Friday, 8 June 2012

In favor of calling shit out…




The wine trade is a very nice place, often people give me lovely things, they send me bottles, they take me to nice places, they buy me lovely meals. This happens to virtually everyone that writes about wine. I’m not complaining. Well actually I am, a little.

We’re all too nice, underpinning everything is a sense that if we don’t say nice things, or at the very least not say bad things, it’ll all grind to a halt.

The most influential wine commentator of the last 30 years, Robert Parker, made his name by, amongst other things calling bad wines bad. Why don’t we see more of this? Are all modern wines so good? Is the market so well regulated that the default quality of the average bottle so good that we can stop worrying any more and merely focus on the fabulous?

No.

In fact, there is still a lot of very bad wine on the market. This ranges from the stultifyingly dull supermarket propositions, produced to a budget that wont make anyone any money. The growers are nailed down as tight as they can go, hell even the supermarkets have probably accepted that most of the time their wine ranges are loss leaders.

Mid range we see a huge number of wines seemingly made to a recipe. How to make New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc 1.01? I guess that this might not be such a bad thing if people are looking for consistency in what they buy, after all Diet Coke wouldn’t sell anywhere near as many cans if there was a significant variation between each can (though if it got you pissed it might). But lets pretend we’re not always looking for consistency, after all it can get a bit boring after a while. Oh and don’t get me started on wineries that trumpet terroir while delivering a very cleverly produced cellar cuvee.

Finally, and possibly most controversially, natural wines. Now I’m a big fan of natural wines, and have on many occasions written in their favour and defense. However I accept that there is a greater chance of things going wrong, indeed one of the thrilling things about natural wines is that they are that much harder to get right, the grapes have to have been grown in the right place, the wine making has to be very careful in its non-intervention. However it does sometimes go wrong. There are bad natural wines out there, some are crippled with Brett (way beyond where it stops being an acceptable bit of complexity), some are properly oxidized, and not in a good, intentional way. What concerns me is that in an already quite stressful market place for the consumer, we’re busy pulling the rug of certainty away from already slightly worried buyers. So I think it behooves us advocates of natural wines to ensure we know our faults, and to be doubly vigilant whilst buying and proposing natural wines. And yes calling out and naming the wines that really fall foul of the quality line. After all, how else are we going to get the detractors to stop labeling the whole category with the reputation of its worst examples?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

How can you tell if a wine is "bad" or just not to your liking? Is there a difference?

Tom Wark...

Donald Edwards said...

Hi Tom, fair point, in terms of genuinely faulty, I accept that people have different fault thresholds, however as I mentioned I think there are certain lines where with faults they cease to be acceptable.
As for wines that I just don't particularly like, I'm quite happy to draw a personal distinction between the two and say so later on. Also I usually note whether I find something a bit faulty but overall very drinkable.

Anonymous said...

I only mention it because your first mention is of "supermarket" wines and "formula" wines. Neither of which tend to be faulty, yet they are the first ones you mention in suggesting we call out "faulty" wines.

Tom Wark...

Donald Edwards said...

Hi Tom, I guess there were two purposes in my post.
Firstly, as a general gripe that too much of the wine media talks about great wines, good wines and the like, without say pointing out which major retailer has the highest portion of really bad wines on their list - I bet that would make them sit up and take notice.
The second related to my frustration with the natural wine world for not being as open as I'd like them to be over faulty wines that fall into the category. I think there are (to simplify a lot) two sorts of natural wine makers, the ones that understand every thing that can go wrong and take precautions while still not going overboard on SO2 etc, and those that regard all scientific terminology as basically the devil. It's the slightly more luddite end of the category that I want more of those that like what can be done naturally to start calling out. An acceptance that there are really bad natural wines, but that certain folk in the wine world are more concerned with the method than the product.

Donald Edwards said...

Hi Tom, in relation to your tweet, yes I accept that there have been wines made this way for a very long time and that strictly 'natural' is a false term, but that I think banging on about the semantics of the whole thing risks making us all look like right nobs. Wouldn't it be better if we actually got down to looking at the respective growers and started trying to really weed out the better ones and leave behind those that are just making bad and faulty wines that are devoid of redeeming features?

Gene said...

I get your frustration. Wine 'criticism' and reviews are such a marketing tool for retailers now, that the reviewers don't want to upset the applecart by talking negative about almost anything. Thank God for the internet and blogs!