About most wines there is little to be said

I have been tasting a lot of wine of late.

About many wines there is little to be said. They are just wine.

For many people, all they are looking for is something that is wine, that doesn’t taste bad, and that is affordable. Or cheap, even.

They don’t really mind where it comes from, as long as it doesn’t taste unpleasant. If it tastes nice, then that’s a bit of a bonus. But if it has too much flavour, that can be a problem.

The supermarkets are full of these wines. There’s really nothing much to be said for them. Writing a tasting note about them is silly, but some rather elaborate tasting notes of these wines end up on the back label, or in a newspaper column, relying more I suspect on the author’s imagination than any sensory property of the wine.

I don’t hate these wines, as some do. I find them mildly depressing if I think about them too much, but they aren’t evil, and some people derive pleasure from them, which is great.

I just ignore them, really, and get on with my job of trying to enthuse readers with the many life-enhancing and thoroughly inspiring bottles that I’m lucky enough to experience on a (fortunately) fairly regular basis.

90% of all wine is crap. We know that. We just need to be more honest about it, with ourselves and our readers.

27 comments to About most wines there is little to be said

  • I agree with a LOT of what you say, and it is one reason I rarely write tasting notes (and I do not get samples). Wine speaks to me in a different way. I have to take issue with the last statement, presumably added for effect? “90% of wine is crap”? Really? How are you measuring this?

    90% of the different wine made in the world is NOT crap. There are many great wines to be discovered.
    90% of the volume of wine sold in the UK might well be “questionable” and certainly have not enough qualities to deserve being written about.

    But not “crap”

  • Can your parting statement be said of other things, I wonder? Thought provoking post.

  • Helen

    I agree so much wine is just bleh. It tastes well… winey. I’m looking for special.

  • Marcel Flori

    I agree with you 100% on this. How many times a year do I find a wine that blows my mind? Maybe once or twice, the rest of the time it is just wine, good or just average when it is not pure crap. I have to push my students to take notes of all the wines they taste, but that is just for them to be trained to recognize different aspects of the wines they drink. But I always tell them: “Don’t worry when you don’t know exactly how to describe some of them because the most important thing in wine is pleasure. When you taste something great it will be easy for you to remember why you liked it.”
    The best wines, I think, are the wines that speak for themselves, when you taste them you don’t really have to talk about them, you are in awe.
    As always, nice to read you.
    Cheers!
    Marcel

  • Frankie Cook

    “dull” instead of “crap”?

  • Hmmm, I too am a bit suspicious about the use of “crap” and would concur with Frankie that perhaps it’s “dull” or ‘not worth thinking about’ as per the rest of your article? And I’m guessing that the 90% metric you refer to is probably more to do with volume than producers?

  • Simon T

    It was a perfect article until the final sentence – your use of the term ‘crap’ is subjective and infers a superiority complex on your part and this is something I am sure you don’t truly mean to convey.Uninspiring would be a good term – the products (most of them) in the 90% are not life changers, but they are fit for the purpose and intended to serve consumers who want to enhance their ready meal, pie and mash or whatever into something special. Same objective as you, just a different execution of the plan !

  • Alex lake

    Agree with all the previous comments. Maybe “crap” is a compliment, though. At least it’s something that can be said…

  • Another thought-provoking blog article from the maestro of wine bloggers. Nice one Jamie!

  • “About many wines there is little to be said.” Yup, I go with that.

    “90% of all wine is crap. We know that. We just need to be more honest about it, with ourselves and our readers.” Um, not so sure.

    Think of it another way. If you say to a grower, when tasting her wine, ‘there’s little to be said about this’, she might think ‘fair enough’. But what is she supposed to feel when you say, after the event, ‘this wine is crap’?

    Having said that, well done for being bold enough to make the point.

  • Damien

    All of which means writing a column for the Express must be pretty soul-destroying sometimes I’d guess Jamie?! ;-)

  • As a mathematician I see the statement that “90% of wine is crap” and disagree strongly. The point I am about to make is inadvertently reinforced by Marcel’s point ” How many times a year do I find a wine that blows my mind? Maybe once or twice”.
    Statistically, 97% of anything lies within 3 standard deviations of the norm. This leaves 1.5% as being exceptional and 1.5% as being awful. The rest is normal, with some better than normal and some only fair.
    I would not expect, either mathematically or anecdotally, to taste more than 1 to 5 exceptional wines in a year, even allowing for the sort of events to which I am invited. If everyone made exceptional wines, well, they wouldn’t be exceptional anymore, would they? In fact, they’d be boring!
    The thing forgotten by so many is that without the cash-flow base of the commercial pyramid, many of the winemakers so many bloggers revere would not be able to survive. We live in an exceptional age of wine availability. The price we pay is that there is a lot of fairly OK wines out there. So what? I can’t afford to buy Domaine de la Romanee Conti* but can afford Gallo*. As best I can I try to drink interesting wines but so many of my friends don’t do wine so why challenge them?
    We need the top end to inspire those who wish to improve their abilities, be it winemakers or tasters or connaisseurs, but we also need the mass to support all this. Live and let live.

    Dermot

    *PS I’m not sure if I live in a club of one but I’ve visited both these as an individual, and did the mandatory blind taste at the Domaine, and had a fantastic day at Livingstone. I’m somewhat proud of this as I see value in all levels of wine.

  • keith prothero

    I agree 100% with you. Can you hand on heart though Jamie,state that you are always totally honest with your ratings,bearing in mind you must taste quite a high proportion of crap wine.
    Not implying that you are anything other than honest,although I do wonder about some of your colleagues

  • I too think “crap” is just a little out of place. Boring, maybe, but crap?

  • So, ‘crap’ may have been the wrong word. Sorry.
    Am I 100% honest in my ratings? I try to be. But I am imperfect. Sometimes I get it wrong. I try to get it right as often as I can. It is for others to judge how often I succeed.

  • Did you have a horrible day, M. Goode? Craps means (merde) shit in french. 90 % is a lot! M. Frankie Cook suggest dull. But even dull or boring 90 % is still a lot. Can you tell us more? Doctor listening.

  • Joakim Isaksson

    Jamie, you are absolutely correct. For anyone who didn’t know, this revelation is called “Sturgeon’s Law”, which states “90 % of everything is crap”. Thus, 90 % of wines are crap.

    @Dermot Nolan MW just because something is the norm, it doesn’t mean that it is not crap. Excellence is not relative.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon's_Law

  • Dan

    I think that as long as wine brings a benefit (whatever it may be) and satisfies the consumer it should not be categorized as crap.

  • Hello Joakim,

    Shame you didn’t read fully the wikipedia piece to which you refer. This is one of the few instances where we can actually use the phrase “begging the question”, a phrase mostly used when people mean to say “raising the question”.
    Here is the direct quotation from Mr Sturgeon whose “revelation” not LAW is explained by: “Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap.”
    This begs the question as to whether the initial assumption, i.e. that 90% of science fiction is crap is valid. I cannot believe that to be the case and Mr Sturgeon’s statement is no law of any sort; it is an opinion, which can be shown to be utterly inaccurate very simply. Do you drive a car? Fly in aeroplanes? Use a computer? Any form of mass produced product? If so, then by your argument 90% of these are crap – is this really the case? Is your car crap? Your neighbour’s? Your friends’? nIf they are, then you live in a sad underperforming world. What of the food you eat? is 90% of this crap?
    You, and Jamie, seem to see the world in a wonderfully high-contrast of black and white. if it’s not excellent, then it’s crap. Well, good luck to you. I, and 90% of the world, see shades and nuances and recognise that there is a continuum of excellence, ranging from awful through to brilliant.
    I suppose I would be within my rights, assuming your point of view, to state that I am the only poster here who is correct and that the rest, by virtue of being the other 90%, are crap. Hmmm, strange what happens isn’t it, when you base an argument on someone else’s ramblings?
    Let’s take it to an extreme just to hammer the point home. If 90% of Burgundy is crap, what should we make of a tasting of the 10% that isn’t? Do we then decide that, actually, only 10% of this is excellent, and that the rest is crap? Continuing like this, we would soon be forced to conclude that everything is crap – is this really what we believe?
    Anyway, good luck to you with your pessimism and I hope, of the remainder of your years, that 90% of them are good and that 10% are excellent!

    Dermot Nolan MW

  • Caliwineduchess

    So on your intro page you said the blog is for the novice wine drinker as well as those learning or quite sophisticated in the world of wine. Which it doesn’t seem to really get people into wine when you state “90% of all wine is crap”.
    Personally, that doesn’t motivate me to want to try and explore many things with those odds. I feel the same way about a lot of things… if people told me 90% of the sex I had was going to bad or meals going out to eat….. I probably a) wouldn’t do it and b) there would a shortage of people offering it (no likes to fail).
    I get where you were coming from and the piece obviously has generated discussion. As long as we are talking percentages, I see you as the 1% of wine drinkers spouting to the 99%- it is a dangerous place to put yourself, for the masses of wine drinkers may just see you (similar to how a lot of people think of the 1%- rich, non-tax-paying, white republicans) as a snob. To be clear, I mean a wine snob, not a republican one :).

  • I totally agree with the first comment (and the two last). Could you give some stats please ? From where did you get this number ? Looks like a free attack… I don’t agree and for Francophiles I say it and I also say why :

    http://alexissabourin.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/90-des-vins-sont-ils-sans-interet-2/

  • Katie C.

    A perfect example of how wonderful the world of wine can be. One man/woman’s “crap” is another man/woman’s treasure. Otherwise, wine would be just plain boring.

  • Scott E.

    Dear Jamie,

    Interesting how some people took umbrage at your figure of 90%. If it refers to the volume % of all wine produced around the world, I suspect that I might agree with you. If, on the other hand, it refers to the % of brands (dramatically minimising the weight/influence of popular, high-volume low-quality wines), then I’d have to say that I find your figure quite high.

    A side note. As a non-mathematician I feel compelled to remind mathematician Dermot Nolan that wine quality is not at all normally distributed; to discuss it as such is not realistic and does not further this discussion.

    Just my two cents.

  • So, is it fair to say that 90% of all wines produced in the world are mass-produced wines, about which there is not really much to say, while 10% are “fine wines”? Or is it some other percentage? Does anyone actually know what the data is?

  • Olly Bartlett

    Nah… crap is the correct word, if speaking volume terms. And most critics know this but need to eat. Nice one Dr J

  • Hi Scott – I fail to understand why: “wine quality is not at all normally distributed;” – it’s is a natural phenomenon ranging from 0 (awful) to 100 (Superb). Why the distribution should not be normal is not at all clear. Perhaps you could explain?

    As for: “to discuss it as such is not realistic and does not further this discussion.” again, can you explain? It seems that by making a broadly accurate statement (90% of all wines are not crap) I am somehow being unrealistic, whereas Jamie’s comment (90% are) is realistic?

    Dermot Nolan MW

  • Not so stupid what you said here. I mean… there is something true : “You just ignore them”. I guess you never buy a bottle in a supermarket…or only expansive wine ? You know, you should try. It is not the same thing when you pay yourself your wine, in a shop, just because you’re looking for a cheap one.

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