An Impatient Age

“Wine doesn’t submit very happily to scores, but I realize people
making buying decisions are in a hurry … We live in a very impatient

"A Very Impatient Age"!

This is Jancis Robinson, the English wine scribe, explaining the factor that provoked her to use scores on reviews of wine on her subscription website, This explanation of her giving in to scores came in an article and interview with her by Appellation America’s Alan Goldfarb. The bulk of the article is about the educational value of using sub-appellations on Californian wines ("Atlas Peak" for example, in addition to "Napa Valley")

But it’s this notion of a "very impatient age" that interests me.

I dare say that Ms. Robinson has hit on an explanation for the omnipresence of wine scores that strikes me as on the mark. I hadn’t thought about it much, but it does seem that it is healthy dose of impatience that leads Americans to embrace a simple number to describe a wine, to use "LOL" instead of "that made me laugh" in their digital correspondence, that leads newspapers and reporters to write shorter and shorter articles on complex subjects, and to fully embrace the concept of "Fast" but usually quite yucky food for their meals.

I don’t dismiss the argument that there are now so many wines available that trying to read reviews of them all, particularly the kind of review that does a wine justice, would take too much time than even the most dedicated and literary-minded wine lover has at their disposal. Certainly this has played a role in the takeover of wine scores. There is also the issue of paper. How large would the Wine Spectator or Wine & Spirits or Wine Enthusiast or the Wine Advocate have to be to devote comprehensive reviews to all the wines they list each issue? It would take quite a chunk out of our forest resources. Heck, you might even need a website to accomplish this without destroying the environment…

But still…"A Very Impatient Age"…

I wonder if we can all agree that despite the character of this particular age, the consumption of wine and even the perusal of wine reviews must be described as one of life’s pleasures for those who are inclined toward appreciating wine? Yet, we generally find ourselves reading "Fast Food" reviews of wine. This is not to say these short, number-laden, reviews are "yucky". Some very nice turns of phrase and information can be imparted in 50 words. But it’s just not very substantial.

Why are we all so impatient that we would devour numbers describing wine, rather than words; that we would devour crispy nuggets rather than appreciate the aroma that wafts out of an oven that slowly roasts a squab? Is time that short? Is there so much to do with work and kids and friends and the house and soccer practice and meetings and blogs that just getting a chance to run down the numbers in the latest magazine or deciding whether its spicy mustard or ranch sauce is enough to satisfy us?

If this is so, and if we are done and the transition to describing wine with numbers is complete, then there is another thing to consider: Will the craft of using more than 50 words to describe the sensory experience of an Anderson Valley Riesling or White Burgundy  go by the wayside? Will this "very impatient age" put the last shovel of soil on the art of careful, inspired, well-written wine reviewing? If we are too impatient to give this kind of wine review out attention, it seems unlikely that writers and wine lovers of talent will engage in the practice. That would sad. Perhaps we’ve already transitioned from "would be" to "is".

How then to recapture or even re-imagine the craft of wine reviews of a literary and captivating kind; wine reviews that make us think, rather than add and subtract? A start: I propose a book of wine reviews penned by a series of authors the likes of Phillip Roth, Stephen King, Woody Allen, Don Delilo, Joyce Carol Oates, David Foster Wallace, etc, etc, etc. Edited, of course, by Jancis Robinson.

We’d ask them for 2000 words each on a particular wine. We’d ask them to show us how a wine, good or bad, could be described, analyzed and deconstructed with words rather than numbers. Perhaps we need this kind of infusion into the world of wine reviews in order to overcome or at least put a dent in our impatient tendencies.

6 Responses

  1. Steve - November 6, 2007

    Good idea, that book. I’ll read it as soon as I finish the 27 New Yorkers I haven’t read yet. And last week’s Sunday paper. And the 12 TIMEs my neighbor slides under my door each week. Anyhow, I’d add Garrison Keilor to your list.

  2. Arthur - November 6, 2007

    It may be the decaf coffee, but I am still deciding if you are being sarcastic with the notion of a book of lengthy wine reviews.
    I agree that Garrison Keilor would add a nice touch.
    I think that we choose to complicate and simplify the wrong things in life these days. We take on mindless structure and activities because its trendy. How many of us in their thirties (and above) remember being driven around from school to soccer practice, Karate, violin lessons, play dates and therapy as children? How many of us are actually enjoying this hectic lifestyle? Do we really live better than our parents did?
    Much of this drive to scores is a result of people not wanting (or having the time) to stop and take the time to figure out what they like in a wine. A score offers a nice and simple pointer of what wine to drink. That prescribed wine fits right in with the formula for a prescribed life.

  3. Tom Wark - November 6, 2007

    I’m not being sarcastic. A lengthy and varied demonstration of the fascinating craft of criticisms and review and analysis as applied to wine may be necessary to remind us that there can be much more to understanding a wine than two digits and the occasional three.

  4. RichardA - November 6, 2007

    I recall reading about a study, I believe in Australia, that found the average consumer spends only 38 seconds in a store choosing a wine. And for many of them, it may be the label that is more important than the score.
    But I feel there is a group of wine enthusiasts who are willing to embrace more, who are willing to read more lengthy wine reviews. If we examine some wine blogs, we do see lengthier revews, less reliance on scores. So, there is hope.
    I also think it would be a big step just to get the average consumer to read a 50 word review.

  5. ryan - November 7, 2007

    Interesting after we just switched from rating wines to not rating them and to including longer reviews. Our thought is that a real wine lover will go after new wines no matter what. So to read a story or an experience might better connect the reader with the wine. I really have no clue what a point score tells someone anymore. After I try it if I like it I drink it if I don’t like it I quit drinking itit no matter the score.

Leave a Reply