I began this blog after some years of talking about wine elsewhere, occasionally in print, frequently on-line, because I have a passion for what I call the wider world of wine. There’s so much out there to enjoy beyond established regions stashed in collectors’ vaults and the cellars of Michelin’s finest restaurants. Wine writing has always had a conservative edge to it in the past, and that’s fine. There are great wine writers, and wine experts (not always the same thing), but few willing to promote the outer reaches of wine, even if their numbers are increasing.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love the classics. But as they become prohibitively expensive we are lucky that improvements in vineyard management and winemaking have brought to light a wealth of other wines which no one wanted to write about twenty years ago. At the same time, a younger generation is taking over family domaines in regions previously thought under performing. Their fired up enthusiasm means that there are new stars in the making in the older, established regions as well as the new.
Australian wine writer Max Allen recently wrote on Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages about the criticisms made by fellow Aussie Huon Hooke, of Australia’s sommelier community, the suggestion being that they were forcing their enthusiasms for obscure wines onto restaurant lists at the expense of the established greats. This type of criticism is not new – we’ve heard the same coming from some quarters in North America.
I’d argue that Hooke and others are being way too narrow in their definition of what can now constitute “fine wine”, and what kind of wines are the best partners for food. Hooke may find some of the wines he sees on Sydney lists “obscure”, and some he may not have come across before. For I fear that many critics focus their palates quite narrowly, such is the need to appeal to an existing audience with a set of established tastes, despite the breadth of wine out there. It’s not difficult to imagine, for example, a Bordeaux expert not knowing how to react to a Sopron Kekfrankos or a Californian version of Jura’s Trousseau, let alone “natural” wines, “pet-nats” and orange wines. Frightening new techniques and styles from Ribeira Sacra to Friuli, or Georgia to Niagara are well off the page for those schooled in the 1855 Classification and the hierarchy of Grand Crus on the Cote d’Or.
I don’t mean to focus criticism on one individual. There are many who will dismiss new wines and new regions. I don’t doubt that many new wines benefit from the spiralling cost of Burgundy and Bordeaux, etc. Not all consumers, especially the younger ones, have the salaries, or the invitations to prestigious tastings, that would enable them to taste such wines on a regular basis. So those who write about wines which have now become high end luxuries are speaking to an increasingly rarefied audience. I think my first ever bottles of Latour and Mouton cost me under £30 each, how times have changed! You’d be pushed to find a good bottle of village Puligny for that now, and you could certainly find a Cru Bourgeois for that kind of money.
My direct experience of the market for wine is London, one of several exciting wine cities seemingly drowning right now in new independent wine shops, restaurants with “by-the-glass” lists and wine bars, not to mention wine from the cask at street markets and wine “car boots”. At no time I can remember since falling in love with wine in the 1980s has there been so much opportunity to consume so many different wines in this city. The excitement seems something akin to a revolution, mirrored in Tokyo, Barcelona, Paris, Berlin, even conservative Vienna.
It’s not just a great time to drink wine, it’s a great time to share one’s love and passion for it. I shall write about new wines and I’ll write about old wines. The thing is not to be afraid of new flavours. There’s good wine in abundance, whether that be Lopez de Heredia Rioja and Roulot Meursault, or Overnoy Pupillin and Scholium Project Californians. And especially if it’s Bereche Champagne and Equipo-Navazos Sherry.
I’ll tell you what I’ve been drinking, where, and sometimes who with. I’ll tell you where I’ve been buying wine, where I’ve been eating, and what books about wine I’ve been reading. And I’ll share the wine makers I’ve visited and their regions. In doing so, I hope to turn some of my enthusiasms into yours.