I’ll preface this by stating that I LOVE The Rare Wine Co. Unequivocally. Unabashedly. Unapologetically. That said, I cringe—or chuckle, depending on my mood—when I get my eight-page issue of the sales/newsletter every three weeks or so.

Not because the subject matter is of no interest to me; it is indeed, because I really like really good wine, and few retailers, be they of the cyber or brick-and-mortar variety, have a better collection on offer than Rare Wine. I’ve directed more than a few bucks its way over the years myself. And never once had buyer’s remorse, either.

And not because the news/sales letter is poorly configured, inartfully punctuated or replete with annoying typos. On the contrary, it’s pretty nice looking, has lots of what those of us who were editors would call “white space,” meaning it’s not cluttered with too many boxes, too much bling, or too much of anything, really.

Except, that is, a certain class of words meant to convey EMOTION, EXCLUSIVITY, BRILLIANCE. I suppose a little hyperbole never hurt anyone, and being in the business of sales myself (it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I am indeed a salesman!), if the person selling the something isn’t excited about that something, there’s no reason to think that someone else should be either.

All true, and Rare Wine, a Sonoma-based importer and web seller of wine, certainly isn’t the first or last or perhaps even worst merchant to employ puffery to make consumers want its wares. But Rare Wine is certainly among its most breathless practitioners.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s Bosquet des Papes’ “soaring classicism!” Agreed, Bosquet des Papes is a mighty fine Châteauneuf-du-Pape maker. I’ve had my share. But I have to say, I’ve never really “imagine[d] how th[o]se incredible wines will drink a decade from now!” Putting aside whether 2007 was indeed a “perfect vintage for their style of winemaking,” and whether the wines are in fact “extraordinary” in their “size” and their “richness,” I would have been willing to take a flyer on them anyway because they’re fine examples of Southern Rhône winemaking.

I think what makes me a little crazy about Rare Wine’s editorial style is that there seems to be no maximum number of superlatives that can be employed in any one sentence, story title or paragraph. And that goes for repeats of similar accolades within a single issue.

It’s hardly fair to one producer when by turning the page, another is accorded the same “mythical” status. How many “epic” wines can be touted in one issue?

Or how can one possibly decide between three wines from the same producer when one is “brilliant,” the next “exquisite” and the third “superb.” I know I couldn’t.

I suppose that if I were selling wines made from grapes grown in “magical” vineyards, such as several of the white Burgundies of J-P Fichet, it would be difficult not to lard my sales materials with superlatives about this “great” [emphasis in the original; after all, saying someone is “great” at what they do needs the italics to drive the point home] winemaker, whose handiwork can set off “fireworks” because it is that “electric.” For the record, Fichet’s wines are indeed lovely and worth trying. That is, if you like chardonnays that are understated and clean. Admittedly a disconnect between my opinion and the Rare Wine writer.

Perhaps I’m being a little hard on Rare Wine. Again, Rare Wine is a GREAT wine merchant. REALLY. If you don’t believe me, go to the website and look around (http://www.rarewineco.com/). I just bet they’d do just as much business if they simply explained what they were selling without exclamations and exhortations.

At least the writer of Rare Wine’s sales/newsletter doesn’t automatically laud the “passion” of every winemaker. The P-word is one, I think, that is best left to the bedroom realm (or whatever room one does one’s bedding in). Instead, it has become the default descriptor of choice by countless so-called wine writers. I know because I used to be one and the editor of many. I hate the word (which is perhaps a subject for another day) because it doesn’t mean anything anymore (assuming it ever did). And to you who might accuse me of inhabiting a glass apartment, I challenge you to Google me and find even one instance in the tens and tens of thousands of words I’ve had published where I use it. Other than to make fun of those who do, that is.

You see, all of that stuff, the “brilliance,” the “greatness,” the “stupendous,” the “epic,” “iconic,” “profound,” “legendary,” “mythical,” “magical,” the “stunning,” “surreal” and “stupendous” (if they can do repeats, so can I) is best be left to the eye of the beholder. You. After, of course, you’ve taken a swig or two and are ready to pass judgment.


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Reader Comments (2)

Thanks for calling out "the p word." I remember reading a transcript of a wine talk recently where the speaker was lamenting how many young people looking for jobs in the industry mentioned their "passion" for wine on their resume or cover letter. Guess what? No one cares.
Another pet peeve, especially when featured on the back label of mass-market wines: "hand crafted." Ugh.

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSasha

There is indeed much that annoys in our business, but I suppose one might argue that none of this is any different from any other business. Regardless, for me, these catchphrases or words, like the one you mentioned (I don't even use the "c" word if I can at all help it!), are an excuse for lazy writing. Aren't there far more interesting ways to describe why and how someone goes about their business? By the way, I think I'd nominate "amazing" as just about the least descriptive descriptor ever! Thanks for reading.

April 12, 2010 | Registered CommenterTodd Wernstrom

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