There’s a great line in the film Sideways where Paul Giamatti's character Miles returns to the dinner table after drunkenly calling his ex-wife (with entirely predictable results), and his friend, Jack, rumbles him. "Did you drink and dial?" he demands.
I shouldn't need to point out why that's funny. The one we sympathize with isn’t the one pulling out the quips, it's the one who feels that, a few glasses of wine down, their fortunes might play out differently. We know (secretly) that alcohol and telephones are a woeful combination. Try to pair wine with anything other than your immediate surroundings and you are asking for, at best, a misunderstanding.
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I'll admit my first thought about the recent Jim Harré affair, in which the international wine judge thought it was pertinent to email a winemaker and tell her to "give up" on the very evening he'd just tasted one of her wines, was that he may have been possibly inspired by a glass or two of wine.
And while I still think that's a reprehensible thing to have done, I don't think he'd be anywhere near alone in the roster of drink-a-wine-and-give-someone-a-piece-of-your-mind. I too am guilty of firing off dumb (at best) missives at a late hour.
My best personal illustration is the (to date) only major flare-up I've been the object of on Twitter – and I count myself reasonably lucky in that regard. Its origin is the single best example I have of the dangers of having had a few glasses of wine and combining this with telecommunication.
Because my friends – the people who were with me for dinner that night – all nodded. I had got agitated, made the remark that something was out of order on Twitter (a state of affairs that hardly warrants a second glance by the light of day), explained my position on it, and my friends agreed with me. At least, they nodded.
Don't misunderstand me – I take full responsibility. And I was not happy. I had my buddies' implicit agreement and, on Jack Dorsey's platform for the dyspeptic and vainglorious, I was going to let rip. I promptly did, and was roundly chastised over the next nine hours or so. No one likes being told they are wrong, least of all on the internet, so I'll say I was out of line. Which is putting it somewhat mildly.
There are a number of lessons here. The first is the obvious drink-and-dial avoidance (more of which, shortly); the second – which is fundamental, I think – is that my friends agreed with me for numerous reasons. I don't for one minute blame anyone but myself. The reason I mention their reaction is to contrast it with that of an internet platform: my friends were physically with me; they got my point, they got where I was coming from, they read my body language and had vastly more context behind the less-than-180-character brain fart I produced. At the very worst (or very best, depending on how you look at it, I suppose) they nodded to me because I was their friend – they had, poor souls, endured several years of knowing me.
And that's one of the best illustrations I have of how un-social social media is. Being social to people in real life (IRL, I should say) involves a complex series of pre-defined, generally cultural or simply just familiar understandings and forgivings. If they are your friends, you generally have more favorable context in any case. Even if not, an approach to most physical encounters is best summed up Game Theory's ultimate conclusion that the best policy is generally being nice to your interlocutor. That, and the timeless rule of mainly trying not to be a dick.
Social media, emails, even (to a degree) phone calls, are not that. Social media is everyone being the ranty dude on a soapbox, all the time, everyday, to everyone else, all crossed with an applause-o-meter. Combine this freedom/relative anonymity/unfettered word exchange with a few glasses of Pinot Noir and things get out of hand faster than a Covid outbreak at a political rally. None of this excuses my words – one could even argue that I learned a valuable lesson – but I think it highlights a dangerous pattern of social media engagement after a few glasses of wine that we probably should pay more attention to.
And now we come to the wine-and-telephones thing. One of the interesting things about living in a country that shares a timezone with the Marshall Islands and Kamchatka is how clearly observable the state of evening Tweeting is in Europe (when I wake) and the US (which progressively knocks off and goes to sleep from lunchtime onwards). This is why Twitter, annoyingly, is considerably more robust as I go to bed (when most of the Europeans and Brits are wide-eyed), certainly compared to my morning's general confusion on the platform.
So to that end, I'd like to suggest a few things that I find help me through an evening of wine consumption and social media:
First up, if you're drinking alone, try to put the bottle away, and not the phone. If you really don't care about an indicator of alcoholism, then at least put the phone on silent and watch a movie or read a book.
If you're drinking with others and you really want to put something on Twitter or have a little comment on an Insta post, ask yourself how you are feeling. If you're feeling good and positive, have at it. I don't necessarily agree with the adage that if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all, but where drinking and phones are concerned, I think it's solid advice (the "I'm going to phone my ex to tell him/her what a great time I'm having" does not fall into this category, if anyone was wondering).
If you're really angry about something or you feel aggrieved, my best advice is to sleep on it and see how you feel in the morning. Don't fool yourself: most rants can wait until then. Furthermore, you'll argue your point better; you're considerably more erudite after a sleep and a couple of coffees. You are. Trust me.
Some might argue that self-censorship is a bad thing, that it turns us into liberal snowflakes, ripe to be preyed upon by the lizards in charge of the world. They might argue that alcohol consumption is still not an excuse for your behavior. I agree with the latter, but I also think that zero self-censorship is violently anti-social to begin with, and that if we apply a filter to our verbal interactions with others IRL, then it's perfectly acceptable to do the same online.
Worst of all is that this approach will likely garner you considerably fewer followers than if you let rip like a coke dealer on a balcony with an AR-15, but I'll leave you to weigh up the pros and cons of that.
Writing this sort of thing is always going to sound condescending, yet I write this well aware of the fact that I have repeatedly broken all these rules. On balance, though, I've had a better time when I haven't. Just as importantly, I think others have too. I don't claim they are perfect – if anything I'd rather others, including behavioral psychologists, debated the issue – I also reckon phones and good wine over dinner probably aren't a good pairing in first place, at all.
But this will not go away, and I think we in the wine community have a responsibility to ourselves and to others to do our best to ensure our rants are fueled with passion and/or logic instead of malice or alcohol.