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Andrew Jefford on modern wine writing in the face of the threat from AI

Writing about wine in simple terms is difficult, says author Andrew Jefford, but reviews written by AI aren’t likely to take over as wine tasting remains a sensory subject

Andrew Jefford says writers must keep finding joy in wine and then craft precise yet evocative language to convey that.
Andrew Jefford says writers must keep finding joy in wine and then craft precise yet evocative language to convey that. (iStockphoto)

Is writing about fine wine irrelevant in today’s world? Wine is already a subject that many consider rife with snobbery, full of incomprehensible terminology, familiar only to a hallowed few.

Moreover, we live in a time of short attention spans, with five-second reels and short reads dominating our lives. While we are focusing on creating bite-sized content, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is taking over writing in a lot of spheres—it is now putting together essays, sketching travel itineraries, making to-do lists. Besides all this, AI is also churning out wine advice and writing critical scores, that too in the blink of an eye.

So, is there a need for wine commentary by human beings any more? Will wine writers become redundant faster than you can say “Napa”? A few months ago, around the very time a new phenomenon called ChatGPT burst upon the scene, I picked up a book called Drinking With The Valkyries by Andrew Jefford (published by the Académie du Vin Library in 2022). It is a 245-page curated collection of essays by Jefford, spanning his lengthy career as a critic. The book, not his first, has gone on to be nominated for numerous awards and received multiple accolades from critics and the wine industry alike.

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Drinking With The Valkyriesis divided into 10 themed chapters, each with a cluster of 4-10 essays. I found myself turning the pages slowly, lingering over a paragraph, re-reading a sentence, sticking little post-it flags to mark an exceptional passage. As I read, I began interacting with the winemakers that Jefford had met as well, enjoying the wines he had savoured, finally understanding his view that “if Falstaff could rhapsodize sherris-sack so memorably, it was because… Shakespeare took pleasure…in tasting it” (Wine Is Also A Dream). Wine science has been explained poetically through stories in The School Of Hard Wines, Wine Versus Food, Tannin and The University Of The Vat. Some thought-provoking perspective has been offered in The Curse Of The Vertical and Wine’s Transactional Flaw, while the fragile connection between man and earth is explained in Angela’s Lemon.

As a furious battle of words is taking place on social media on the possibilities of AI replacing human wine writers and critics, Drinking With The Valkyries has become more than just a book—it has become something of a revelation that the educated craftsman does and must exist today.

Midway through the book, I considered the idea of bringing Jefford himself into the debate on modern wine writing in the face of the threat from AI. Indeed, he might be the best person to comment on the issue.

Busy as he was, he was quickly forthcoming and generous with his time in discussing the subject, long-distance, in his thoughtful style.

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Is wine writing today too complex? I asked. Too verbose? Too hard to comprehend for the nervous wine newbie? Are wine writers pushing away people—rather than drawing them into their circle of wine understanding—perhaps into the arms of ChatGPT, with its split-second results and lack of judgement?

Yes, writing about wine in simple terms is difficult, says Jefford. “It is a complex, data-heavy, name-laden subject (and full of ‘foreign’ names, to boot).” His own way to circumvent the complexity is to focus on a narrative thread in the story, “on some aspect of the wine experience which is felt emotionally rather than conceptualised intellectually.”

If wine writing today is reduced either to the simplistic, or, alternatively, the florid, it is because of modern needs or following oft-repeated trajectories. “A piece about a grape variety; a piece about a region; a piece about some aspect of winemaking or a particular winemaker; a collection of tasting notes, and most wine books are reference books which do not lend themselves to stylistic writing. Most wine publishers are timid about innovation,” he writes to me from his home in France’s Languedoc region.

Andrew Jefford.
Andrew Jefford. (Jon Wyland)

If Jefford’s own publisher, the Académie du Vin Library, has proved not to be timid, that is, in part, because it was the late wine legend Steven Spurrier’s baby, dedicated to fine wine writing in every form. But this is not true for every publisher. “Editors never have to look far to find people ready to write about wine for very little money, or even no money at all. This tsunami of wine writing is, of course, variable in quality,” says Jefford. “Editors might assume frequently that all their readers want are tips and recommendations, or ‘the luxury lifestyle’, or ‘drink fashion’. The results are both indifferent and ephemeral,” he says frankly.

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But do readers really want fine writing these days? This is a question that deserves some thought. Jefford believes there are fewer readers than ever who spend time reading in-depth books on wine. “Many are wine students, who want to pass exams, or wine producers and wine traders, who want point scores and producer reviews as a sales aid. They may, thus, prefer data, tips, inside scoops, and scores; reams of tasting notes; or pure school-geeky stuff; and not care at all if the writing is repetitive and unimaginative,” he says.

That brings us to the much debated topic of critics’ notes, wine descriptions and articles generated by AI. So easy, requiring very little effort to access.

Many tasting notes by humans already sound as if they have been written by AI, points out Jefford: “Repetitively laudatory descriptions, clusters and phrases. No tasting note is ever audited or fact-checked—so in essence anybody can write what they want in a tasting note, with only a slender chance of comeback from a reader.”

In his opinion, AI would also find it very easy to marshal, organise and regurgitate the extraordinary wealth of detail that global wine production entails. “I think that AI could be steered to write convincing tasting notes and even scores with just a little guidance from a ‘real’ human palate, and convincing and even useful explanatory general articles about wine regions,” he adds.

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But the danger is something that is less evident to all but the most discerning. And that is telling the truth. This truth does not consist of an assemblage of words which merely sounds factual. “No one seems to have told the machines that it is imperative that they tell the truth and do not invent or make up those things that are objectively verifiable,” says Jefford. He cites the example of veteran French wine journalist Pierre Casamayor, who recently asked ChatGPT to write an article about the historic Chateau Carbonnieux in the Pessac-Léognan region in France’s Bordeaux area. “ChatGPT decided to appropriate the name of other proprietors (those of Pomerol’s Chateau Lafleur) and ‘give them’ Chateau Carbonnieux: a catastrophic error.” The result? The text generated sounded convincing but was factually incorrect.

AI also cannot do more than mimic the tone of certain wine writers and critics. “This voice must be animated by their intelligence, the jelly of their brains. AI can ape this but there will always be a whiff of fakery about it,” he says.

In the end, with wine being a sensory subject, the need to touch, taste, smell and see in order to understand it can never be achieved without human intervention. As in the case of judging wine competitions (such as the Decanter World Wine Awards, which Jefford incidentally co-chairs), human beings will always be needed to sift the good wine from the bad, using all their senses. But, he concedes, AI could perhaps play a role in churning out convincing tasting notes based on a few key words from the judges or come up with statistical material “crunched” out of the finished results. In other words, “any task that requires a lot of drudgery and tedious work on a complex data set, and where the results do not particularly demand originality or intellectual grist”.

So, the human role in translating the nuances of wine to the reader will always remain paramount. But how can writers remain relevant and read? A writer must “keep thinking, keep interrogating, keep travelling, keep reporting, keep tasting, keep feeling... and keep finding joy in wine. And then craft precise yet evocative language to convey that”, says Jefford.

Drinking With The Valkyries is available online at and in India at

Ruma Singh is a Bengaluru-based wine and travel writer.

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