I've been thinking about this for a while now, my frustration growing at times, receding at other times. In the hopes of creating dialogue, I'm posting my feelings openly and honestly for everyone (all nine of you) to read.
Should wine bloggers be nice?
WAWineMan guy, but that's a "special" case.
With that out of the way...
If I'm sent a bottle of wine by a winery, PR group, or trade group with the understanding that I'll review it, whomever sent the wine must understand that I'll review that (and every) wine according to my tastes and based off of my own experiences. In other words, my life experience plus my accumulated wine training. Expanding that concept, wine bloggers shouldn't be expected to sugarcoat their reviews, and disliking some wines is a good thing, even if you got it for free. When you write about a wine you don't like, any smart PR agency or other wine-related group will read the review and understand that perhaps you aren't the best person to review a certain style or type in the future. Readers too will benefit by gaining a sense of where your palate lies in relation to theirs.
This all stems from me being sent a lot of inexpensive, budget-oriented wine to sample. In what context do I place those wines? Confession: I place them near the bottom, qualitatively, of my wine-consciousness because they are not as good as the more expensive wines I've been fortunate to taste in my career. Without any pretension, that is a fact. There are occasional exceptions which never fail to bring joy and a smile (and a positive review), but generally, wines that are inexpensive are also of lower quality and "score" lower on my (and other's) scale.
How do I convey that fact to my readers without coming across as a snob?
I strive to balance the positives and negatives of every wine while remaining careful not to endorse something that I myself wouldn't drink. In my firm opinion, readers can see through the bullshit, especially from Wine Bloggers. What's required is a deft grammatical touch, correct phraseology, and being nice. I've spoken before of accepting all wine drinkers from the neophyte to the gurus. Inclusiveness is obviously vital to expanding the reach and influence of the wine blogging community.
Though I always take self-appointed "wine gurus" (or divas, gods, goddesses, etc) with a grain of salt...
Now, about those Wine Bloggers...
Wine bloggers are under an obligation, which more and more of us seem to forget or dismiss, to write about what we're sent. So then, why do wine bloggers forget that obligation or dismiss it? That's easy; the main reason is that they don't want to cut of the flow of free wine. I'll be polite and refrain from naming any names, but when you gush over every single wine you're sent, without fail, in every public forum you can get into, something is wrong.
The word disingenuous comes to mind when I think of these bloggers, and quite a few of them are very "famous" in the insular wine blogging community. When I read their reviews, I grimace and understand why people like WAWineMan and the HoseMaster of Wine love to insult and demean wine bloggers. Perhaps those two have a point. If ever a small group within a large group harmed the collective image, those disingenuous bloggers are it.
Another point must be made: what is often forgotten is that someone took the time to reach out and send us a product that was made (by someone else) and is now on store shelves. Refraining from writing about that wine is basically ripping off the producer and entity that sent you the free bottle. By accepting samples we accept the mantle or responsibility to write honestly about those samples, not ignore the ones we don't like or gush about every single free bottle that ends up in our kitchen.
Backtracking just a bit to the consumers, i.e. our target audience..
Consumers want an accurate, non-sugar-coated wine review to assist them in their buying decisions. The only way to get more wine lovers to read wine blogs is to gain their trust while encouraging them to keep expanding their drinking boundaries. Bringing an element of personal evaluation into your review is critical, so long as you can do so without the rancor or rudeness of a cad. By showing a human side, one that likes some wines and dislikes others, without pretension, the average Googler will read your blog and might actually take away something useful.
My point is that every wine deserves a fair chance, and going back to what I wrote before, I personally do give every single wine I taste a fair shake before taking notes and writing up the review. After that fair shake, all bets are off, and that's how it should be, right? MY blog reflects the sum of MY wine experience. Is that unreasonable, or should we all strive for a similar philosophy?
Wine bloggers already have a bit of a bad reputation, and generally speaking, it might just be deserved.