both the public as well as their own employees... even some employees who know better than to listen ;).

BUT- those are not the bloggers.  They are the people with jobs in the industry itself, pushing their supposedly "organic" (but not really) wines for the sheer "sustainably sexy" quality the word itself is imbued with.

Or, at least until this whole AlGore thing comes tumbling down and we're looking for matches and flares rather than our swimsuits.

Ms. Robinson doesn't want to mention such "Retail-Running Believers" for fear of losing people willing to put her Bibles on their shelves.

The point you make about some bloggers/wine bloviators is well taken too:

"They are the ones that rely on her judgement to tell them what they like."

Your following point can be ridden all the way up the ladder to Mr. Robert Parker himself and his infamous accounts and undoubtable doubts regarding the quality of the wines of Burgundy- and its denizens own lack of belief in his understanding of them.  They booted him out of the Cote d'Or, bid 'adieu', slammed the door on his rear- and he headed back with great pace to the hallowed Caves of first growth Bordeaux, where he was to be wined and dined by the very best, with the very best, revealing the highest of scores imaginable for some uneven product and vintages.

Did he disclose all of those he stayed with?  For that matter- does anyone?

I'll bet ya ten bones he's been wined and dined like never before by the folks in Australia too.  Seen any of THOSE scores?  Good Lord man.  Some of it is due to his embrace of the Rhone varietals, etc... but good Gaaad.  The king's gone speedblind.

I think those who review wines should take a sort of "Hunter S. Thompson" kinda, "Gonzo" approach to their wine experiences.  Describe EVERYTHING- what you ate that morning, the drugs you did the night before, how you felt when you woke up at the tasting table and had to ASK where you were and where might be the crackers and pesto?

That way- ALL is divulged.  From the treatment of the wine to a perspective on the mood and condition of the taster.  I've done some like that myself when touring wineries and they're actually fun to write, though my own I must admit sound more akin to snippits of childlike "wannabe" than like the genuine, ether snortin', mescaline dropping, peyote poppin' original article.

Went something like this:

"It's hard to review wines when you're balls to the wall on good blotter because it's so easy to confuse the character and essence of the juice your sampling with that of the reptilian man behind the counter that just poured it in the nearly unfindable and partially invisible glass, resting somewhere in front of you against the rippling wood grain of the oak tasting bar.

"I mean, I tried.  I really did, but we were sampling the whites which were completely indistinguishable from the bar upon which they somewhere sat, waiting for me with their arms crossed and noses, fully upturned at my "clearly misguided obtusity".  Sometimes, like the cat ladies in their late thirties-Sauvignon Blancs can be outrageously unrealistic in their quest to be found in the first place."

Ah, you get what I mean.

By telling the WHOLE story, and getting it out there: there's nothing that anyone can accuse you of hiding.

So, in the end we're pretty much in agreement.  I'm going to see Cheap Trick and Squeeze now, so, Ciao.

Reply by John Andrews, Jul 13, 2010.

So Chip, you agree with me right?  :-) 

Reply by StevenBabb, Jul 13, 2010.

hahahahaha...... this is what makes wine fun.... for me anyway...

i'm getting a hint of fear and loathing in las vegas meets sideways..... great story chip!

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jul 13, 2010.

Well I'm not going to comment. Change can be frightening.

We have worked with Jancis actually so this may be her current score for the on-line wine world, but previously we warranted:

"Good news at last for Bordeaux lovers on a budget."


A Journey Through Bordeaux's Value Regions


Elegance and value from Pessac-Leognan
Reply by GregT, Jul 13, 2010.

"Well, I think some winemakers think all (or nearly all) wine writers are full of BS.  Perhaps she is no exception?  I tried to read one of her books, but after the 3rd or 4th factual error, I put it down.  Hard to take what she is saying too seriously. "


Like most of the other posts!

And now for a slightly more understanding take on Jancis.

She's partly right.  There is in fact a small group of people who buy la Tache, or DRC or some 130 point wine from Spain or the greatest wine ever made from somewhere in France or maybe Italy.  Bordeaux is probably the only area in the world where they put out vast quantities of high-priced wine.  Most other wine that's really highly priced is made in fairly small quantities. 

Part of it is the marketing - you can't say that your wine is from a special hillside that's on top of an old wooly mammoth burial ground and that gets the rays of the sun reflected just so from the partly exposed tusks if you're getting grapes from a vineyard so large it disappears over the horizon.  So people like to hear stories about the land and the terroir so that they can say they taste it.  That marketing needs small, artisinal producers.  And if you have a good story, those wines won't be cheap.

On the other hand, it really does seem that there are a lot of people starting wine sites and blogs these days, most of them fairly new to wine because if they'd been involved with it for 20 or 40 years, they'l likely already have a blog if that were their interest.  I realize that's a GROSS generalization, but maybe not entirely false. 

So if someone is relatively new to wine, they tend not to dive right into La Tache, or maybe they do, but I've only known a few people like that.  Doesn't really matter because there isn't enough for everyone. So people end up writing about things that they can find and the newer one is, the more "discoveries" one experiences.

Jancis has been drinking wine for a long time so she doesn't need a primer on what is dolcetto. 

If you're a successful professional or businessman or whatever, you're used to eitehr being an expert or obtaining services from an expert, and someone who's sharing his or her novice learning experience isn't necessarily appealing to you.  So people like Jancis get mileage out of their credentials as experts - i.e. Master of Wine, (and shouldn't it be Mistress of Wine in her case anyway).

I don't think there's anything evil about what she said, or completely wrong with her analysis, but on the other hand, I don't think her estimation of worthy is the be all and end all either.  To tell me a wine tastes of cherries is meaningless really.  I've had enough sangiovese or pinot noir to have some clue as to what to expect, so a mere description isn't of much interest.  That's where a lot of tasting notes fail, whether written by pros or amateurs.  For me it's more interesting to see what makes this one different from another, not to read a list of flavors and aromas. 

The gonzo approach is interesting and the example was pretty good, but most people who try it can't pull that off and they just end up sounding like simpletons.  But if you can write well, you'll create something readable and whatever it is you write, you'll have an audience and deservedly so.  Even if it's a kind of "lifestyle" writing, which I tend to dislike greatly. Speaking of which, Jancis used to write a lot like that  with that naughty repressed sexuality hovering over every word. Who is she to talk?

Reply by dmcker, Jul 13, 2010.

Good post, GregT, and diplomatically phrased, to boot. I find that there are a lot of intelligent things that Ms. Robinson says, and has said--far more taken in the whole than most any wine writer out there. And there are a lot of such beasts in the blogosphere these days, unfortunately only a few who get me to read all the way to the end of what they're trying to present, much less a revisit. A sense of quality of information isn't only credible if you know the ins and outs of the latest iPhone apps, have ditched your laptop for an iPad, have a huge Twitter following, whatever. She's earned her right to a proper listening from me, anyway. And though I've mentioned in another thread I don't find her the best expert on, say, California, I find I agree more often than not with her opinions. For what it's worth, I like her ratings of French wines better than RP's. I also think it'd be a lot of fun to be in the position to inform Queen Liz on what wines she should store in her undoubtedly interesting cellar....

The Snooth part of the theme of the original post, which has gotten a bit lost in some of the comments, is far more interesting. There is a lot of intelligence that burbles up from our interaction in these threads. Certainly nothing in its essence to be scoffed at by a Jancis or Robert, Jr. or lesser names. The Snooth dialectic is an interesting one, and I'd like to go on about it a bit more but don't have the time at the moment.

Chip, it seems we may have some common past experiences. HST was an interesting guy... ;-)

Reply by ChipDWood, Jul 14, 2010.

Yea: if you could find him among the rolling tumble weeds, broken down old Buick's and the mammoth tide that rolled over San Fransisco called the end of the '60's, man.  It was the great end of the great hope, fueled by optimism, bountiful and hopeful naivety, and a BOATLOAD of good, Blow your face right off, Bolivian Marching Powder...

His style... The Great Shark Hunt, I think (lotsa words and stories to keep track of back in my HST days.  Whooey.) was my favorite.  Particularly the way he scared the living crap out of his accompanying "illustrator", by taking him out in the dingy, middle of the night, tripping balls and spray painting "FASCIST COMMY BASTARDS" all OVER the "yachts that were to participate in the following day's "America's Cup".

"The jig is up- we've been found out and they're SHOOTING at us damnit!  I'm sorry your life had to come to such an end in such a harbor on such a glorious night of true FREEDOM.  Stop looking back- AND ROW FASTER!"

....sorry man... lmao.  I need a moment.

Gonzo Wine journalism.  Somehow, this must work.  Got a story for ya though sometime- a BAD  (and I mean rancid bad) example of why the Gozno approach does not always work.

Not tonight though, just got back from singing my lungs out and dancing about at the Squeeze concert- which was GOOD good fun at Radio City.  Met Glenn's wife too... holy man alive.  I'm a married spud.


Reply by dmcker, Jul 14, 2010.

I always felt Thomson was more about the '70s than the '60s. Read 'Fear and Loathing...' when it came out in installments in Rolling Stone while I was at Berkeley. Snatched next-issue copies as soon as they hit the streetcorner newsboxes. Rolled hilariously around on the floor of my house in the hills reading each one. Later ran into him at a couple of parties in the City, and felt a hyper-coiled energy, hard for any room to contain. I went walkabout during the later '70s all across Asia, and when I resurfaced in North America by the early '80s I didn't feel the same energy from him. Guess everyone has their time and place, and too much time with those peacocks in the Rockies, not to mention way too much recreational abuse over time, seems to have taken it out of him. Hard to maintain a peak like that. Talk about chasing the dragon....

Back to the theme of the OP, somehow I don't feel any of that energy from Jancis and RP. ;-)  Cracks me up just thinking about how HST might have done a tasting tour through France. Wonder if France would have been the same?

Reply by ChipDWood, Jul 14, 2010.

Berkley eh?  Uh-oh... you left-wing, commie fascist you.  Nothing personal.

I think you're right too, about Thommpson, though I never got to meet him.  HST was known more for his writing in the '70s that chronicled the death of the 60's.  Besides Hell's Angels- which was another one of my favorites.  As Woody Allen once said: "I'm not the hero type.  I was once beaten up by Quakers"- I myself was not the hero type.  But, after readin Hell's Angels in two nights of night-shift, night watchman duty- I felt like buying a pair of cowboy boots, a rusty chain from a junkyard, and heading out to the bar to do some stomping.

He was that kinda writer- and talented to beat the band- enough to emote things at such a frequency that he had the ability to "pull you into his movie" as Mr. Kesey (and there's another one) once said, appropriately so.

And Thompson in France?  I know what he'd do.  He'd head straight for Belgium, lock himself in a hotel room after acquiring the necessities for his "suitcase", and only emerge when the need to get MORE would arrive.

Then he would paint a map of Bordeaux on his wall, maybe list some of the Chateau, and write about how...

"The hills out here have a carnivorous edge to them and you feel they want to roll over and swallow you hole, so I would recommend locking yourself in a closet for several days until mother nature shows one of her more mellow sides... or be ready to join terra firma somehwere IN what they call "terroir" here on the upper east bank.

"Wine review: For what it's worth, I heard they're pretty good.  Especially with good, old fashioned, home grown, USDA prime American red meat- barely cooked at all and still bleeding out the roids that have been forced them since the "Great Bovine Beef-Up" legislation had been signed into law by the notoriously neo-fascist Richard Nixon... back in the late sixties before the world of the west truly ended and is now covered with strip malls and cheap brothels, one right next to the other.

...It was the one mistake he didn't make."

Man... I am so enjoying this.  In his prime, or maybe more appropo: at his 'peak'- I can't think of too many literary intellects that coud hold a candle to him, other than perhaps Kesey (whom I did meet, and even got to converse with on the occasional weekend over the phone until his death.  I snuck into the press corps line though I had zero credentials, and that impressed him as a 'prankish' kinda thing to do.  Have to show you the autograph he gave me sometime.  Pure Acid Test, after I asked him for the recipe to the Kool~Aid ;), or even the opposite of Thompson in Tom Wolfe- who in his own way had quite the method of describing the virtually impossible to describe.

And when Wolfe wrote about the two of the others together out at the ranch of the Merry Pranksters?  Stuff of legend.

Reply by dmcker, Jul 14, 2010.

Yeah, read a lot of Mr. Wolfe back then, too, and was even in the same space as him once in the '70s, but I didn't feel the same way about him as HST--a little too mainstream conservative, eastcoast, observer-from-a~remote-hilltop? Probably didn't do enough drugs at the time (pretty hard to really latch onto the shared unconscious without that, I suppose)? Never did meet Kesey. Very little travel by me east of the Mississippi at the time, though I did catch Hendrix and Morrison in the same club live in NYC by a fortunate chance.

One of the advantages of the Berkeley background, in retrospect, was running into Alice Waters back then and latching onto Chez Panisse from its beginnings. Helped form my perspective on food and wine, for sure....

Reply by StevenBabb, Jul 14, 2010.

never woulda thought i'd see a Kesey reference on snooth, let a lone a sweet pic of The Electric Cool-aid Acid Test!.....

i'm too young to have experienced the bay area in that era first hand, but i don have somewhat of an old soul, and have spent a lot of time- traveling back to those days....  i was born in the wrong time.... : )


@GregT.... i really enjoyed your post....

Reply by ChipDWood, Jul 15, 2010.

NONSENSE, I say to you Mr StevenBabb... with every day a new curtain is lifted, a new stage is set- and your own movie do you get to create.

That's one of the reasons that Snooth is where it's at.  It's a canvas upon which very little has been written.

Had a good one tonight btw, good cab, "Four"... something, 2006, though I forgot what it was as the evening news decided they were more important than any of my senses, leaving me with hints of burnt toast and petroleum in the nose, and prominent flashes of beurocracy upon the palate.

The finish, without doubt, has been mixed and muddled at best.

Although, I mean, the 2010 harvest is NOT far away ;).

Reply by StevenBabb, Jul 15, 2010.

: )

Reply by CabFanInNovaScotia, Jul 15, 2010.

Before I comment, I want to say that I have no experience with this person or their work.  I am replying because my searches for knowledge about winemaking and wine reviews brought me to this site.  This may be a good thing, though, as my comments can be based solely on the words written without bias/predjudice toward/against the person writing them.

My take on the excerpted quote (and of course only in the context of the excerpt as I don't have the entire article) is that those who buy the most wine also happen to buy the higher priced wine and they want to learn about wines and wine culture in a "cliff's notes" form.

My issue with the except is what I read between the lines.  It gives me a sense that the main objective these "time poor" professionals have when it comes to buying wine is trying to impress their "time poor" colleagues.  Its the blind leading the blind- which is okay as long as they are both being led by her or those like her.  The "time poor" professionals count on those they are trying to impress to read the same reviews, articles, etc.  Thus, although they may be pleased by a wine on its own merits, they are primarily impressed by a wine because a person in "authority" told them they should like it.

Its interesting she mentions contradictions.  One I find interesting is where she mentions that "certain consumers" wish to learn about wine cultre, yet she denigrates those who provide a "personal lifestyle comment" in their review.  Isn't someone's lifestyle and how they enjoy wine part of wine culture?  Oh wait, since they're not "time poor" professionals living in opulence (and experiment with tasting cheaper wines), they dont have the "right" lifestyle to be part of the "correct" wine culture (e.g. the wealthy buying expensive bottles of wine to impress people).  Granted its her opinion as to what is "relevant" to wine in a review, but given her comment I would hope that none of her wine reviews mention "entertaining by poolside" or how great it would be to share a wine at Holiday season or other "irrelevant personal lifestyle comments".

It would be a shame if she were guilty of a contradiction.

Reply by GregT, Jul 15, 2010.

CabFan - it's kind of a funny take.  Actually Jancis is really pleasant in person, although I think she, like many English writers, never quite got over the whole idea of Robert Parker.  And Hunter Thompson is the antithesis of everything refined!  If you don't know him, you really ought to read some of his work - just be sure you can place it in the proper place and time - it refers to many things that aren't so relevant today.

To be sure, some people want to buy wine to impress their friends - usually those who have the means to impress.  But some are honest lovers of wine who just don't have the time to delve into things that deeply - I know several doctors and other professionals who are just busy all the time but who also have the means to learn about wine by tasting more expensive wines than some of us.  Doesn't mean expense means quality, but there are some wines that are just as good as they are costly.

Anyhow, this is one of my favorite threads in a while.  Haven't thought about Hunter for a long time.  Wish we had his kind of reporting over the past few years.

Reply by dmcker, Jul 16, 2010.

HST during the younger Bush years would've been an even-more-paranoid hyperbeast. Would've been fun to read, but I wonder if he might not've somehow managed to be arrested for 'terrorism'. Lots of stuff that went on in the '60s and '70s would just get you shot, or otherwise subjected to loss of civil rights, now.

Somehow it's more fun to imagine how the French would deal with him along the Dordogne or Rhone. Or how he'd fare in some largescale wine convention or tasting scene together with the likes of RP... ;-)

Oh yeah, and another advantage of surgeons et al. who are so busy is they're often too busy to drink all the wine they buy. I've taken a lot of special bottles off the hands of doctors and dentists at really good prices. Less good deals from high-powered business execs (whether hired hands or entrepreneurial startup types) and lawyers... ;-(

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