Why I don't post negative reviews

There was a comment on twitter this week suggesting that the lack of negative reviews by wine writers (in contrast to restaurant reviewers, for example) is because we’re afraid to bite the hand that feeds. The implication: we’re a cowardly bunch afraid to speak our mind because we are in the pay of retailers/wineries/agencies, and so on.

Well, that’s not why I don’t post negative reviews. I make the occasional generic comment (and get in trouble for it), such as ‘90% of all wines are crap’, and ‘most Chilean wine is boring’ (actually most wine from any country is boring, so it’s probably a bit unfair to single out Chile). But I won’t post specific negative reviews of wines. Trust me: I taste quite a lot of bad wine. And even more boring wine. Part of me would love to stick the boot in, because bad wine makes me feel angry, and depressed, or both. Worst of all: some very expensive, highly praised wine is crap. It’s true!

But I bite my tongue. The main reason is that it’s all a bit negative. I find so many wines I’d like to tell you about, they are the ones I focus on in this blog. I want to share my enthusiasm and help the good guys win. It’s much more productive to praise good work than it is to criticize bad work. I’ve seen some of my journalist colleagues turn a little negative and bitter, focusing on criticism, and it doesn’t look good and I don’t want to read their work.

Another reason for focusing on the positive is that a false positive is better than a false negative. I get it wrong sometimes. I’d rather not knock – unfairly – a winegrower’s work or reputation. No wine journalist is infallible, and so we have to tread carefully if we are about to criticize.

This is wine. It’s not politics. The wine world is a nice, generally happy place. There’s no great need for self-styled investigative wine journalists to probe for dirt and look for scoops. The news hounds continually looking for ‘stories’, often at the expense of others, can be quite damaging.

Of course we should be critical and discriminating, and we should look below the surface. I am very fussy about the wines I praise: I’m not relentlessly positive to the point of praising everything. But I don’t want to spend my time telling you about bad wines; I’ll just try to tell the stories that are positive.

16 comments to Why I don’t post negative reviews

  • I’m with you Jamie, but for another reason as well: I’m not the ultimate arbiter of what makes a good wine, no matter my experience or ability to taste. Some wines which I find quite disagreeable are very popular indeed, and as a wine relativist I find trying to alter another’s perception of reality implausible.

    Sort of reverse-solipsism, I guess, but chacun a son gout is my watchword.

  • I agree why dwell on the bad stuff, not enough time or space to write about all the good stuff.

  • Matt Dickinson

    Jamie, this is a really well-argued response to a random twitter comment. I think the point of the attached article to said comment was that people enjoy reading vitriolic reviews of poor films more than they enjoy reading positive reviews of (sometimes) good films. Point being: could wine writers learn something from film writers? Other point being: far too many wine writers are conflicted because of their consultancy deals with wineries/retailers etc. and true objectivity can be hard to find. Readers are just supposed to trust a writer’s objectivity – and in some cases, can do so.
    So fair enough – life is too short to waste time slagging off the rubbish, when you can praise the great stuff. However, sometimes, it would be nice to hear a wine writer really stick the boot in to obviously poor work that is held up as an example of greatness (and probably expensive too). Who knows, people might enjoy reading it, it might help the producer stop producing crap, and it helps confirm the writer’s objectivity in a delicately-balanced writing environment.

  • Attila Halasz

    Agreed. I do however share my not so happy views with the winemaker or representative when we are tasting the wine together.

  • Well said. Wine is supposed to be fun, and bring pleasure. We’re not Woodward and Bernstein after all.

  • David

    I’ve write about wine in my country for a while… and Jamie es doing right, that’s the only one way. The other destroys the happiness and enthusiasm of you profession slowly…

  • I afraid I desagree. I write avout wine in my country and when i think some wine is bad i say it. People have the right to know.

  • I think often one has to give the benefit of doubt, especially if judgement is being passed on one bottle.
    Must admit I wrote recently a guarded “this estate under performs” out of frustration given the amount of quality terroir the domaine possesses.

  • I wish I could say this was industry specific but I deal with the same issues in the beer industry. My integrity has been questioned multiple times for not being negative, it’s ridiculous. Keep.yup the good work!!

  • Dan

    I agree with you Jamie. I would much prefer you to positively focus on the wine that excites than spend any time discussing the wine that fails!

  • A negative review doesn’t have to put the boot in, it need not be vitriolic, and it doesn’t mean a wine is crap either. All it means is that we don’t like the wine. It’s an opinion, and I think we should share opinions freely. If more people did it, we’d soon get over the horror of a wine being criticised.

    Or perhaps you believe you do actually have the power to pronounce on wines being good or crap with objective certainly. I don’t hold that view, but if you do why keep the vital information to yourself?

    With my punters hat on (one I wear more frequently than that of critic) pretty much all I see is positive reviews. If I follow 10 critics and 2 of them praise the wine, does that mean the other 8 don’t like it? Or does it mean they have not tried it? How am I to know?

  • Well said Jamie – although I note that consumers may want to be aware of relative quality, value or “worthiness” (should they buy this wine over that wine).

    Robert Joseph pulled me up for only praising wines at rawfair this year (here: http://thejosephreport.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/why-are-serious-wine-journalism-and.html), and my response was similar to yours. Celebrate the good stuff – winemakers have a hard enough time as it is. (My response is in the comments)

    Silence also speaks volumes. In other words, I simply don’t write about wines/producers that I don’t like.

  • Totally agree with you Jamie. What plays in my head is the old saying, “If you don’t have something good to say…” If I’m at a tasting and I don’t like something, I become quiet, hoping no one will ask me a pointed question that I can’t dodge. Because I will say exactly why I don’t like something if forced to. I either recommend a wine or I don’t.

  • Sean

    I wish you would post negative reviews, it amounts to nothing more than your opinion. Prehaps a list once a week of all the wines you have tasted and scored, no comments needed, save that for the wines you really enjoyed. The cash for comment happens alot, it’s hard not to know the motivation behind some reviews one reads ( not suggesting you do that, never heard a bad word said about you)

  • keith prothero

    I am with Sean and Steve. I like to read negative reviews or at least if you do not want to comment specifically,you could just write something like” During the last week I have tasted etc etc etc etc and the following were the highlights” so at least we know that if you have not posted a positive note, it is likely to be not so good.

  • Ben C

    I have to agree with Steve too. Negative reviews need not be that negative, but I think where people value your opiion we would also like to hear where you thought a wine underperformed. Like the poster above, this is particuarly the case where a wine has a top reputation, price or terroir. We are putting our hard earner cash towards something; we want to know whether a special bottle is has a reasonable chance of being really worth it, notwithstanding that unltimately we can only really decide that ourselves.

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