Sunday, August 03, 2014

Wine Spotting Selfies – Narcissism or Simply Sharing?

On the Social Media sites, Facebook, Twitter, Delectable and so on, I encounter a lot of images of wine bottles. Folks seem to love posting pictures of the wines they are enjoying. I wondered how folks in my world thought about it and posed these questions on Facebook and elsewhere:

What are your thoughts on looking at other people’s photos of the fabulous wines they are enjoying, on blogs, on FB, on Twitter, on Delectable, etc.?

1) Do you enjoy this?
2) Does this annoy you?

The responses were varied:

Fred Swan started things off with, “I'm good with it. It's nice to see what people are enjoying and sometimes see something I'm not familiar with.”

Adam Nelson remarked, “Little of both, annoying cause I'm not drinking it but enjoy because there is an educational opportunity there.”

Marcy Veruca Salt Walker answered with, “Some of the show boating gets annoying.”

Nick Picciandra also expressed his feelings with, “Annoying if there are no tasting notes, otherwise it comes across as showboating.”

JC Viens in Hong Kong noted, “some do "train spotting, others "plane spotting", this could be called "wine spotting"? as long as the post is informative, i feel there is much value into such post...”

Thoughts were expressed ranging from “I really enjoy seeing these pictures” to “Enough, already!”

It caused me to think about sites like Vivino and Delectable, where people put their wine trophies on display. I have also noticed on pay sites, from Galloni’s Vinous site to Suckling’s Facebook page, there are lots of pictures of hard to get wines. In the case of Galloni and Suckling, they have readers who most likely want to know about these events, even if there is a little tiny bit of jealousy involved in that they aren’t tasting the great wines these fellows are exposed to. Galloni, in particular, posts elaborate images and reports of unimaginable vertical tastings. While it is good to know the wineries have these wines, I really wonder if the benefits of posting these reports overshadow the fact that most of us will never have access to these kinds of experiences. It seems a little like we are children and being shown a big bowl of ice cream, but the ice cream is behind an impermeable window- we can see, but we can never have it. Is it just a little bit cruel? Or are these guys doing us a service showing up and talking about these great wines?

In the amateur’s world, on Facebook and Instagram I enjoy seeing pix of what friends are trying. But I also think about what Russell Kane said when he responds, “I'm OK with it, but prefer it to be done on a FB group dedicated to wine discussion. Not on open FB page. It can become too much of a good thing. Like baby pics...after 12 in three days from one person on their open page, I'm maxed out. Same with wine pics.”

Yeah, I can see it is like baby pix and maybe food pix too. Patricia Guy chimed in on that subject when she replied, “I usually whiz past photos of empty wine bottles and plates of food. Everyone who works in the wine trade has the opportunity to taste great wine and have interesting chow...there is no information in such photos. Also food photography is an art and most non-professional food shots look like vomit.” I’ve seen some of those pix too. They might look good to the diner, but to the rest of us, well, I guess you had to be there.

But I really wonder if there isn’t some one-upmanship involved here, even at the highest levels. Yes, I know there is education and instruction and there is context usually when one of the high priests posts their hedonistic evenings. It’s a little like the guy in the Ferrari in the HOV lane going 95 when the rest of us are stopped in traffic. It seems crass. Or maybe that’s just the way of the world these days, with the striation of culture via economic spheres or just levels of access. Like the lines at the airport where some folks have to take their shoes off and others breeze by in the TSA fast-track lanes.

I’m rambling on a Sunday afternoon, I know it.

What does the young newbie learn from this? That they have to aspire to get to that level, where they can finally reach the land of Lafon? Where the world of Mascarello is unmasked and accessible? Where Salon ’64 flows freely in the land of “finally having arrived?” Is this the goal, to get where very few folks can arrive?

I think about the old books, Harry Waugh, Michael Broadbent, they tasted great wines all the time. But they usually provided context.

Mike Dunne messaged me, “I enjoy it, but wish they would say more of the wine - what they particularly liked about it, where they had it, the setting and the food, and the price would help put it all in context.” Karen MacNeil added with, “I'm with Mike. Context sweeps us up in the pleasure of wine.” Susannah Gold punctuated the subject with “I like it if something intelligent is written about the wine. Sure it's always a good way to get an idea of what else you could be tasting but I believe context is as important. I don't enjoy food porn for example and sometimes wines are treated the same way.”

Renie Steves seconds the motion with “Agree with Mike Dunne - it's all about the wine but the setting, who is with you, the time of day, the food, and even the weather make the experience more or less enjoyable. Yes, if the wine is to your taste, that sets a positive pace.”

So it seems we like wine pictures when there is a story, a reason to post other than for simple bragging rights. It has caused me to think differently about how I post on Delectable. I drink great wines from time to time, but what good is it if I drink a 1982 Monfortino or Mouton and don’t add any color to the images? It is simply a narcissistic jab at friends and followers.

There is the social compact we have with those in our world, to add to our community more than to take. Hande Kutlar Leimer comments, “Enjoy. Especially if with tasting notes (however minimal) and from peeps I know (thus know their taste).” If Hande likes it, chances are I will. And she has access in Rome to wines that I might not have.

Georgios Hadjistylianou poses an interesting conundrum on access. ”Like it, although been in Cyprus we can't get much of these wines, you know exactly what I mean. We buy some from different stores around Europe other than Germany it can cost between 6-8 Euros a bottle for transportation. On the other we will get them anyway.” He sees a wine he normally doesn’t get in Greece, but is spurs him to find the wine and have it sent to him. That seems like a positive thing.

Don Myers is “Grateful for the sharing and also grateful for wines that I need to keep an eye out for if I haven't already had them." Good on him.

Fredric Koeppel notes, “As a wine-writer, I like seeing what my colleagues are tasting and drinking, though since what they taste and drink is usually better than what I have, there's envy involved too.” The aspect of seeing what colleagues around the world are trying seems to be a mixed blessing to Fredric, although I doubt he is missing out on too much. But there is that envy aspect.

Or as my friend Jamie Leigh Hogan simply says, “It makes me thirsty.”

I feel it. It is almost painful for me to see the wines Antonio Galloni tastes, especially when he sits down to dinner with Il Professore. I understand he’s at the top of the game, but when I’m driving around Texas in 100+ degree weather trying to get folks in my world to take the 2009 Produttori del Barbaresco Crus I admit it makes me envious. I do know this: Nothing anyone drinks will make them a better person, make their life longer (or even healthier) and will generally not contribute greatly to happiness, world peace or slowing down global warming (or cooling). We still have to have an inner core of strength. Would I like to have tasted all the vintages of Dunn Howell Mountain? Perhaps. But I’m pretty sure when I breathe my last breath I’m not going to be thinking about all the wines I did or didn’t taste in my life.

So it seems it’s a pretty positive thing when people, large and small, post pictures of their wines they are enjoying, when there is a story, some context, a reason for sharing other than simply bragging about it. When we talk about the waning influence of the few in the wine world, perhaps this is a good example of democratization of wine appreciation. Where once we had an Andre Simon or a Robert Parker, now our society accesses information and influence on a more global platform. The downside, for those who are jealous (and who on earth isn't?), is that there are indications that there is a class of privileged people who will taste wines many (or most) of us will never taste. But, if they have a good story, at least those of us who cannot cross over the River Jordan can at least look on our side of the impermeable window and drool, perchance to dream of those great wines.

Dual purpose loo/wine cellar (in a high rent district of Southern California)

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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