I feel that in trying to be as attentive as possible in learning the ins and outs of wines, that I have lost some of the cheekiness that usually comes out in my writing. The old ‘wines are a serious matter for serious people’ seems to have bitten me at some point and I’ve withdrawn into a little writer’s shell where my self-assumed lack of knowledge and fear of being completely off base (and hence flamed from all corners of the industry) have kept the language and opinion of Grape Juice rather reserved for my liking. And if I, simple little me, have fallen into that trap, you have to wonder, when people begin making their livelihood off of what words they can spin together for wines, how many reviews that come out are true blue opinions on a particular wine and how many are carefully recycled snippets of terminology.
Here in Ontario, as I imagine it must be globally, there are THE wine people to whom every media source dedicates at least one rump-smooch an issue. It is not, essentially, in good taste to neglect mentioning their name at least once in the body of a written work. For Canada we have Tony Aspler, aka The Wine Guy, aka god if I see his name on one more thing I think I’m going to vomit. Not only do you have to pay in order to read his gems of oenophilic wisdom (seriously, his reviews are viewable on a subscription basis only), but he also surpasses most celebrities that I know in his tendency to self-promote. Take, for example, the 2006 CuveÃ© awards, the equivalent of the Oscars for Ontario Vintners. The only award not given to a variety or category of wine is, it makes me smile even thinking about it, the Tony Aspler Award of Excellence. And just in case you didn’t know that the Tony Aspler Award of Excellence had to do with Tony Aspler, it so helpfully tells you that the Tony Aspler Award of Excellence is sponsored by…le shock…Tony Aspler. He’s written books, he’s got a radio show, and who knows what else. He’s ubiquitous, like the Ebert of the wine scene in the Great White North. And while I have nothing personally against him I also don’t see how something so individually dependent as a wine experience can be so singularly attached to a personality.
I’d rather read a variety of reviews, get the full breadth of possibilities, and see some actual zest (not just flamboyancy). I want to read bad reviews alongside the good reviews. I don’t like when sites such as winecurrent.com (a site that I actually very much enjoy and appreciate) state that they won’t “waste time writing and reading about the others [that do not meet the 3-star threshold of excellence]“. Show me the ones you didn’t like. Tell me why they weren’t up to your standards. Fill the enormous information gap that exists for the less-than-fantastic wines. We all know they’re out there.
Aside from the obviously sub-par offerings, there is also a tendency to fall into flattery. A new wine comes out and everyone is all a-glow about its glory…really? Everyone in the entire wine-drinking community thinks this thing is the second coming? I find that very hard to believe. Have an opinion. Be yourself. Don’t be afraid to say you thought something tasted like nail polish remover even though everyone seems to be falling over themselves in a rush to fawn over it. And for the love of god, we all know that taste buds and preferences vary from person to person, so don’t insult us by taking whatever description was on the bottle label and reworking it to sound like your own words. You can’t tell me that all top level wine tasters will taste everything the same way, or that the characteristics they pull from the nose and palate will exactly match those detected by their peers…each and every time.
I want, I guess, some character. Perhaps then, I was a little hasty in criticizing Aspler, who obviously blends the skill and personality needed to become a successful face in the wine community. He’s got a bit of je ne sais quoi, and despite the presence of his name making me cringe, I have to give him kudos for that. He’s come from the sheep to become the shepherd, the guy that everyone knows and wants opinons from. I wish that there were more people willing to step out of the comfortable mold of saying nice things about wines that are supposed to be nice, and truly saying what’s on their mind. I know there are personalities out there, closet pot-stirrers who for whatever reason shy away from being more confrontational, but you really aren’t doing anyone any good. The media could benefit greatly from your spark and wine enthusiasts could use the presentation of unique, contrary perspectives before they drown in regurgitated garbage.
It’s all fine and well for me at Grape Juice, which has a readership roughly equivalent to a country church newsletter, to admit to being wrong, or being off, or to hold firm to the fact that the world’s hottest vin du jour tasted like wet dog to me…but it’s the big dogs out there that can really provide the well-rounded, informative experience that people like me are looking for. I’m no expert, so educate me. Use the wealth of your years of involvement to benefit all involved. That’s all I ask.