When I started writing this blog, I wrote just about anything I wanted—no one was reading my words (not even my wife or my mother) and I was buying all the wine. And it was fairly straight forward. I did not see myself as the “next Robert Parker” (or even the next Dorothy Parker), but I knew that I liked to write and I liked to drink wine.
At some point along the way, a few people began to notice. Why? How? I have no idea, but they did, and they must have liked what they saw (or were desperate) for I started to receive samples in the mail.
For almost any beginning blogger (at least those who are willing to admit it), receiving that first sample in the mail is a bit of a rush—it’s a tangible recognition of all the work that preceded it. The months’ worth of hours spent writing, revising, and promoting your blog (as well as the incredible time sink that is social media) had finally “paid off” in a real way.
I still remember some of the first samples that I received. At the time I had not yet adopted the policy that I would only publish “positive” reviews (more on this policy below). For this one wine, though, I really could not help it—it was truly dreadful. I just went to the producer’s website and while they are still making the second wine they sent me (which I actually liked), it does not appear as though they still make the Pink Panda (a god-awfully sweet pink sparkler in a bottle that glowed in the dark). They do have some cannabis infused wines, however, which says a lot. At least to me.
Despite my positive review for that second wine, I never heard another word from that producer, even though to this day it was one of my favorite reviews I ever wrote. I guess they were not enthralled with part of my note on the Pink Panda:
I was a bit worried about the nose of strawberry Jolly Rancher or Kool Aid, and on the palate there was plenty more of the same. And it was sweet. Really sweet. Really, really sweet. This is not a wine for a meal, unless that meal is a pop tart.
Of course, I thought (and still think) it was rather clever, but it was also probably a bit mean (albeit true). Shortly thereafter, I adopted my “positive reviews only” stance. Why? Well, briefly, I believe there are far too many good wines available and far too much negativity to get bogged down with negative reviews. And while negative reviews probably attract more traffic (Schadenfreude?) and can be more fun to write, I really see no point.
One could argue that the consumer “deserves to know” or other similar reasoning, and while there is a modicum of truth to that, I firmly believe that 90% (or higher) of the wines at or above $10 retail in the U.S. are technically “good.” While a particular individual or critic might not like a wine, it is probably not “bad.” Or, more precisely, there is a segment of the population that would find the wine at least palatable or even “good.” (I was going to make an analogy with the current political landscape, but, well, I will save that click-bait for another post.)
Go ahead. Disagree. That’s fine, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no matter how wrong they are.
Since the beginning of this blog, my approach to evaluating wines has remained fairly constant: I try to taste every wine that I receive and assess it on its own merits, usually centered around a meal and over the course of a couple of hours. That is now proving to be nearly impossible—there just are not enough days in the week. So I either need to change the way I taste and evaluate wines, or I need to start respectfully declining samples a lot more. Or both.
There is a complication with that resolve, however. Over the course of the last several years, I have become friends (or at least friendly) with many of the people at the wineries and PR firms that send me samples. While I try very hard to keep those relationships out of the process, it is not all that easy. And it is nearly impossible (at least for me) to say “no thanks” since many of them have supported my blog and my writing for years.
A great case in point: in September, on subsequent weeks, two good friends visited me in Houston, both representing their winery. I invited over some local writers and several folks in my neighborhood to try their wines with us. Both events, it seemed, were a huge success, but it was difficult (at best) to write down my thoughts on the wines while also serving as host, neighbor, friend. Don’t get me wrong—I encouraged the visits and loved having both of them here (and can’t wait until they come back), but it’s hard to be objective about someone’s wines when you know there is a chance you might see the guy in his underwear at some point over the next twelve hours or so.
Nonetheless, this week I will be publishing my thoughts on the wines later this week (and next).
I would love to have some feedback on what you, the readers of this blog, think. Up until this point, I have tried to make my tasting notes on wines little stories unto themselves, either including tidbits about the producer, region, variety, or the conditions around which I tasted the wine, but with the volume of wine I currently have, it would take me several months (more like years) of just writing tasting notes to catch up.
I am contemplating writing shorter, more concise notes as I have done with my larger tastings (e.g., American “True” Rosé or Domestic Pinot Noir), so that it will free up time for longer articles on regions, wineries, travel.
I would love to hear your thoughts.