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Under A Tuscan Cloud

2011 April 29
by Mike

My friend Tom Maresca, a writer who specializes in Italian wines, has posted a scathing article on his blog about James Suckling. I recognize that we wine writers spend a lot of time talking about other wine writers, but navel-gazing is a favorite journalistic pastime, and wine hacks are hardly the worst offenders (that distinction surely belongs to the Washington press corps). Anyway, Tom lets rip over an article about Italian wines that Suckling has published in the current issue of Decanter magazine, and he also calls attention to what he regards as an ethically dubious event that Suckling is hosting in Tuscany in June. Tom points out that two winemakers quoted in Suckling’s piece are participating in that event, called Divino Tuscany (in fact, they are listed on the Divino Tuscany website as “founding vintners”). This information is not disclosed to readers. It would be good to know if Suckling shared it with Decanter when he submitted the article, and it would be good, too, if he followed Antonio Galloni’s example and disclosed the exact nature of the June shindig. His scores are routinely cited by retailers, and I think consumers and merchants alike have a right to know if Divino Tuscany is a pay-to-play event.

What particularly bothers me about this stuff is that it encourages cynicism about wine writers in general. That cynicism manifested itself in some of the discussion about Galloni’s Festa del Barolo, and I suspect that it will rear its head again in regard to Suckling. One line of argument that emerged during the Festa del Barolo controversy was that wine critics aren’t really journalists and shouldn’t be held to the ethical standards that obtain in newsrooms. I strongly disagree, although my view may be colored by the fact that I worked as a journalist long before I began writing about wine and continue to see myself as a journalist first, a wine writer second. I am curious to know what you think. Should critics like Suckling and Galloni be regarded as journalists?  Should they be expected to adhere to the same general code of conduct that applies to newspaper and magazine reporters? And, lastly, a broader question: Are some of us making too big a deal over these ethical issues, or is the scrutiny a good thing?

55 Responses leave one →
  1. May 5, 2011

    Nice comment Bill!

    BTW, Mike is certainly very well aware of CT and has written about it extensively, e.g. http://www.cellartracker.com/SteinbergerWineWriting.pdf

  2. May 5, 2011

    This whole discussion has made me even more grateful for Cellartracker when it comes to wine criticism. I can see how some might argue there’s still a need for full-time professional critics who have the training, education, and experience to make informed judgments on wines. However if, as many have noted, making a living as a full-time critic these days means cozying up a little more to producers, taking freebies, going on junkets, and doing some industry-friendly for-profit work on the side, well then maybe it’s not really worth it?

    With Cellartracker, I get lots of data and several (sometimes hundreds of) impressions on a particular wine. I can see how those impressions have changed over time and often read about how those wines tasted in different contexts (i.e. with or without food). It’s dynamic, entertaining, and growing increasingly more valuable as the number of users and amount of data soars. It’ll never displace wine writing (of the Steinberger mold), which provides essential context and analysis on the world of wine (and which does and should involve higher journalistic standards). But for wine criticism, I’ll take the “wisdom of the crowds” over the musings of this kind of noteworthy professional (http://www.youtube.com/jamessucklingtv#p/u/16/TillmxEN1GE) anyday. Sorry, I just can’t help posting his videos….they’re like fish in a barrel….

    Cheers,

    Bill Moore

  3. May 5, 2011

    Patrick – would LOVE to see the Washington state univ. study results! Put us in our place, man! ;-)

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