Why do I not review bad wines? What’s the difference between sexist, sexy and sensual writing whether it’s in wine tasting notes or beyond? What are the big differences between wine reviews and articles, and what value does each form give to readers?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m being interviewed by Luke Whittall, host of The Sipster’s Wine Podcast.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
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- What’s the difference between sexist, sexy and sensual writing?
- Why does getting divorced often force us to reevaluate all facets of our lives?
- How is the general style of wine writing changing, and what’s behind the shift?
- Why is it essential to be intentional about making space for new voices in the wine world?
- How has hosting the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast helped me to grow as a writer?
- What do I love most about podcasting?
- What does it look like to get to know someone before rushing to judgment on social media?
- Why don’t I review bad wines?
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If we want to be healthy, we have to think of ourselves as whole beings. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
There’s far more reflection going on in wine writing and the think pieces. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
About Luke Whittall
Luke Whittall has worked in cellars, vineyards, and wine shops since 2005. He has authored or co-authored 4 books on wine and is currently a wine instructor at Okanagan College. His most recent book, The Sipster’s Pocket Guide to 50 Must-Try BC Wines, Volume 2 (Touchwood Editions 2023) follows up on the success of volume 1 of The Sipster’s Pocket Guide to 50 Must-Try BC Wines, and continues to mark a new direction in wine writing. It features more of the most amazing wines ever produced in British Columbia. His first book, Valleys of Wine: A Taste of British Columbia’s Wine History was published in 2019 and he co-authored the 6th edition of The Okanagan Wine Tour Guide with John Schreiner in 2020.
- Connect with Luke Whittall
- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 240: Online Mobbing, Dark Humour and Change in the Wine Industry with Luke Whittall of the Sipster’s Wine Podcast
- Diary of a Book Launch: An Insider Peek from Idea to Publication
- Wine Witch on Fire Free Companion Guide for Book Clubs
- My Books:
- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 33: The Smart Woman Behind the Wine for Dummies Books: Mary Ewing-Mulligan MW
- My new class The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner And How To Fix Them Forever
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- You’ll find my books here, including Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
- The new audio edition of Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass is now available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com and other country-specific Amazon sites; iTunes.ca, iTunes.com and other country-specific iTunes sites; Audible.ca and Audible.com.
Luke Whittall (00:00):
He doesn’t get any joy bashing a bad $20 bottle of wine. But he said it quoting, he’s like, but I get a little bit of joy of bashing a $200 bottle of wine.
Natalie MacLean (00:10):
Bullying is punching down. When you punch up like wine at $200, they better be ready to take criticism because they’re asking a lot in return of the wine consumer. But when you’re talking about under $20, I think that’s punching down. It feels like bullying. I’ll always be honest with someone if they ask me, but I don’t need to publicly beat up on wines like that. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places and amusingly awkward social situations? Well, that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie MacLean, and each week I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please and let’s get started.
Welcome to episode 241. Why don’t I review bad wines? What’s the difference between sexist, sexy, and sensual writing, whether it’s in wine tasting notes, articles, or outside the category? And what are the biggest differences between wine reviews and long form articles, aside from the length and what value does each form give to readers? In today’s episode, you’ll hear stories and tips that answer those questions and more in Part Two of my chat with Luke Whittal of the Sipster’s Wine podcast. You don’t need to have listened to Part Pne from last week first, but I hope you’ll go back if you missed it after you finished this one.
Books live and die by the number of Amazon reviews. So here’s the hard truth. Books live and die by their number of Amazon reviews as that’s where 70% of book sales happen. Reader reviews are the number one factor that potential book buyers consider and there is a lot of competition to get noticed these days when there are 2,700 books published every day. Amazon doesn’t even start showing a book to those browsing their site until it has a thousand or more reviews. And although my new book Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce Defamation and Drinking Too Much is doing well, it is nowhere near that. Everyone’s busy, so getting reviews from even those who like the book can be a challenge. Yet every review has such a huge impact. That’s why one author I know has started asking her readers for a kidney first.
Yes, she is kidding, but then she lowers her ask to request an Amazon review instead. It’s really easy to do. It takes 90 seconds and as she said it’s a whole lot less painful than organ donation. But here’s the thing, most potential book buyers look at how many reviews the book has and its average rating. They don’t read the actual reviews and that’s why your review doesn’t need to be long or literary. It’s not a book report. It can be as simple as something like, I enjoyed this book and I’d recommend it to friends. That’s it. Even if you haven’t finished the book or you didn’t purchase it from Amazon, you can still leave a review. For better or worse, many folks buy books based on their star rating out of five as much as they do for scores out of a hundred for wine.
We all have limited time. So if we have to choose between a book that’s rated five stars and one that’s four stars, we know usually the one we’ll pick. Similarly, Amazon and other sites show only books with the highest ratings in search results. I used to think that no book is perfect and therefore five stars is impossible. But given the way that the algorithms work these days in the competition, it’s really difficult for any book to break through or break even without them. Thank you for considering this. You can bet I am checking the Amazon site daily for reviews. So when I see yours, I’ll not only thank you profusely, I’ll also add you to the organ donation card in my wallet.
Okay, seriously. Reviews help tremendously with sales. Sales lead to spreading this book’s message of hope, justice, and resilience. And more importantly to that message finding its way to those who need to hear it so they know they’re not alone in their struggle. You can go to Amazon directly and search for Wine Witch on Fire or visit www.WineWitchOnFire.com/stores. If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear from you at [email protected]
If you haven’t got your copy yet and would like to support it and this podcast, please order it from any online book retailer no matter where you live. Every little bit helps. I’ll put a link in the show notes to all retailers worldwide. NatalieMacLean/241. Okay, on with the show.
Luke Whittall (05:44):
I want to talk a little bit about one of the statements that you had in your book on page 262. It isn’t in your subtitle, it’s not one of the sort of major sort of pillar themes but it kind of runs underneath everything else, which is a little bit about sexuality and talking about the difference between, in your statement “sexist, sexy, and sensual writing” and sort of the difference between that. And I’m curious what determines those lines for you personally.
Natalie MacLean (06:14):
Sure. Well, I do think there’s a difference. I had this really writing Wine Witch on Fire made me think about these differences between sexist, sexy, sensual writing. I think the first sexist writing subjugates someone as purely sexual object and the latter two – sexy sensual – talk about personal desire without doing that. I think the same standard should apply to women and men. But I think we’re less comfortable traditionally with women expressing sexual desire. If we do, especially if we’re of a certain age we get labeled as a cougar cause we’re stalking sexual prey rather than just expressing a healthy sexual appetite as a mature woman. And more often older women are stereotypes as having neither sexual desire attraction, then they get labeled as the old hag or the witch. But what happened as I wrote the memoir, I had to call myself on some of this because early in my writing I was joking about post-divorce being very attracted to the UPS delivery guy and his military like outfit. And the way it curved the way around is biceps or I joked about kilt wearing heroes like Jamie on the Outlander or conversely criticizing that I didn’t want to date any short hair men.
But that was a double standard when I didn’t want my own body sexualized. And it also I think belied my own insecurities as I looked for love again. I focused on my height. I’m almost five 10 and I felt too tall to be feminine with a shorter man. But I had come full circle on that and realize that don’t need a man to make me small and delicate. I don’t need to feel small and delicate. And I had to embrace my own tall, muscular body as a woman. And so it’s very astute that you picked up on that because it’s a theme in the wine writing, but also something I had to come to as a conclusion personally.
Luke Whittall (08:21):
And it’s not easy to talk about. It gets to be pretty personal, can be really personal because I think the Celtic saying we don’t see things as they are we see things as we are or we see the world as we are. And I don’t know if that’s Celtic or wherever, but I just remember seeing that somewhere. Let’s credit the Celts. Why not?
So I’ve also found that even in other writings there’s a lot of conflict. And a friend of mine, Laura Milnes, who has the Crushable Wine Club in Toronto, she’s written a little bit about it or started to and finds the whole thing so confusing as to be just completely impossible. And it’s like it all comes down to the why. Why is it for you versus why is it for this other person and things like that. And is that sort of what it comes down to? You just had to discover your why? Was that something that maybe we just don’t think about quite as much and maybe something like a divorce kind of brings that in. I’ve been through it. One of the things that really drove me through this book was that I’ve experienced that divorce as well and unexpectedly. And so it really does make you think about that kind of stuff. I mean you have to at that point.
Natalie MacLean (09:25):
It does. It makes you reevaluate because especially if you’re the one who left, so to speak, you question your own desire.
Luke Whittall (09:35):
Natalie MacLean (09:37):
Sexuality, especially as a woman. But I don’t want to, of course men feel way as well. But it’s coming to full terms with who are you as a person in all facets. Because I like to live up in my head as a writer. I was a dancer as a youngster and that was all very much about expressing with your body. But I lost touch with that over time. And I love being a writer. I love living in the world of words and ideas and creativity. But I think if we want to be healthy, we have to think of ourselves as whole beings. We’re our minds, our bodies, our sexuality, our emotions. And a lot of that gets shunted off as we get older. But I think if you can come full circle and embrace it, I think you can be a healthy, happier person. And you’ll know, you’ll recognize what feels right for you in a relationship or what feels right to you when you’re reading something. You’ll recognize whether that’s sexist writing or sensual writing because you’ll have a sense of who you’re when it comes to those dimensions as well.
Luke Whittall (10:42):
Do you find that’s changed now with wine writing or at least wine reviewing? Because I think I’d like to sort of differentiate wine writing from maybe wine reviewing. There’s a lot of wine reviewers who will taste a wine and then put their tasting notes and then publish those. Whereas I think wine writers as someone who would be writing about the wine industry. I’m thinking of Bianca Boskar for instance or people who’ve written about their experiences in the wine industry and things like that. Are we changing the way that we think about wine writing in that way? Is it becoming more of the experience based and less about the you will taste cherries and strawberries and rhubarb and things like that?
Natalie MacLean (11:22):
Yeah, I think there’s more reflection going on in wine writing to pick up on your differentiation. Because so much has changed. Not just MeToo, Black Lives Matter. I mean there’s a whole of issues that we need to be more thoughtful about and I think that is coming out in more and more writing. And the people who are actually doing the writing is becoming very slowly, more inclusive, still very much a long way to go. Wine reviews, I think there’s definitely greater awareness. So I still those terms like a feminine wine and a masculine wine and feminine means light, easygoing. One of the bitch pores like Prosecco, Rosé, Pinot Grigio versus a masculine wine is complex and layered and full bodied and Cabernet, Shiraz. I’ve seen Chardonnay described as slutty or blousey, but never with the big reds. So I still see it but I see less of it for sure in the wine tasting notes. There’s far more reflection going on though I think in the wine writing and the think pieces.
Luke Whittall (12:27):
Is that changing because more women are getting into this? Through the inlet of social media, there’s the wine influencers out there are largely women. Is that where we’re generating right now potentially? I mean, I know this is a bit of a crystal ball question, but is this where we’re generating the next generation of wine critics and wine writers? Is that where they’re being schooled right now?
Natalie MacLean (12:47):
We’re certainly more aware of wine influencers on Instagram because they have such a public profile and TikTok and a lot of them are young women. And again, a double-edged sword. Like I applaud their initiative, their entrepreneurialism. Some are earning a living at it or a partial living. And then they still get criticized. Some of them as being babes, boobs and bottles. They’re just pretty looking for a pretty Instafilter. And I think they still need to fight against those old stereotypes to be taken seriously. Yeah, there’s a lot of that out there still. So yeah, I don’t know. It’s still a mixed, it’s a blend still. Yeah, we’re seeing a lot more women get into whether it’s wine writing, wine criticism, or just wine influencing. Kind of three different lines there although they are not mutually exclusive. A lot more younger women, but they still have contend with a lot of I think sexist criticism.
Luke Whittall (13:43):
And wine is marketed to women for the most part. I mean a lot of it is purchased by women. Most winery demographics will show that their target market is either women or that their social media followings are three quarters women that kind of things. But internationally famous wine critics – I’m thinking of the Robert Parkers, the James Sucklings, the Steve Heimoffs people like that and even local ones here in BC, Anthony Gismondi and Steve MacNaull – they’re all men. So does the disconnect come from there? That was the same 12 years ago or 11 years ago. So is there any change? When is there going to be a balance at some point? And is that the goal?
Natalie MacLean (14:23):
There will be a generational change, but longtime columnists who’ve earned their place – I think rightfully so – don’t want to give it up. The Vancouver wine column is pretty coveted. So nor should they be required to if they’re doing a good job of covering wine. But we won’t get those new perspectives until there is a turnover I think in the columns and media that are highly influential. Although print is declining, it’s still very trustworthy and influential in terms of how people buy wine. And maybe that too is declining with the rise of social media and influencers. And so maybe that will be part of the change as well. But yeah, I don’t know. It’s really hard. I mean there’s just such a confluence of factors involved here that I think to put it, bleakly, I don’t know if the old generation has to die off before there’s real change. Not that I’m here to try to edge them a bit here. A new generation will change things,
Luke Whittall (15:25):
There’s the dark sense of humour again. That’s good.
Natalie MacLean (15:27):
Yeah, yeah. Grave humour. Boo.
Luke Whittall (15:30):
So you’ve at the end – not in the giveaway the ending and I’m not – but in your book you did talk about supporting other female writers who are in giving them a chance using some of suggesting them for columns that you were part of for a while or TV spots or things like that. Is that something that needs to continue more broadly for everybody? Is are we looking for that balance? Is that the goal?
Natalie MacLean (15:53):
It’s a tough thing to ask people. I’m fortunate in that I’ve been able to establish a large platform with my website, NatalieMacLean.com in case you are curious, and to write the books, to have the mobile app, the newsletter, and the podcast. And not everyone is as fortunate. So to ask people to step aside it’s a tough ask if that’s one of their main or only sources of revenue. But I was able to give over a few of my columns and TV regular appearances to women that I thought could use the boost and were up and coming and in turn that gave them entrer, going to media tastings, getting invited on trips. Now when I’m invited on trips abroad, I mostly refer someone on my team or a younger person. I’m not even talking about people employed with me. But a younger person who might be contributing wine reviews already to the site, I’ll say, this person can go. They’ll write an article. I’ll edit it. We’ll publish it on our site, provided that they had a positive experience, like the wines, et cetera. So I think Jancis Robinson does a lot of that, promoting younger writers up and comers. And I think people do it where they can. Sure, there’s always room for more of it including by myself to be doing more. But I think it’s important for sure when you can do it, it’s really important to do.
Luke Whittall (17:19):
Now you’ve moved over, I don’t want to say you’re not leaving writing, but you’re getting into podcasting. You are into podcasting and you have a podcast of your own. How are you enjoying that?
Natalie MacLean (17:30):
I love it. It’s called Unreserved Wine Talk. And I try to seek out people in the wine world who have fascinating stories to tell. So I would say a minority of my guests are winemakers and that’s not to slam winemakers, but I only want to talk to winemakers who know how to tell a really good story. Because I’m not interested in the type of oak or that you picked between the raindrops or whatever. I want people who. You know the story pitches we get, Luke.
But I want struggles, human stories. And through those stories, let’s learn about wine. But it’s like my mom used to sneak the peas the vegetables into my mashed potatoes. So people don’t want to be educated, they want to be entertained. They want to be wrapped up in a story. And then oh well I remember when they were talking about this and it kind of slipped out that this might be the correct way to decant a wine as opposed to here are the seven steps to decant a wine. So that’s what I’m looking for in my podcast. And yes, I’m sort kind of just going off the beaten track wine wise because my podcast is not structured of let’s deal with France and episode one will be on Burgundy. Episode two will be on Bordeaux. I’m looking for storytellers and we’ll be all over the map literally. But in the end, I think you’ll be entertained and still have learned something about wine.
Luke Whittall (19:01):
Has it given you more freedom to explore a little bit?
Natalie MacLean (19:04):
Yeah, it does for sure. And people come up with surprising insights, surprising things that they’re willing to divulge. I love it and keeps me engaged and interested as a writer. When several people who read this book as early readers said I should write fiction. That was a really great compliment. I just want to perfect my craft. And my craft comes in a couple of different forms. It comes in the writing and it comes in the interviewing. So how can I be a better interviewer and get better stories out of people? And so I also study great interviewers like Larry King and I’ll listen to podcasts or radio shows just to listen to how they’re structuring their interview. So things like, what’s the question after that question? The why, the why, the why until you get down to well that’s just because. Can drive people mad but trying to dig deeper, always trying to dig deeper, and to get beyond the press release answer.
Luke Whittall (20:06):
That really resonates with me because I’m not trained as a journalist in any way. And I think we’re both educated. You’re not trained as a journalist either. But we do have education, we’ve both been to universities and things like that. It’s almost like we’re discovering a new job in a way, in some ways by exploring that kind of. Maybe journalist students sort of learn this thing in their first class or something like that. But for us it’s almost a kind of a fun way to explore. Because I do all that stuff too. I listen to the radio shows and interviews just to see how they’ll structure an interview, which I think is what made me the more nervous than anything to be asking to be doing these questions. I mean I have seven or eight pages of stuff that we could be talking about here.
Natalie MacLean (20:47):
All this is great.
Luke Whittall (20:48):
But I’m hoping that it’s like, wow, now the pressure’s on to come up with a really good other one after that.
What I take from what you say though is that you really are getting a lot of enjoyment out of the podcasting, which is the same for me as well. So I can totally relate to that.
Natalie MacLean (21:06):
Yeah, its kind of it’s between writing a book and doing the podcasting. That’s where I get my intellectual stimulation now. Because I try to challenge myself to bring out the best in my guests, especially if they’re nervous or think oh you should just know that or whatever. Let’s not make assumptions. And I try to dig under the answers when I can.
Luke Whittall (21:30):
And it’s about the story, too. I worked with John Schreiner to co-write the Okanagan Wine Tour Guide, the last edition. So I really got to see how John worked, which was really fascinating because from what I saw it was and he is trained as a journalist. He was a journalist for many years, Financial Post and others. And for him I thought the draw for him would’ve been the wine. You get to taste all this wine. But of course he was tasting BC wine before it should have been consumed by humans. Let’s be honest, it wasn’t the great thing that was now. So clearly it couldn’t have been the wine that was the draw. And what the draw for him was the people with those stories and how fantastic that is. And he just loved writing about it. Is that sort of the same thing then for you that you’re doing now?
Natalie MacLean (22:11):
Yeah. Because you might find this too. Because my calling card, it gives me an excuse to be nosy, to ask impertinent questions that I’d never ask at a polite dinner party setting. And I’m naturally shy and an introvert and wine brings me out of that shell when I talk about it. Whether I’m answering the questions or I’m posing the questions, it lets me come out my natural tendency to just want to hide in the corner at a gathering. So it’s been a big release for me to let me express myself through that. It’s been a great, as I say, calling card. An excuse.
Luke Whittall (22:47):
And just to add on that, it’s like a great intellectual stimulation in a way that is at least for introverts – and I do have introverted tendencies – but it’s a way to do that and safely without having to be completely on display or feel like you’re on display and things like that. So yeah.
Natalie MacLean (23:04):
Once you get confidence in certain amount of wine knowledge that lets you sort stand on top of that and get to more personal issues I find. If you know what you’re talking about with wine – and I still consider myself an enthusiastic amateur – I’ll clarify if someone is giving me an answer and uses a term that either I don’t or I think my listener might not know, I’ll say oh for those of us who don’t know, what is that? And I just have to always be in the shoes of my listener or reader. I’m there. I get the privilege of interviewing this person because of them. It’s not primarily or even a small part because of me. It’s because of the audience I bring with me who are listening or reading. And that is a privilege. And so I always have them in my mind. They’re sitting on my shoulders going Whoa. Hey. Wait a minute. I don’t understand what that is. Or ask the tough embarrassing question that I would like to ask as your listener or your reader. I would be too embarrassed. But you’re there. You’re talking to that person. So go ahead and ask it. Because I really want to know.
Luke Whittall (24:13):
Natalie MacLean (24:13):
But don’t do that now, Luke. (laughter)
Luke Whittall (24:20):
(laughter) What’s the most embarrassing thing I can ask her?
Now on your podcast and your guests, you are each drinking a glass of wine normally at the time. And you talk about that wine. Do you use that as sort of a jumping off point for things? Is that’s just the way to kind of add the wine element to a podcast that wouldn’t maybe potentially have wine element to it? Is that sort of the reason behind that?
Natalie MacLean (24:44):
Exactly. You nailed it. So I only started doing that in the last four months or so, maybe because again people come to me cause they want wine recommendations. But I think it’s easier, more interesting to listen to two people sort of talking about the wines they’re drinking. I love the ambience, the noise, too. The pop. I’ve always put as I’m pouring the wine put it up beside my microphone. I like that. Feels like, oh we’re at the kitchen table just having a glass of wine. Then of course I put the wine links in my show notes so that people can find those wines afterwards. I think people relax. Guests relax as well when they’re talking about wine. Because that’s their domain usually. They come from some facet of wine. So it gives them something to cling to if they’re uncomfortable. Swallow their wine. So that’s exactly why I added that.
Luke Whittall (25:35):
So for our listeners that are wondering what we are drinking right now, I have a beautiful mug of water because its – just so everyone’s clear – because we started this at 8:30 in the morning. I see you’ve been sipping something too, but I’m assuming it’s a Chateau de l’eau as well.
Natalie MacLean (25:53):
It’s a Chateau de l’eau. Water or vodka. Don’t like. This is definitely water.
Luke Whittall (25:56):
Definitely water. So I’m in BC. So have you tried any, well I’m sure you’ve tried Pinot Noir from BC, but is there any that stand out that you can think of offhand and sub-question, have you tried any from Vancouver Island?
Natalie MacLean (26:11):
Oh my goodness. So I have. Blue Mountain comes to mind. Just an exquisite Pinot Noir and they kind of specialize in it. We…
Luke Whittall (26:20):
They’re down the road from where I live actually right now.
Natalie MacLean (26:22):
Oh gosh. Wow. I’d really have a problem if I lived out there. So we don’t get a lot of BC wines in our liquor stores here in Ontario because we’re still regulated fully by the LCBO. So wineries from BC do send me samples, but I don’t get a broad swath because if they can’t sell them here, why are they sending it to you. Although as direct shipping opens up, that may change. So to answer your question, off the top of my head, I’m not thinking of a Vancouver Island wine, which sounds like I don’t know my own country, but, cause I don’t get a lot of samples. But I a huge fan of BC wines when I can get them.
Luke Whittall (27:03):
It’s the farthest, I mean that would be the farthest Pinot Noir from you. You are in Ottawa. Are you still in Ottawa, I guess.
Yes, I am.
So yeah, that would basically be the farthest Pinot Noir for you. But I’ll send you some suggestions because there’s some absolutely beautiful Pinot Noir being made there. And the way that you were describing Pinot Noir in your book and before we started recording actually, I mean there’s some good stuff out there. We had one actually. We had Alderlea Pinot Noir on our podcast just last week actually with…
Natalie MacLean (27:34):
Oh oh. Now, I’m getting thirsty. It’s only quarter to one. I mean, it’s not the ungodly hour you have in the morning, but I’m already thinking about wine.
Luke Whittall (27:40):
Yeah, no, it’s true. So there’s a quote that really stands out for me that I’d like to kind of ask you about. “Getting to know people before forming an opinion is the opposite of the rush to summary execution on social media.” I mean, that’s a beautiful statement.
Is that something that we need to try to do more? Really getting to know. And how can we do that online? Is that even possible online?
Natalie MacLean (28:08):
I think it is about reserving judgment if you can. I mean we are human. We are going to judge someone based on how they look and whatever. But if you can resist the temptation to publicize what you think to Tweet right back or to pile on, I think you’ll add to the humanity on this planet. So you’re human, you’re going to make a judgment, but can you get a bit more information and wait because what I’ve realized is that. On social media it just seems, as we’ve said, there’s no room for nuance and complexity. Everything’s black and white. Everything is a one word answer to a novel. We are multitude. But we can’t be defined by our extreme edges. We’re not the worst thing we’ve done. We’re not the best thing we’ve done. We’re everything in between. And if we want that for ourselves to be understood that way, we have to give that to others. So now I’m a lot less judgy than I was before this all happened. There are two sides to every story, more than two sides often, and to every person. So now I try to dig deeper cause I recognize often there isn’t only one right answer or one way to describe a person. And it’s often the questions that matter more when we’re dealing with people. So I try to do that.
Luke Whittall (29:27):
If you’re going to be less judgy, as you say, how does that affect how you approach a wine. You effectively have to be judgy as a critic. I mean does that sort of maybe soften the edge when you have a really legitimately terrible wine? Where does it kind of like, well no maybe this was just a bad vintage or you know what I mean? Does that change how you approach wine too? Or have you managed to keep that separate?
Natalie MacLean (29:52):
Not at all. I’m more judgy than ever on wine (laughter). What it does do. So I try to evaluate a wine on its merit, but if I think it’s faulty I’m not going to write about it. I’ll contact the winery or the agency that sent me and saying, listen I think this wine is off. Your choice if you want to send me another bottle, I’m not going to review it.
Yeah, it’s fair. What I also do too is – people disagree with me on this – but I also don’t review bad wines. And some people say well you should be shouting out warning people against bad wines. But I don’t, because I don’t want to give my readers a long list of wines they have to remember not to buy. There’s so many good ones. And yes, I believe a bit of it good karma. Wha you put out comes back to you in the world, the energy.
But it’s pointless. I mean, if someone asks me, Hey, what about this wine? I’ll tell them on email, and sometimes that matters more with the wines people collect. So an expensive wine, I might publish a review say for $200 bottle, and I will review it and maybe give it what I consider a low score, say 87 or an 88. And that’s a signal to people who collect verticals every vintage. Saying I don’t if this is worth your money, you decide. But otherwise, beating up on commercial brands, and by that I mean some of these critter labels, just feels mean to me and mean to consumers who like those wines. If that’s what you like to drink, great. And this already sounds snobby, but there’s a market. There are many, many people out there who love full bodied wines with a lot of residual sugar and there’s no problem with that. Getting all hoity toity with it and slamming those wines, I don’t what the point is. They served it. Live and let live.
Luke Whittall (31:56):
I worked in a wine store that had 900 wines and of those 900 wines – and they were all BC wines – and of those, not all of them were worth writing home about. There were some that were really in my mind anyways just not – I don’t want to use a technical term – but horrible. They were just not good. But I know I had customers come in and they saw that bottle or those bottles and they’re like, oh, this is my favorite wine. So I’m like, well who am I to judge what your favourite wine is? And so ever since – that happened about maybe seven or eight years ago – and I remember thinking wow that’s really different. And it changed for me anyways at the time, and this is on the tail end of my old podcast that I used to do where we did a wine review every single episode. It kind of tempered me at least a little bit in that way where I’m like well this could be someone’s favorite of wine and who am I to bash that for them. I don’t want to take that experience away. That’s a great experience for them.
Natalie MacLean (32:51):
Exactly. And there’s no place for wine shaming. I’ve said it why are we doing that. If we’re most people, I think many who write about wine are all about the democratization of wine and let’s bring people in and let’s make people comfortable with wine. But you can’t start wine shaming people for their choices. You have to meet them where they’re, and say hey that’s great that you love this wine. If you love that one, maybe try this one and just help them broaden their repertoire, not shut them down right from the get go.
Luke Whittall (33:22):
Yeah and it’s almost a fine line in some ways, too. It’s interesting you mentioned the democratization part. That was Robert Parker’s big flag, I think from the 80’s that he talked about. Steve Heimhoff, though, had a really interesting quote in one of the wine movies that I’ve watched. I can’t remember now. It’s Blood Into Wine,I think with Maynard James Keenan in Arizona. And he was saying that he doesn’t get any joy bashing a bad $20 bottle of wine. But he said, he sort of quoting, but I get a little bit of joy of bashing a $200 bottle of wine. Because if you’re going to charge that much for your wine, and obviously there’s reasons why the wine is $200 and stuff like that, but is there a bit of a cutoff for you where if some wine that it’s purportedly supposed to be extraordinarily high value, but you taste it and it’s like, this is horrible. Does that open up criticism above a certain point, do you think?
Natalie MacLean (34:14):
Great question. And that just brings to mind bullying is punching down. When you punch up to the rich, the elite or whatever, people usually take that with humour. Because someone’s already in a position of power or has made themselves a public figure or has priced their wine at $200 so they better be ready to take criticism. Because they’re asking a lot in return of the wine consumer. But when you’re talking about under $20 or $10 wines or whatever, I think that’s punching down. It feels like bullying. I’ll always be honest with someone if they ask me, but I don’t need to publicly beat up on lines like that. I just don’t feel the need. And I think it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
Luke Whittall (35:00):
Bad for the fish to be in a barrel in the first place too, probably.
Natalie MacLean (35:03):
What am I doing with a gun anyway?
Luke Whittall (35:06):
I was wondering about that. I’m like, I don’t think I’ve ever seen fish in the barrel. I’ve only ever seen them swimming in the stream.
Well, thank you so much, Natalie.
Natalie MacLean (35:21):
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Luke. In the show notes, you’ll find the full transcript of my conversation with him, links to his website, books and podcast, the video versions of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube live. And you can order my book online now no matter where you live. That’s all in the show notes NatalieMacLean.com/241. Email me if you have a sip, tip, or question at [email protected]. If you missed episode 33, go back and take a listen. I chat with the smart woman behind the Wine for Dummies Books, Master of Wine Mary Ewing Mulligan. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Mary Ewing-Mulligan (36:07):
In restaurants it’s very important. And I think that the activity of describing what you like in a wine, I think is very key. And so not going into a restaurant and saying I like Cabernet but saying I like dry reds. I like medium to full bodied reds. I like red wines that have tannin. I don’t want them to be mouth drying but I want to feel the tannin and the structure in my mouth. This all describes the typical Cabernet. And then trust the sommelier or the wine staff person to give you something. And I will buy something that I never had before in a restaurant on the slightest excuse. I mean all I need is an excuse to try it and I will try it.
Natalie MacLean (36:53):
If you liked this episode, please email or tell one friend about it this week, especially someone who’d be interested in the wines tips and stories we shared. You won’t want to miss next week when I chat with Dina Blikshteyn, a lawyer who specializes on how artificial intelligence and machine learning is changing the wine world.
Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your class this week, perhaps a wine you discovered from an article rather than a tasting. You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at NatalieMacLean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers.