The Worst Kind of Wine Writing
If you agree, forgive me. If you disagree, then what follows should be par for the course.
Mr. Parnell is a young Englishman living in Oxford who admits about himself that he, "spends too much time conceiving ideas; too little time executing them. For often has it been said that his ideas should be executed." Put me on the "his ideas should be executed" side of the ledger.
In his latest screed, Mr. Parnell concludes "that far too little wine writing reaches out to the uninitiated" because wine writing is delivered in "patronising and insipid ‘buy this one not this one’ columns, or in exhaustive, geekily inaccessible prose" when instead it should force the reader to be "Inspired. Or tickled. Or shocked. Or provoked."
Parnell's contention is that the vast majority of mass-media (newspaper columns, magazine columns, etc) wine writing is generally boring, uninspiring, filled with useless geeky terms and useless to the common drinker.
One presumes that Parnell, since he knows what's wrong with wine writing, is capable of delivering the right kind of wine writing. Let's take a gander:
"This same freshness is fucking transformative, what’s more, when it comes to the blackcurrant. Because (to my gob, anyhow) full-on dark fruit flavours can get a mite tedious and two-dimensional, despite their initial appeal. But this wine sacrifices nothing of the intensity of the fruit, yet renders it complex, subtly floral, light. Blackcurrant and elderflower. Fuck yeah.
Parnell on the 2009 Act Five Shiraz Viognier
And fucking horrendous it is, too. Cardboardy flaps of egg-marinated bacon in that suddenly-not-so-tasty-tasty malted bread.
Parnell on the 2009 Le Froglet Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc
"I don’t know about you, but I go weak and jibbly for wines that seduce me with a heady waft of fruit, then pull me up, slap me and strap me, look me fucking dead in the eye and ask me if I reckon I’m hard enough."
Parnell on the 2005 Domaine de Mourchon, Seguret, Cotes du Rhone Village
I guess my problem isn't that Parnell is crass, guilty of his own charges and uninspiring. My problem is that he doesn't name names when he charges that most of
"the world of wine writing is insular. It treasures its own elitist terminology. It prizes information before communication. It jealously, gleefully guards its own exclusivity — a hideous, smugly masturbating gatekeeper — crooning and babbling, gollum-like, at its own shrivelled genitals."
So who are these wine writers that are "hideous, smigly masterbating gatekeepers"? Let's be courageous and name some names. Let's take a gander at who Mr. Parnell believes he with his "fucking" and "fuck yeah" and "complex, subtly floral, light. Blackcurrant and elderflower" and his "Cardboardy flaps of egg-marinated bacon in that suddenly-not-so-tasty-tasty malted bread" (huh?) is doing better than.
Jancis Robinson? Tim Atkin? Tom Canavan? Oz Clarke? Jamie Goode? Jasper Morris? Tom Stevenson? Or any other of his British "counterparts"?
What about on this side of the pond? Which elements of the American wine writing corps does does Parnell see "crooning and babbling, gollum-like, at its own shrivelled genitals"?
Eric Asimov? Dan Berger? Jon Bonne? Lettie Teague? Paul Gregutt? Matt Kramer?
We'll never know, I suppose. It's very easy to sling about accusations as long as you don't have to stand up and actually point at individuals, particularly your wannabe peers.
The fact of the matter is, Parnell's "J'Accuse" blog post is the easiest piece of writing anyone thinking about wine writing can spit out. There's no risk in taking the oh so very courageous stand of going to bat for the "initiated" wine drinker who, Parnell imagines, can't quite come to grips with words containing more that two syllables, or "jargon" such as "terroir" or concepts such as French classification systems. It's the kind of approach to commentary that is aimed at uplifting one's self to expert status by knocking down one's betters by calling them out as "elitist". This is all too easy.
At the very end of his screed, Parnell, in a small font, clarifies:
"I should perhaps clarify that the above is very much concerned with wine writing for public consumption — in the mainstream print & online press, particularly — and not wine writing for a niche/expert/obsessive audience"
Sorry, it doesn't save the insipid, weak, cowardly nature of the post. The fact is there are scores of wine writers using the English language and who are writing in newspapers for "public" consumption who do inspire, who instruct, who provide moments of discovery, and who treat their readers with the kind of respect that assumes they can understand complex words and who don't need to conclude with "Fuck Yeah!"