Wine writing and wine twittering

It often strikes me the populists in the wine world sneer much more at what they unoriginally tend to call “wine-snobs” than the other way round. We (I’m clearly in the wine-snob camp), while sticking to our own intimidating, elitist, incomprehensible approach, are usually welcoming of any attempt by others to widen the excitement and pleasure of wine.

As I am in the case of Real Time Wine, a new website devoted to Twitter-length wine-reviews. I read about it in an article in the online paper called The Daily Maverick, which  a winemaker forwarded to me – in sympathy or in threat, I’m not sure which. The article is mostly based on an interview with the project’s founder, one Andy Hadfield – who’s “a geek who does strategic consulting for blue-chip companies”, so he clearly finds it useful and legitimate to have expertise and jargon in some fields, just not in wine.


In fact Hadfield comes across much more appealingly on his website than in the interview, where he just seems rather silly, I thought, and not even much fun. He describes on the website (in third person) how it all started:

“One day, he read a Platter’s review of a fine, chunky, middle-of-the-road bottle of Alto Rouge 2007. That experience galvanized him, moved him, activated him (especially after he polished off the bottle). South Africa, and the world, needed a better review system. One that spoke to the people. The winos who just knew they liked wine, and didn’t feel like decoding a freakin’ puzzle each time they desired an outside opinion. And thus, 140 character wine reviews were born in mid 2009.”

No wonder I’m a bit affected by this particular attack, as I have to confess to being the author of the puzzling, appalling, galvanizing Platter note on Alto Rouge. It ran as follows: “Blend varies on reliable old favourite: 07 33% shiraz plus 4 Bdx grapes. Like abv, shows a little oak influence (here 30% new, 18 mths), but promising harmony. Sweet-fruited, friendly, but no gush.”

Of this, Andy “didn’t understand a single word. Especially the word ‘gush’, which he thought was horrid and should be reserved for certain medical conditions shared only between patient and doctor”.

Sadly he doesn’t give me more guidance. OK, he has a thing about the word “gush”, which he perhaps mixes up with the word “thrush”. But are “harmony”, “sweet-fruited” and “friendly” so very difficult for even a money-man in the Age of Twitter to understand? And so very un-useful? I do agree there’s nothing much to chuckle over, however.

Andy happily describes himself as having a “totally untrained palette”. Which formulation suggests that he’s got a thing against spelling-snobs too – the sort of person who might write (in this context) “palate”. Nor is he very consistent, as “palate” is one of the “snooty wank” words in the list of those banned from appearing in reviews on his website. But his self-deprecating humour is generally pretty disarming and enjoyable.

Trouble is, trouble is – it’s all very well in theory, but the practice is rather less revolutionary and exciting than one might have hoped for. You might have thought one of the first things to go would be scores, but no. According to the Daily Maverick piece, “Hadfield also favours scoring the wines out of 10, which he says gives him better accuracy and simplicity than the star-rating system favoured by most wine reviewers.” Well, given that five-star systems generally include half-stars, making a total of ten, it’s a bit difficult to see the difference.

But is accuracy really what Twitterers should be after? Isn’t it a bit, well, uncool, even snobbish?

So let’s see what Andy and his three cohorts on the site (including Harry Haddon, who one might have hoped would aim a bit higher) actually produce. On the evening of 20 February 2010, there were six notes (and six enormous, incredibly dull, very amateurish, label-shots) on the home page, posted since 16 Feb. All of them rated the wines either 6 or 7 out of 10. Mmmm, yes, well.

And were the notes “simple, humorous and helpful” as Andy says they must be? Were they as the Maverick describes: “witty, erudite and don’t hold back on the punches”? Let’s see. These are two of Andy’s:

  • 2007 Zonnebloem Shiraz Limited Edition
    Smells like bubble wrap. Tastes like dried fruit. Quite interesting… Nice ish. SCORE 6/10
  • 2010 Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc
    Soft sour fruit smell. Bit of alcohol afterburn. Maybe lime in there somewhere? SCORE 6/10

Not really the sort of thing to convince anyone one way or another surely? Nor even give anyone a chuckle, or have them applauding the wit. And not much precision – except in the scoring, of course (what SORT of fruit?).  But yes, pretty simple, I do agree.

Though I’m intrigued by the “alcohol afterburn” on the sauvignon. For someone who thinks that you should not be allowed to use the words “tannin” or “acidity” when describing a wine, isn’t “alcohol afterburn” a bit snobbish? It’s possible, I suppose, that the “afterburn” was actually caused by high acidity, but Andy wasn’t allowed to say so, and therefore had to ascribe it to alcohol.

The problem of wine commentary, which I agree exists, has sadly not been solved by Andy Hadfield, in my opinion. I have to confess that I’ve never knowingly Twittered in my life, and haven’t ever even looked at a Facebook page, so I realise that this sort of stuff is not intended for me. I genuinely wish the project well, but I find it impossible to believe that anyone is going to find it nourishing for long. As well as being vacuous, it’s sadly rather dull and boring – which is surely just what it shouldn’t be.

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