Uniformed Criticism

latimes Last week there was a blog-o-sphere outcry about an article in The Los Angeles Times by one Joel Stein entitled The Language of Wine Snobbery. I can hardly think of a less creative topic than once again whipping on the lingo of wine aficionados. How many writers over the years have heaped ridicule on the patois of wine enthusiasts and put it off as snobbery? Did we really need yet another? Wine, like every other thing worthy of developing passionate hobbyists, develops it’s own shorthand that often seems silly to the uninitiated. Stein was thoroughly, and correctly, pilloried by writers such as Tom Wark at Fermentation and Catie McIntyre Walker at Through The Walla Walla Grape Vine. I applaud their commentary, but personally  I found yet another tired rant about wine snobs not enough to rile me. Being a wine snob myself, I’ve just learned to live with it.

What struck me was this comment in the article, “I want to know that a Zinfandel, our greatest native grape, tastes like America: big, bold, unsubtle and ready to fight.” What I want to know is how someone that thinks zinfandel is a native American grape variety gets to write about wines in The Los Angeles Times? Anyone who pretends to know enough about wine to write about it in a major American newspaper should know that zinfandel vines, like all important wine grape varieties are Vitis vinifera vines that originated in Europe and Asia and were brought to the United States. I suppose what is even worse is that Stein not only did not know this basic fact, but failed even to take 30 seconds to check out Wikipedia, where it’s well documented. What’s sad for consumers is that someone like Stein can present themselves as “experts”, and then go on to mislead their readers, more concerned with being cute and controversial than accurate. I suppose we should expect no less from someone who finds the antics of Gary Vaynerchuck more meaningful than the encyclopedic knowledge and artful prose of Jancis Robinson. I don’t mean that as a criticism of Gary, who has helped many a novice learn to enjoy the pleasures of fine wine, but Stein, who is a professional, perhaps should reach for a higher standard.

The real guilty party in this case is The Los Angeles Times, which as one of the world’s great newspapers usually expects more knowledge from their writers. Can you imagine them sending someone to cover the Dodgers that did not know what a curve ball was? Apparently in this case they did exactly that.

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