Wine writing is broken

In which Old Parn launches into a tirade at the leprous state of wine writing in 2011, and the miserable failure of its practitioners, en masse, to inspire, engage or reach out through their words

A splintered pane of glass makes a crescent. In the background, obscure, dark colours

Here’s what’s wrong.

The world of wine writing is insular. It treasures its own elitist terminology. It prizes information before communication. It jealously, gleefully guards its own exclusivity — a hideous, smugly masturbating gatekeeper — crooning and babbling, gollum-like, at its own shrivelled genitals.

(So. That’s the metaphor over with, eh?)

See, it’s my opinion that far too little wine writing reaches out to the uninitiated. Next time you’re reading an article about wine, ask yourself: if I were new to wine — if I knew none of the terminology — would this mean anything to me? Would I find it engaging? Indeed, would I even have read this far in the first place? Far, far too often, the answer is no.

I am staggered — actually, I’m fucking angry — that something so many people love is still largely written about either in patronising and insipid ‘buy this one not this one’ columns, or in exhaustive, geekily inaccessible prose.

Of course there are exceptions. But where is wine writing’s Giles Coren, wine writing’s AA Gill? Hell, where’s wine writing’s Michael fucking Winner, come to that? Or where’s wine writing’s Jeremy Clarkson? I can’t fucking stand Clarkson. But at least I’m not indifferent to him. At least he gets my attention.

And how? Let’s see. Does Clarkson’s weekly column go like this?: ‘A common feature of many cars is air conditioning. [Insert dumbed-down, humourless technical explanation of air conditioning and its origins]. So this week we’re going to look at three cars with air conditioning and write a few tired adjectives about each one, then tell you where you can buy them and what kind of roads you might like to drive them down’

Not it does fucking not.

There are scandalously few people in the mainstream writing about wine with passion and verve. Our public face is timid, introverted, gawky, dull, apologetic. Geeky. But without the leftfield charm.

If I’m a casual wine-drinker, I am not going to be captivated by information about terroir, viticulture, grape varietals. Chances are, I have far better things to do than memorise the French classification system. If I wanted to know this stuff, I’ve got a whole bloody internet to search. Or there are books on this stuff, aren’t there? I don’t need to be educated in tiresome, condescending, uninspired weekly instalments. Not to say that there’s no place for this information. But on its own — as the main feature — it’s both boring and alienating.

And here’s another thing: don’t ever tell me a wine is ‘toothsome’. What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Seriously. Does anyone ever use that word except wine writers? Toothsome? Fuckoffsome.

In fact, allow me to propose a simple mechanism for wine writers. If there’s a simpler alternative to the word you’re using and yet you’ve decided to stick with the more complex, ask yourself the following question: ‘Am I James Joyce?’

If the answer is no, I recommend you spare us and just use the bloody simple one.


You see, when I read about something (by choice, in my leisure time) I want to be inspired. Or tickled. Or shocked. Or provoked. I don’t want drab, dusty sentences or bland, self-effaced meanderings.

So why are there so few inspiring wine writers? Or, at least, why are the most visible wine writers generally so uninspiring?

If we love something, are we not capable of transcending jargon, pedantry and narrow-horizoned pedestrianism — to emblazon our love, bold on paper?

Until more wine writers are writing to inspire — whilst we’re still belching out our mass-produced £4.99 prose — how the hell do we have the nerve to castigate the buyers of £4.99 bottles?

Edit: I should perhaps clarify that the above is very much concerned with wine writing for public consumption — in the mainstream print & online press, particularly — and not wine writing for a niche/expert/obsessive audience, whose demands and appetites are clearly quite another kettle of wotsits. —OP

25 thoughts on “Wine writing is broken”

    1. I’m going to try and do a ‘white wine’ skin that’ll offer a pale background and dark text. When I have time to do the photography & coding. Thanks for mentioning it.

  1. Well said!!! Even at a more in depth level, wine writing could do with being a little more colloquial and less patronising.

    Has anyone decided on the definition of toothsome yet….! 😉

  2. Fighting talk, and no mistake!

    I think you’re right about a lot of the hidebound pish which goes with much wine writing. HOWEVER.. given that I’ve got this whole internet thing down pretty well, and that I can completely effectively tune out the guff I don’t want to read, I can’t say that I feel especially troubled by the existence of those dull screeds written by bores arguing over single points on the 100-point scale.

    I’d rather read wine metaphors instead .. so: no problem, innit?!

    PS – I like reading Jancis’s stuff too.

    1. Graeme, you’re right — and I realised after publishing this that I’d failed to make it sufficiently clear that the target of my ire was those writing for public consumption, largely via the mainstream print/online media. Tried to rectify this failure via subsequent edits, but maybe still not clear.

      I’m with you on the eminent avoidability of dull screeds.

      Also agreed on Jancis, who writes very nicely indeed.

  3. One wishes that you’d just finally take stand one way or the other on this issue… 😉

    Personally, I love profanity coupled with wine writing so this is f*cking AWESOME!

  4. Just added to my RSS. Wish I could be so clever with my cursing. Hockey doesn’t exactly get me far out of the box in that regard. Like that you included quotes in your “about” page related to this rant.

  5. Check out kindred spirit Billy Munnelly. Loved and appreciated in Canada by the ‘average joe’ and tolerated by the old guard. Billy uses metaphors, avoids scores and stresses context…”not best, but best for what”. The drinking experience matters most, not just the drink.

  6. No one writes in this way about gardening either. Or Social Care. Perhaps they do about classical music… I bet they do, someone must.

    Can I be Michael Winner please? “Calm Down dear…”

    I find the amount of repetition in wine writing the most boring. There is a new app now whereby you plug in your descriptors and it spits out a class A Robert Parker wine review. 😀 Formulaic, that is what bothers me, many people are poetic about wine and I think that is lovely when it comes from genuine passion, their flower is your fuck, but I agree that sometimes it is just a pompous expression of self love.

    Keep it up…. 😉

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