Wine Reviews With Only 17 Words!

Boy, have I ever gained respect over the past few days for those folks who write reviews of wines in wine magaznes and newsletters.

I’ve been working on a rush job for a wine catalog. Much of the writing entails describing wines. The thing is, every wine needing a description comes with a maximum word count that I can use. In many cases that word count is no more than 17 words!!

This is a very difficult task. It would be made easier had I chosen to simply offer descriptions of the wines such as: "deep purple hues, blackberry and cassis aromas, notes of cedar. Firm structure leading to long supple finish"(17 words).

However, I’ve made an effort to include context into the descriptions, meaning I’ve wanted to give the readers a sense of where the producer or the wine stand, rank or mean in the context of their category, region or history. AND, I’ve tried to offer some descriptive elements for the wine.

In 17 words in many cases.

If you take a look at Jim Laube’s (Wine Spectator), Steve Heimoff’s (Wine Enthusiast) or Joshua Greene’s (Wine & Spirits Magazine) reviews you find that they average something around 30 – 35 words per review. Wine & Spirits seem to be just a tad longer than that. And in all these cases highly ranked wines are written up with more words and lower rated wines with fewer words. But look at the number of reviews these guys write.

I can’t imagine this is their favorite part of the job. I could be wrong about that, since it clearly is a challenge. And, perhaps I’m taken with the difficulty of the job of describing a wine in just 17 words because I don’t take into account that these folks do it all the time and likely are quite good at working in a small economy word environment. Either way, I’m impressed with how they do it.

Try it sometime. Try to write a meaningful review or description of a wine you really liked with 17 to 30 words. Try to convey your appreciation for and the character of the wine.

9 Responses

  1. Fredric Koeppel - October 13, 2006

    You have hit upon the reason here as to why the reviews in the WS and WE all sound similar with slight variations. They really give readers and potential consumers very little to go on. I would much rather read longer reviews that go into the background and context of the wine and the winery, the grapes, the process as well as the overall effect of the wine. Perhaps we don’t need epics as wine descriptions but nor do we need (with apologies to the hilarious and sometimes provocative Red Wine Haiku) these succinct verses.

  2. Tim - October 13, 2006

    I’m going the other direction, Tom. My last review was 148 words long and I thought it was a tad short. My goal is around 250-300 words. 17? Good luck!

  3. Ryan Scott - October 13, 2006

    I just try to describe the color, weight, texture, flavors and finish of the wines I review, probably between 25 and 50 words, sometimes more, sometimes less. I give a score, but if you can convey the wine experience, then people can decide if they like it or not and would like to try it.

  4. winehiker - October 13, 2006

    I opt for length, too, since I think that people who love wine tend to taste and drink it for the experiential aspects. I try to relate my tasting experiences to my readers with that in mind.
    That being said, sometimes you may be glancing through a long list of wines and don’t want to go digging too deeply; perhaps what’s needed in those instances is just a synopsis.
    In other words, I suppose both approaches have their place.

  5. Dr. Vino - October 13, 2006


  6. Gregg Johnson - October 14, 2006

    It’s true that the more you like a wine the more you want to say about it. Holding a review to a specific amount of words may be a disservice to the readers. Good wines evolve when they are decanted and if you’re reviewing one wine over a period of time you just may have more to say about it. On the other hand, a review that is lengthy runs the risk of sounding insecere or over-the-top. A good philosophy would be to keep them as simple as possible.

  7. jeff - October 15, 2006

    If each sentence makes
    you want to read the next, good.
    Otherwise, Haiku.

  8. Julian - October 17, 2006

    I write some of the descriptions we use in our shop and on the website – about thirty words maximum – and it’s hard to convey a great deal that way if you stick to the familiar similes. But people like familiarity more than accuracy sometimes.
    Really far-out objective correlatives might be more fun for everyone, and no less informative in the long run. It’s all a question of self-confidence, which I think is scarce enough among Irish consumers.

  9. John - March 6, 2007

    There should be a logical relationship between the sentence and the sentence next to it. That is it.

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