I am not short on opinions. However, as I get older, I have learned that some opinions are best kept unspoken. I am also a kind person at heart who doesn’t want to upset anyone unless it is strictly necessary. And I have learned that my own perspective is exactly that: things look a certain way from where I’m standing, and sometimes I’m wrong, and sometimes things look very different from another perspective.
This said, there’s a time for honesty. It’s far too easy as a wine writer to like everything, to be enthusiastic about whatever wine is sent to you, or to gush about which ever region you have just visited. Some wine writers make a career based on boundless, breathless enthusiasm for all wines. Producers and regional bodies love writers like this, but readers must be baffled by the energetic unselective hyping where everything is ‘great’, ‘fantastic’ or ‘stunning.’
So I thought it would be fun to be totally honest about how I see some aspects of the wine world. Here are my current peeves.
Rioja. It’s a disaster zone. Of course, there are some good wines (and I have championed these in the past). But the average quality level is terrible. The region has great vineyards, but most of these grapes end up in factory like wineries where they are industrially processed. Barrel cellars containing 10 000 barrels, which aren’t topped up or tasted, but instead routinely racked every six months. And so much American oak, and so much bad oak. Few wines survive this oxidative regime well. Yet the region is commercially successful. It’s mad.
Vying for Rioja for the worst average standard of winemaking, we have Chianti. I rarely find a Chianti that I can drink, yet, like Rioja, the best are sublime. The wines tend to be oxidative, are frequently dirty, and have an ungenerous, angular personality.
Chile. At last, Chile is beginning to get a bit interesting, with a few small-production wines that are showing personality and character, but for so long this has been one of the most boring of all wine countries. So many interesting terroirs, so few interesting wines. Commercially, the Chileans have been spot on, supplying tasty, inexpensive wines to export markets. But when they have tried to go high end, they’ve just made boring, sweetly fruited, slightly jammy wines. And so many Chilean reds have this Chilean flavour which makes them easy to spot in blind tastings, but which isn’t a positive thing at all.
Bordeaux. Bordeaux is the world’s leading fine wine region, and yet I find it hard to love at the moment. I love great old Bordeaux, but so much has changed of late (more selection, more concentration, later picking, more winemaking) that I’m not sure that we can guarantee that the current crop of top wines will all age gracefully for 20-50 years. Wouldn’t it be a disaster if suddenly people began to realise that all these investment grade wines actually tasted better after 5-10 years rather than 20? There’s such a lot of hype surrounding Bordeaux, and the en primeurs circus, and so many of the wines are being judged so early in their life. And I don’t understand the journalists who criticise and moan about the primeurs, but who then dutifully trek there every year and publish their scores. You can’t have it both ways.
Bloggers. I’m a wine blogger, but it distresses me to see how much of a soft ride most wine bloggers are giving the wines they are exposed to. Mediocre producers simply have to pour their wines for bloggers, or invite them on an outing or a trip, and suddenly they get undiscriminating, glowing coverage. And tweeting, instagramming or facebooking a picture of a wine bottle or a vineyard doesn’t really count as wine journalism. (I do that myself, of course, and I am a lover of social media, but you need to actually write something, do a podcast, or do a piece to camera as well.)
Australia makes some great wine, and I’m very excited by the good stuff (not the spoofy stuff, of course). But the standard of commercial Aussie wine is pretty bad these days. In the past, wine brands such as Lindemans and Penfolds used to make their cheap wines from proper vineyard areas. Now the cheap stuff all comes from hot, irrigated areas where wine grapes shouldn’t be grown. And I hate the way so many Aussie reds are stuffed with tartaric acid. It sticks out like a sore thumb.
The IMW. Is it an academic institution, or a private members club? It doesn’t seem able to decide. It has also frustrated a lot of talented wine people who have passed both theory and tasting papers, but then are required to do a dissertation. The standard of dissertations varies widely, and some people get messed around badly. Now the dissertation has become a ‘research paper’, but good research costs money to do, and is usually done with the support of an academic institution. It’s a bit of a mess.
That’s enough for now. Plenty more to come!