‘There is no problem so difficult that a do-gooder can’t make it worse.’—Col. Pesto
It is but seldom that we have recourse to the pensieri of Italian field-grade military officers, but there it is, to become relevant in due course. For the nonce, just clap eyes on the following e-mail, sent me in my lonely aer-ie above the fruited plain (I preserve its original post-literate style for your edification and dismay):
FIVE WAYS TO BECOME A WINE EXPERT & OVERNIGHT
Every Day with Rachael Ray Magazine Tells Us How
Always wanted to be an expert in wine tasting or picking out the best bottle but feel intimidated? The March issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine shows how to in five simple steps. They break down what to look for, ignore, what the shape of the bottle means and more. Enter the next dinner party or prepare a wine paired meal with confidence!
What To Look For To Become An Overnight Wine Expert
Alcohol level: · The percentage will tip you off to how heavy the wine will feel in your mouth–12% or 13% is ideal for a full bodied feel.
Ancient: · Spotting this on the label or old vines means that the grapevines are decades old with fewer grapes produced resulting in a stronger flavored wine.
Flavor Clues: · The back of the label is full of hints to the wine s taste and a peek into the type of wine. Descriptors like vanilla, smoke and nutmeg indicate a woodier taste. Words like zesty, racy, tangy suggest a fresher, brighter style
Ignore: · Fancy Artwork. Beautiful pictures of vineyards or estates come across as a serious bottle of wine-but the wines might not live up to the imagery.
Phantom Grapes: · If you don t see recognizable terms such as merlot or chardonnay that doesn t mean the wine isn t one. Wines from Europe are often labeled by origin rather than type.
Shape: Shape Matters! Bottle shapes hold specific wine styles. Tall and narrow bottles contain mostly crisp wines such as a sparkling white. Slope shouldered bottles are typical to subtler wines such as pinot noir, chardonnay, or syrah and high shouldered bottles hold heavier reds and lighter whites such as a sauvignon blanc
Look forward to hearing from you . . . .
I don’t know about you, Thirsty Reader, but I’m just kicking myself for all the time and money I’ve wasted on actually tasting the stuff.
Fowler (any edition but the hateful 3rd) and Ted Bern-stein’s The Careful Writer might help the pr shop next time. And the five tips are actually six, suggesting a need for Ray’s Arithmetic also. (It dates to 1877 but is still in print and even on CD.) The same goes for the magazine’s editors. EDWRRM’s masthead lists a copy chief, two senior copy editors and a proofreader, which means it took four people to screw this up (they didn’t even get the page number right), not counting the edi-tors who assigned the story and then accepted it.
Of the article itself, what to say (other than Jesus wept)? It’s longer than the release but not better, maybe even a little worse. It promises clear, con-crete help but gives none. The author, whose spine is appar-ently made of Velvee-ta, dilutes her ‘tips’ with weasel words—may, should, might, tend to, suggest, mostly. Instead of standing behind her advice she hides under her desk. Still, I admire her legerdemain in turning a tradition into a trend in the space of two sentences and I admit that one of her tips is excellent: find out more. To the latter she might have added elsewhere.
Something must be done, as Edward VIII, the feckless twit who almost remained king of England, said about something else. That something had been lodged in my brain pan by another e-mail a few weeks earlier, and it was this: that wine writers be certified or what is also and hideously called credentialed. (That’s what brought Col. Pesto to my fevered mind.) Anyway, here’s the background on this dizzying do-good lurch toward the realm of Higher Nonsense.
In January, a ‘professional wine writer’ [unnamed, and so herein called Accused] skanced mechanical harvest-ing and was quickly skewered by a colleague [Madame Prosecutor], who said Accused showed ‘a lack of respect and knowledge’ in disparaging mechanical harvesting and suggesting that ‘everyone knows hand harvesting produces a better product.’ From there Madame Prose-cutor went straight to the delightfully loopy idea of for-mal certification for wine writers (by the Society of Wine Educators, say, or Court of Master Sommeliers).
Madame Prosecutor identifies two kinds of wine writer: the ‘traditional’ type (of which Accused is apparently one) has a journalism degree and learned about wine on the job, and ‘today’s wine writers,’ who are ‘differ-ent animals’ because ‘wine writer skill sets,* experience and credentials are trending quite differently now.’
[How does anyone write such a phrase?] ‘They may not be well known,’ she says, or have journalism jobs or degrees, but many have wine certification and they ‘feverishly apply their knowledge by educating readers through blog posts, videos, social media and education-al courses and many assert the need to improve their writing skills.’ Yet ‘traditional’ writers exist and persist, and Madame Prosecutor finds that as hard to swallow as a sandwich of beef jerky on a day-old Kaiser roll.
Grammatically and syntactically unreliable, devoted to clichés, she rattles windily on, dimly acknowledging practical experience without examining its many kinds; failing to distinguish between certified and qualified; ignoring the question of a hierarchy of values. Soon she seems to realize she got in over her head, and her zeal fades. Certification goes from must to should: A ‘nice balance [of] certification and practical experience I think . . . would be ideal. [But] we should not mandate it . . . .’ So what to do about those who are certified but inexperienced? Or the uncertified who write despite all? Oh me, oh my, oh dear! Who the hell’s we, anyway?
And what of those who are certified but only technical-ly able to write? Madame Prosecutor offers a list of ‘fine folks . . . . good (certified) writers that really have their finger on the pulse to educate and entertain us .’ Do they write as badly as she does? Masochist** that I am, I looked at many of their sites and found that they do. Most are self-involved or self-promoting or self-pitying (certification is so hard!)—anything but self-aware. The writing is boring; the usage repellent; the spelling and punctuation whimsical. I was amazed and awed to read of so many things the Fine Folk deemed amazing and awesome. The worst sites recalled the old review-er’s remark (Dorothy Parker’s?) about prose that if read aloud ‘could be used to wring confessions from crooks.’
Finalmente: the author of the Rachael Ray far-rago boasts on her web-site ‘I’ve passed the in-troductory level of the Court of Master Som-meliers. Next up: Som-melier certification.’ Madame Prosecutor, please note. As for me, I can’t wait, so in the meantime I’m award-ing her the top merit badge of the U.S. Wine Scribblers, the organization that fires your judicial imagination and haunts your prosecutorial dreams.
*skill sets: what the hell are these, anyway? Do they come ready-boxed, like socket wrenches?
Stanley’s 902-809 Max-Drive is a 60-piece skill set that will please the most discerning wine writer. It has the stand-ard 1/4- and 3/8-inch drives and includes im-perial (SAE) sockets for domestic work and met-ric sockets used for Old World wines, which in-volve irksome hectolit-ers and quintals.
**MASOCHIST: n.: a devotee of self-inflicted wounds; e.g., a New York Mets fan—The Laconic Lexicon
©2011 Bill Marsano