Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Wine Diary

AFTER WRITING two conventional wine/travel books (120,000 words about wine!), the idea of writing something similar didn't thrill me, but wine still interested me. So, instead, for three years, I used my wine column in France's leading English-language newspaper, 'The Connexion', to take an offbeat look at wine culture and answer these basic questions: Why are the French (and Brits) so clueless about wine? Why do they learn almost nothing about wine from what they drink? What does price really tell you about a wine? And what does a Rumpole mystery reveal about the actual cost of wine? How can you spot a decent restaurant wine list? And choose wisely from a bad one? What can a tea lady teach you about wine and food pairings? Why are medals an unreliable guide to wine quality? Can a biodynamic wine have a bad "leaf day"? Are all wine gadgets just Plenty O'Toole? What kind of wine fault is man boobs? What would Reliant Robin engineers conclude about screw-caps? Or the Gamma Hydra IV colonists (from the Star Trek episode 'The Deadly Years') about industrially manipulated wine? Why would it be absolute mangos to use Brad Pitt as a tasting note? And why will your favourite wines not be coming soon from China's Ningxia province? When I had answered these basic wine questions - without once telling a reader what wine to buy and where to find it (or what floral notes come to mind) - I quit writing the column. The editor did ask me to stay! But I'd discussed wine culture (the making, selling, consuming, and talking about) in enough detail to interest anyone with a passion for wine (OK, maybe not a doctoral student). One reader, who said she appreciates my "twisted sense of humour" also told me "you should replace that boring woman who writes for The Saturday Telegraph." That was nice of her. I've now collected those wine columns and made them available in one slim volume. I thought about calling the volume 'All You Need to Know About Wine'. Instead, it's called 'The Wine Diary'. I am also the author of 'Discovering Wine Country: South of France' (Mitchell Beazley) and 'The Wines of Roussillon' (Trabucaire). 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Plenty O'Toole

THE PHOTOGRAPH 'Plenty O'Toole' by Nigel Bradley (Decanter, Wine Spectator) was taken to accompany a column in 'The Connexion' about folding helicopters, flappy-padle cork screws, and James Bond. I chose the image for the cover of 'The Wine Diary' because it's also a visual metaphor for determination in the face of pretentiousness, an important trait for a wine critic. It is not by accident that 'Plenty' is confronted by a bottle from Château d'Arse ... a name that evokes the place where many wine writers have their heads.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's the thought that counts when you are drunk at Christmas

HOW MUCH do you need to drink to feel the life and soul of the party? Ig Noble Prize-winning psychology researchers from Grenoble University recruited subjects to compare levels of intoxication with reports of how seductive, intelligent, original and funny subjects felt. Intoxication is not a simple consequence of consuming alcohol, they say; it results (more importantly) from the psychological effect of believing alcohol has been drunk. Subjects who believed they had drunk alcohol - even those that had not - gave themselves the most positive evaluations. A sobering thought: designated drivers could be getting 'drunk' on alcohol-free booze.

Full article first published in The Connexion (December, 2013)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Rumpole's wine case reveals price mystery

IN RUMPOLE and The Blind Tasting, Horace Rumpole attends a blind tasting at a fine wine shop as a guest of his colleague Claude Erskine-Brown. Rumpole becomes curious about the cost of wine when several dozen cases of the shop's expensive St. Emilion from top estate Chateau Cheval Blanc turn up in his client's garage. As his wine knowledge goes only as far as Pommeroy's wine bar's Chateau Fleet Street, he asks an expert for help. He learns that wine is not very expensive to make and that price and quality, like law and justice, are not always as closely related as they should be. The relation in some cases is stretched beyond belief.

Full article first published in The Connexion (November, 2013)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Is wine journalism a load of nonsense?

A SPAT on Twitter between wine journalists and wine merchants exposed the journalists to accusation of lazily filling their columns with lame reviews of favourite wines from The Wine Society. "To do otherwise would be perverse," one writer tweeted in defense of the 'what to drink and where to find it' dumbed-down approach to wine journalism. But if sensible wine writing resembles an internal memo for members of The Wine Society, what would "perverse" wine writing look like instead? Hugh Johnson wrote about wine with sensuous prose; Kermit Lynch wrote about the pleasures of wine and never engaged in contrived tasting notes.

Full article first published in The Connexion (October, 2013)

Photograph of Kermit Lynch by Peter DaSilva

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Historic vintage for French appellations?

AS FRANCE casts off its 78-year old appellation system in favour of an EU-approved scheme, should wines lovers mourn its passing? No, they should not. With AOCs proliferating and industrial production widespread, France's leading consumer magazine says 40% of French appellation wines are unworthy of their discredited labels and 65% communicate nothing about terroir. Inspection will go beyond sniffing the odd vat sample under new EU rules. The new labels are changing buying habits. But never buy a wine that showcases its appellation - the producer is selling it based on the appellation's perceived quality, not his/her skill.

Full article first published in The Connexion (September, 2013)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

This summer's crazy rosé craze

WE WERE out of rosé. I squeezed red and white wine into a pichet from two bag-in-boxes until a rosé colour was achieved. The shame made me want to string the bags around my neck as a penance like the ancient mariner's albatross. My crime is matched by the grapefruit-flavoured disrespect heaped on rosé by Loire producers of Rosé-Pamp. In a risible attempt to give their flavoured wine a veneer of sophistication, marketers trace its origin to a Kir Vendômois (unknown to Google). The supermarket space dedicated to Rosé-Pamp has almost eclipsed the good news coming out of the Loire Valley: sales of Cabernet d’Anjou are up 10%. 

Full article first published in The Connexion (August, 2013)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Johnny's 'tipple' leaves sour taste

FRANCE'S hard-living geezer of American rock 'n' roll Johnny Hallyday has “discovered” wine. Actually, the man who has made a career out of singing other people’s songs is lending his name to another person’s wine (blended from various sources). "We regret its lack of character," sniffs Le Parisien. Bad reviews won't count because if you’re prepared to tattoo his image on your body, you’ll pay €8.60 to have him over for dinner. With American-style fast-food outlets outnumbering real restaurants in France, and top French chefs now awarding labels to restaurants that actually use ingredients, is it time for a label recognising authentic wine? 

Full article first published in The Connexion (July, 2013)