Friday, February 11, 2011

Is this s--- for real: great moments in uninteded self-parody

Is this for real? Sadly, the answer is yes. For every genuine enthusiast (who also runs a huge wine shop) like Gary Vaynerchuck or analytical scientist like Jamie Goode, there are about a dozen of the type of people in the wine world who I'll be bashing in the rest of this post.

Probably one of the top bullshit artists in the world of wine right now is James Suckling. Pretension in fine wine is unavoidable on some level. But Suckling oozes pretension. If he was a slug, that sticky trail he leaves behind would be pretension distillate. Watch and learn in these two videos as Suckling gives a master class in egotism, stuffiness and, yes, unbearable pretentiousness:

I'm 99 points on not wanting to hear another damn over-enunciated word out of Suckling's mouth ever again.

Of course, making obnoxious videos is not the only way to ruin wine for the general public. You can always write a note with so many descriptors it ceases to have meaning. Now, I like to both read and write thorough notes. But they have to actually contain, you know, information. Words describing body, acidity, tannin, flavor intensity, style--primarily structural descriptors--are very useful. A few specific flavors can be of help, but at a certain point it is not telling you anything other than the author is full of shit. Take this example from a person who calls himself the Sonoma Sommelier:
Anaba 2007 “Coriol” Red Rhone Blend: "a wine that delivers . . . . flavors of acai berries, black currant liqueur, fig bar, tamarind, raspberry bramble, red plum, balsamic strawberries, clove, rose water, cigar box, barnyard, teriyaki, stone, apricot, coriander, butterscotch, hazelnut chocolates, brown leather and Columbian coffee beans."
The enological diarrhea is even more exaggerated in this example:
VJB 2007 Estate Aglianico: "It has both Sonoma Valley and Italian flavors of wild red currants, red licorice twist, raspberry Pimms Cup, red apple skins, barnyard game, suede leather, rhubarb pie, baked red plum, star anise, sage, rosemary brush, guava candies, roasted portobello mushrooms, hibiscus flower, passion fruit puree, lavender, tomatoes on the vine, paprika, horehound candy, sea salt, nori sheets, cappuccino froth, molasses, nutmeg and Connecticut cigar wrapper."
Stop, just please stop, Sonoma Somm!

To his credit, the first sentence or two in both reviews I linked does tell you much of what you'd want to know structurally about the wines, albeit in an annoyingly literary style. But after that, it's just self indulgent garbage. If you tried these wines, you'd never find that many flavors in a single taste. You know why? Because humans can only differentiate a few aromas at a time, and most of what we perceive as taste is really retronasal olfaction.

How this sort of criticism became the norm, I do not know. No, actually, I do know. This variety of sewer feces appeals to people with lots of money but no common sense or knowledge of wine. Why learn about where the wine comes from and how it's made when you can just hear a point score and a bunch of fancy sounding adjectives? It's the easy way out--instant validation.


Jeff said...

I think Suckling is doing himself a disservice by being on video. He doesn't seem nearly as much of a pompous ass on paper. I guess that's because it's a lot harder to come off that way in a sentence or two, and let's admit it: there is an element of douche-baggery in all wine writing to a certain extent. Sucklings hair and general look contribute to him looking like an asshole too. He's the kind of douche I see in Beverly Hills that I want to sucker punch. Please, a popped collar on a 50 year old man with a 10k rolex is silly.

Sonoma Sommelier or whatever is ridiculous too. Not to sound pompous myself, but I find myself moving in the opposite direction--towards being more general as opposed to specific. I see things as groups of flavors now, instead of distinct items. I think that's a new distinction--a subtle one--in my head.

BTW, do you read Alex Halberstadt? I think he may be my favorite wine writer, and he's not a douche. Awesome articles.

Cabfrancophile said...

With regards to notes, I think there are two opposing approaches, structural and descriptive. There's no question in my mind that one is superior: structural. Purely descriptive notes are just a waste of space. It's like a movie with lots of pretty scenes but no plot. Or better yet a movie review that describes the scenes while ignoring the narrative and characters.

I need to check out Halberstadt.

K1avg said...

This is a post that delivers intelligent awareness, acute sensibility, justifiable indignation, substantive knowledge, appropriate profanity, a distinct disdain of douchebaggery, admirable grammar, literary device, and hints of spice box. I'm 96 points on this.

joshiemac said...

Wow, it's one thing if a third party edited these videos to make him look bad but it looks like he did these himself. They almost come off as some sort of SNL parody of a wine snob. I look forward to seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Suckling someday in some sort of send-off of wine criticism douchebaggery.

I'm here! What a wanker.