Do wine writers lack balls?
I can’t remember what I was perusing for when I stumbled across this article from last year on wine-life.co.uk. Essentially it accuses wine writers, especially those who have commented on the relatively new phenomenon of Natural Wines, of being somewhat spineless – evidently we are quick to say that Natural Wines are the way forward because wines that are full of additives are bad, but we are spineless because we won’t name and shame the winemakers who make these apparently terrible additive-ridden wines. It was an interesting read, I thought.
I’m one of those people who have stayed out of the whole natural wine debate – even though I’ve read a great deal about it from critics and winemakers who have actually done their homework and tasted countless natural wines, it’s a hot topic, and one I have never written about. I think the reason I haven’t been inclined to say anything is, I’m just not that bothered. I can see what’s appealing about natural wine though, and in principle I agree with what the natural winemakers are trying to do. I’d be the first to admit that my body is not exactly a temple, (I say this having just scoffed the microwaved remains of last night’s takeaway, while troughing the rest of last night’s hastily purchased Chardonnay on the basis that it is almost midday) but I do try to limit the amount of nasty processed food that I consume, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen the inside of a McDonalds restaurant.
But the problem for me is that once I’ve made the decision to have some wine, I don’t particularly regard that as a healthy decision and as such I’m not too bothered by the additives – after all, I was throwing them down my throat for years before the term ‘Natural Wine’ was even a real thing. And I don’t think they’ve done me any harm – mind you, ever since I discovered that wine was a passion and not just a means to an end for a banging night out, I have gravitated towards slightly better wines that don’t have that slightly processed taste and sense of residual evil that makes most sub £5 Californian reds seem more like a blackcurrant sports drink than something made from grapes.
This fellow made a good point though, you don’t often see wine critics giving a bad review – whereas a poorly made film will be torn apart by critics and face box office ruin, and a critic can make or break a restaurant. Are there really no bad wines? Come on! We’ve all had them. Should we name and shame them? Is it a cop out that we don’t want to hurt the feelings of producers of mediocre wines and those who like to drink them?
My opinion is, absolutely not – there are plenty of wines I don’t like that are extraordinarily popular – and it’s neither here nor there whether people like them or not. They may be stuffed with oak chips and tartaric acid and powdered tannins – but they are made that way for a reason. The Blackcurrant cordial Merlots that I despise are like that because their massive consumer base likes them just the way they are. They don’t want complexity and floral bouquets and well-integrated oak or any of the other terms that we throw around in the wine industry, nor do they want to read what a load of critics think of their favourite beverage, no matter how complimentary or scathing it may be. Our job as wine writers and critics is not to insult people’s taste – but rather to introduce them to a host of new wines that will enhance their experience and equip them with the tools they need to choose wines well. And the truly ballsy wine critics are those who fly the flag for wines that the industry deems ‘uncool’ – the German wine industry must say a silent prayer to Jancis Robinson every time a Riesling is uncorked, and there are many others who have re-introduced the world to Sherry and Vinho Verde and Rosé and Australian Chardonnay and all the other wines that might have fallen out of favour for good, were it not for their industry champions.
It’s important to remember that wine is a fun topic. Where’s the fun in telling people about bad wines that they shouldn’t drink? It’s so much more fun to wax lyrical about a wine you have really enjoyed, whether it is via a #7WordWineReview on Twitter, or an in-depth tasting note. Let’s just enjoy the wine and keep it light, folks.