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.
In fairness to Rare Wine, you could probably isolate any one thing written by any one person (or company) and make it prove or disprove anything. So, I will again preface this by saying that I really, really respect Rare Wine but...
From the Spring 2010 issue devoted to olive oil (yes, Rare Wine does oil, too, and quite well at that): "stunning," "superb," "gems," "nobility," "privileged," "grandeur," and on and on.
OK. Enough already from me, but I have to say that getting whipped into a frenzy over olive oil (read the tasting notes; that's right, tasting notes that would make a Super Tuscan reviewer blush) seems perhaps a bit much. Not that I don't love a good drizzle. Anyway, that's the last I'll complain about Rare Wine. Wouldn't want to be deleted from the mailing list.
And to show that it was never personal, I just placed an order with Rare Wine. I'm getting a bottle of Madeira and a magnum of Champagne. The best part is that because I'm in the trade, I get a 10% discount! Which, I think, just proves that Rare Wine Co. doesn't know about this post. Actually, I'm not sure more than a few people have seen it, and, thankfully, no one ratted me out!