What women, sorry, wine writers want…


If posts have been scarce in the last couple of weeks, it’s because September and October are the tasting season, during which every wine company and its dog seems to want to show of their wares. Attempting to get to three or four events a day is not uncommon, and this of course has its repercussions. If you’re sensible, you stand up and spit (ah, whatever happened to The Members?) all day before returning to bed early and not too bloated in order to be up again the following day (and the day after) for more of the same. If you’re NOT sensible, then you accept an invitation out for dinner/a BBQ/pisco frenzy or worse. When it comes to post-tasting drinks, the modus operandi is one is just right, two is too many, and three is not enough. Even seasoned wine writers can forget that pouring close to 200 wines into your mouth over the course of a few hours actually has an effect on your constitution. Suddenly what you had talked yourself into believing was going to be a low-key evening has turned into a marathon session. It’s two in the morning and you are either on the table or under it. If you’re lucky, your clothes are still with you. And you still have to be back at the spittoon in a few hours time.

This autumn, apart from a few fuzzy bits towards the end of a Cloudy Bay dinner, I’ve erred on the sensible side, but even so, the prospect of a few quiet days off the tasting floor are most welcome – OK, I’m a wine wimp. But today, I’m a wine wimp on a mission, and my target is wine companies who don’t understand what wine writers want. I’m not the first person to mouth off on such a topic. Only today, I’ve seen a piece by Emile Joubert [it’s now been disappeared] about the invitations and press releases that we’re sent. It’s positively mild-mannered compared with a major rant from Wine-X magazine, a publication which can/could (it’s currently in a strange state of suspension) miss as often as it hits, but which is spot on in this instance. Max Allen also hits the nail on the head with this piece – should be required reading for anyone sending out samples.

While I’m very much in agreement with Max and the others on what they write, none of them touches on my current gripe. Information. I’m not talking here about show awards or cuttings from other publications, I’m talking about the sort of info that wine companies provide that they seem to genuinely think will be of benefit to us.

Not sure what I’m on about? Then let me give you an example from the recent (and otherwise excellent) Waitrose tasting. Torres San Medin Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2007 – ‘100% Cabernet Sauvignon from clay loam soils. Harvested at 10 tonnes/ha. 24 hours skin contact then pneumatic pressing. Fermented over 21 days in stainless steel at 18ºC. Bottled May 2007.’ Or how about this for José Maria da Fonseca Periquita White 2006? ‘80% Moscatel de Sétubal, 20% Arinto from the sandy soils of the Sétubal peninsula. Vines up to 50 years old, with low density plantings. Grapes harvested in late Aug/early Sept at approx. 7 tonnes/ha. 12% of Moscatel is oak-fermented, the rest in stainless. Suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Alc 11.8%, TA 7,2 g/l, pH 3.04, RS 5.0 g/l.’ Now for wine anoraks (sorry Jamie), maybe such details might be useful in unravelling quite why a wine tastes the way it does. But among normal people, does anyone give a stuff about percentages and tonnes per hectare?

Good wine writing should make you thirsty; lists of stats just makes you want to turn the page. I’m not picking on Waitrose – their tasting pamphlet was just the closest to hand. But too often, when I ask companies for interesting info on a wine or its producer, this is the sort of tedia they send. I’d much rather hear that the winemaker used to manage the Bhundu Boys (Chapel Down’s Owen Elias), why the vineyard has such an unusual name (look at Wooing Tree, for example) or that the winery pet is a 3-legged cat. Alas, Spook, Cloudy Bay’s 3-legged feline, is no longer with us. But her name and deficiency in the limb department is often cited when I try to explain to gawping PRs and wine companies that I’m not especially interested as to whether the 2005 has 3% more Cabernet Sauvignon than the 2004 and would rather hear something a little more enthralling.

Can’t sign off a blog on tasting notes without a gem from the recent Tesco press tasting. Relating to Tesco Finest* Beyers Truter Pinotage 2006. ‘The Tesco Finest Pinotage is a block selected Pinotage: therefore certain blocks of Pinotage were selected for the purpose of making the Tesco Finest.’ Quite…


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