An Open Door To Real Wine Criticism
I wonder about this because lately I've been exploring the state of criticism within various disciplines. It seems across the board, whether talking about film, dance, art, architecture or any other creative pursuit, the consensus on criticism is that it is in bad shape. The primary culprit in the demise of literary criticism, many believe, is the Internet and specifically the citizen or amateur critic.
This makes sense. Prior to the advent of of the Internet and the ease with which it allows anybody and anyone to set themselves up as a commentator, one needed to impress the media gatekeepers that their voice was not only educated and a product of insightful thought, but that it could also be well represented in words. Editors needed evidence that the would-be critic could deliver something of substance. Today, there is no Editor to screen the voices that make themselves heard. There is only the requirement that effort needs to be made. And as we can see by a quick tour of Google, there is no lacking of effort.
Today, voices wishing to be heard as critics are so numerous as to overwhelm the senses. While "professional critics" in all these and other disciplines still exist, the number of lesser trained eyes has proliferated beyond counting.
If there are no more gatekeepers between the random thoughts of a dance lover or film lover and the eyes of those seeking information on the state of artistic endeavors, then the question that must ultimately be asked is this: What is a critic and what do they do?
Does this constitute film criticism: "* * * *"
What about this: "Awesome!"
Advocates of opening the gates and throwing aside the gatekeepers would answer, "yes!" and go on to celebrate the demise of the self important "critics" that for too long held so much power to shape public perception and the rise of the citizen perspective.
I would answer "No", however. In my view, real literary criticism (meaning using the written word to evaluate an article of human creation) demands substantial reflection, being well read in the subject upon which the critic is commenting, possessing a deep understanding of the history of stylistic movements and detours within the subject area, having a personal view of what constitutes greatness within the critic's subject area, and, finally, being able translate one's contemplation on the matter into a well formed essay.
So then, is there such a thing as "Wine Criticism" today? Has there ever been? And if so, is it in decline?
Steve Heimoff, the wine writer and reviewer for the Wine Enthusiast and blogger at www.steveheimoff.com" wrote this on the matter: "Wine criticism, on the other hand, is just, well, wine writing. It can
never be as important as film criticism, because wine will never be as
important as film in our self-consciousness of who we are."
Steve's view doesn't so much answer my question as much as better defines the entry portal into criticism itself, positing that for something to be worthy of criticism it must have some sort of hold over the culture. Film most certainly is a critical part of America's cultural and intellectual heritage as is fine art, music, architecture and dance, for example. Not wine, says Steve.
And yet, the number of reviews of wine that exist in print and on the Internet are massive in number. So despite the fact that wine may not be important in the self consciousness of Americans, it is important enough to enough of us to result in substantial review…but not reviews of substance.
The fact is, it just may be that the the creative process that goes into making wine and the resulting artifact of that creative process may not be interesting enough or intellectually substantial enough or consequential enough for inspire the kind of criticism that I describe above where "substantial reflection" is part of the definition of real literary criticism.
Is it even possible to use a wine to reflect on the current state of politics, culture or social interaction, as good criticisms in so many other disciplines has for so long? Of course it's possible. But it takes substantial intellectual heft to turn a sensation that begins in the nose and mouth into a coherent thought on the way of the world. And I honestly can't think of a single person (be they writer, blogger, or wine critic) who makes any effort to do this.
But wouldn't it be the fascinating and compelling writer that could imbibe a 1985 German Riesling and not only accurately describe its constituent parts as they relate to aroma, taste and texture, but also place the wine in an historic context, discuss its current place in the mode du jour of wine making, and offer some thoughts as to what that mode says about consumers and winemakers alike?
I'll grant that wine is a different kind of objet d'art than film, a play, a musical recording or painting. To begin with, the public uses wine far differently than it does the traditional realms of art. The way we use a film is to stimulate our mind and to pass time. More often than not, the way we use wine is to get drunk, quench our thirst or in an attempt to make something else taste better.
Furthermore, in any given time frame, there are multiple more wines "on the market" than film or dance performances or releases of a collection of music. Wine is in fact a consumer product and it would seem that considering how to review a wine is akin to thinking about how to review a frozen dinner. But there is something different about wine than a frozen dinner or bar of soap, isn't there. There appears to be something more of a meaning to a wine than to most other consumer products.
Getting at the core of that meaning, putting it in historical context, understanding it in the context of other wines on the market, and being able to deconstruct that core into some larger idea, either cultural or social, is what real wine criticism could be.
I believe the fact that there exists no real attempt at literary wine criticism today means there is a genuine opening for someone daring to truly transform the art of wine criticism into something new, something more substantial or something more intriguing.