A vigorous discussion in another place a couple of weeks ago asked whether a former well known advocate for a particular wine region was keeping on top of all the new things happening there. I don’t wish to bring that discussion over here, yet I was intrigued by Hugh Johnson’s column in the current issue of Decanter Magazine, where he rather sportingly admits that he doesn’t drink that widely now, sticking to the classics of his younger days.
Before anyone gets the wrong end of the stick, I will say straight off that far from intending criticism of Hugh, I really can see why this is the case, and where he’s coming from. He must have extremely happy memories of those times when good “claret” and Burgundy was available and affordable to, if not everyone, at least to most people with a steady job and an interest sufficient to slip it into their list of little luxuries. It was also a time when red wine from Austria and white wine from Italy might have proved very risky for cellaring.
The other thing, which was at least the case before Hugh sold his cellar(s), and I’m sure he kept a small stash, is that as we get older we are all victims of what we have bought, our past enthusiasms so to speak. Our tastes may change, leaving us with a lot of one style and not enough of another. Some people’s answer is to sell, although here (not that I’m as well endowed with high octane Barossa Shiraz and Cali-Cabs as some) I’m reluctant to do so. Anyone who is equally passionate about music will know that any wild impulse to shed the record collection of one’s youth, means they only to have to buy again when the nostalgic impulse of later life takes hold (hey, not all that later in my case!), and they will be wary of doing the same with their wine collection. Indeed, as my recent trip to Bordeaux proved, I still like the stuff, but I drank less and less as prices rose and other food-friendly reds caught my eye. Now I can see myself thinking once more about a nice Cru Classé when previously other wines would have winked at me with greater resolve.
But Hugh, and many other slightly less sprightly wine writers, would probably be the first to admit they’ve not got much idea of what’s going on right now in Beaujolais (Sunier, Balagny?), maybe not drunk any (or many) Scholium Project, Anton Klopper or Gut Oggau? Perhaps, even, they are yet to explore the world class wines of Equipo Navazos with any determination? Of course, I could easily be wrong. Then again, I’ve nowhere, nowhere indeed, near the experience Hugh has of the delights of First Growth Bordeaux. I’ve never drunk Le Pin or Pétrus and it’s over ten years since I’ve even drunk Angélus. I could also do with a lot of fingers to list the Burgundy Grand Crus I’ve not drunk.
The world of wine has changed immeasurably in the thirty-plus years since I first drank a bottle of Mouton-Cadet and took home a bin-ended copy of George Rainbird’s “An Illustrated Guide to Wine”. As an avid reader of wine books (and magazines), it’s remarkable how these have changed. You used to look forward to the next book on Burgundy, and Tom Stevenson’s Faber book on Alsace was like Christmas to someone like me. Yet over the past six months I’ve read (among many) a book about California which covers none of Napa’s big hitters, a book about “Natural Wines”, a book about Jura Wines and a book about Riesling which actually covers North America in as much or more detail than Germany.
There is equally no doubt that wine magazines have broadened their content. This month the supposedly conservative Decanter has a very interesting tasting of the world’s best Chardonnays outside of Burgundy. World of Fine Wine manages to stretch that definition as well (imagine my pleasure at reading about Loire star and personal favourite Jacky Blot some issues ago).
The question is, do we see the new blood coming through in these media, the new wine writers who really have a sense of what is happening in the wide world of wine, and does it matter?
There is undoubtedly a feeling that the old hands of the print media are still around and in control. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. They have tremendous experience. The question is, do they still have their fingers on the pulse? Do they still travel widely in their regions of expertise, meeting new stars and tasting new styles? And do they look to new media to see what’s happening as well?
This is where the “does it matter?” bit comes in. The most exciting wine writing (this apart) is via Blogs and Twitter helps dramatically in disseminating these sources . I don’t mean blogs like mine necessarily, occasional words from obsessive amateurs (I think about 80% of my wine friends seem to write wine blogs, many being good, some very good indeed, and I also know people who damned well should be writing one). I mean the pros who do it for (or as part of) a living – Wine Terroirs, Jim Budd, Jamie Goode etc, to name just three. Of course, some cross over to print, but their followers know where to seek out their real knowledge on a regular basis. Here, on their mobile devices!
Yet I still have a yearning that the established wine print media will fully grasp the real revolution happening in wine. The widening of the appeal of wine to younger drinkers via exciting new wine shops and wine bars promoting exciting wines which rarely get a mention (most, never) in the “wine press”. How I long to see Anne Krebiehl writing about German Spatburgunder in Decanter and Wink Lorch about Savoie Gringet in WFW (I could go on). Why, when I can read about such wines and many more on Twitter or on a blog any day of the week? Well, apart from the obvious fact that I like, and rate, such wines, the wine print media needs to attract these new drinkers if they are to survive the era during which the old world classics have become principally wines for successful business people and wealthy collectors.
So my plea – no need to ditch all the old guys (and older ladies). They have plenty to say, and some (people like Jasper Morris) often say it better than anyone else. But understand what is happening in wine out there. See what hundreds of wine lovers are talking about on Twitter and reading on the Web, and try to introduce some more of that into your print alongside the articles on Christian Moueix and Chilean Chardonnay. You may say “but we are doing that”. I don’t disagree. But when I look at who’s going where for their wine-related literary nourishment, I see a fast moving world of exciting new producers, regions, grape varieties. A world which is truly alive. And a world for which there are a dozen or more new voices, relevant and fresh, waiting to be heard more widely.
Still, I did see someone Tweet the other day that “wine is fashion”, and to an extent that’s true. Blaufrankisch or Nerello Mascalese may have their day, but then Kerner, Sumoll, Listan Negro…;) .