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?
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?