What a welcome


After standing back some, I ventured into a few bulletin board conversations and was immediately reminded why I chose to stand back.

It isn’t that debating issues about wine is no fun—to the contrary, it can be great fun. It’s just that debating via the keyboard and electronic impulses is a weak form of communication at best. It’s so easy to be misunderstood, and after that happens, control of your own words seems to morph into a game of who should own those words, you or those who disagree with you?

There will come a day when I will back away completely—I hope, I hope. But until then, I fear that I will find myself hopelessly drawn into debates about wine production processes and wine criticism, debates that cover much of the same ground and don’t seem to change my or anyone else’s mind.

What is it about wine that makes so many of us so passionate as to hurl at one another whenever a belief or an opinion lands counter to ours?

In my often non-humble opinion, the phenomenon is as complicated as a California fruit bomb with alcohol that rivals jet fuel (now is the time for someone to accuse me of slamming his or her beloved California Cabernet).

On one level, we wine nuts express camaraderie (me, I’m a nut, not a geek). But how easily that friendship can fall apart— if you don’t believe me, just attack the wines of your wine buddy’s favorite producer.

On another level, we wine nuts give lip service to the idea that people have different tastes. But how easily that can devolve into a conversation of hurling epithets as soon as one of us claims to have, well, different taste.

On still another level, we wine nuts agree that we all have opinions. What we don’t seem to agree on is that the opinions of others have any merit. On this subject, I get into trouble regularly, especially when I attack the opinions of wine critics who hold no credentials, have no training, and make rather bizarre claims. I value opinions, but only when they have been formed through knowledge, not just through will and force of personality, or luck at having been given a pulpit.

One of my latest brush-ups had to do with the issue about which I feel strongly: that to be a credible critic, one needs to at least have done a little legwork in the subject, and since wine is a subject with technical, creative, and practical applications, a critic’s duty is to learn what they are.

All too often, I read diatribes from certain critics that display a blatant lack of knowledge alongside a volume of opinions. Not to make a pun, but these wine critics leave me with a bad taste.

Truth be told, and this is where I get into the most trouble with my attitude, I don’t give much credence to the profession of critic. Mainly, a critic tells us what he or she likes or dislikes. Mainly, I don’t really care what someone else likes or dislikes, unless that someone can point me to a reason beyond his or her bias or prejudice. At least then, I can explore and decide whether the critic speaks truth or blather.

I know this is blasphemy in certain quarters of the wine world, but I cannot imagine the value in “calibrating” my palate to someone else’s. My fun with wine includes me doing the exploration, not me finding out what someone else explored and then running down to the nearest wine shop to gobble up the latest achiever.

But then, I never was a follower, so maybe it’s not the critics; maybe it is I who is the problem. Maybe I should just teach people who want to learn what little I know, drink the wines I like, and just shut up.

To do that last one, I believe I might have to throw this computer out the window!

Below is the thread that got me thinking. Notice in the moderator’s post just before my final one that I am accused of having “chuztpah,” unmitigated gall for living my opinions, and I am also accused of being prejudice and lacking creativity.  Within the accusations are these hidden gems: subjectivity equals un-biased; objectivity equals prejudice; and, by extension, faulty logic equals creativity.

Talk about “chutzpah!”

 Critic’s Ethics

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
July 2008. All rights reserved.

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