Thursday, 28 March 2013

Men behaving badly - social media and the wine "professional"

At any given time, lurking somewhere in the depths of my Blogger "dashboard" are a handful of drafts - posts that I have part-written and may or may not eventually see the light of day. Occasionally, I have a clear-out and get rid of the ones which are either no longer relevant or topical, or which I simply cannot be bothered to complete. But the bare bones of what follows have been sitting there for a few months now - essentially, a bit of a rant about the propensity of people - mainly men, to put it bluntly - to force their (often ill-conceived or rash) opinions onto anyone who cares to read them. The most valuable attribute of the Internet can at the same time be the worst - it offers a window to the world, yet provides a certain degree of anonimity for those who wish to sound-off or, in the worst cases, abuse the privilege...............

Although I guess I am a "wine professional", insofar as I import and sell the stuff, it isn't usually a term I apply to myself. The fact that I also write a blog and use Facebook and Twitter is purely incidental (although I feel I do it quite well - in fact, better than some of those so-called professionals). After all, if I were not keen enough to be in the business in the first place, I doubt that I would be moved to share my thoughts about wine in a  public place. No, by "professional", I mean those who write and/or talk about wine for a living - the wine media.

I doubt very much that spats involving - or between - various members of the wine-writing fraternity are a new phenomenon. In my experience, by no means all of them have egos the size of Texas, but it often seems to help, especially if such writers' main means of communication with their readers is via blogs and social media. And let's face it, the importance of the printed word, be it in newspapers, magazines, or even books, seems to wane more and more with each passing year. Don't get me wrong - I love the Internet and can hardly imagine going back to a world without it. And of course I would never have been able to start a wine business without it - a bricks and mortar wine shop would have been (and still remains) way beyond my means and capabilities. And Facebook (and to a lesser extent Twitter) can be a fun way of communicating, not only with friends you see on a regular basis, or those who you see only occasionally/rarely, but also "friends" you have never even met. Just as long as the discussions remain civilised, of course. My mantra for social media is never to say anything to/about anyone on a public (or even private) forum that I wouldn't say to their face. Or at least to try and resist the urge to do so. It doesn't always work out that way, but I suppose we all put our foot in our mouth occasionally!

But I have noticed a fashion emerging amongst certain wine writers recently for posting remarks on Twitter and Facebook that are clearly intended to provoke. Sometimes it may be a link to their latest blog post, other times it may be an isolated remark - something along the lines of "(provocative statement) - discuss". At which point, more often than not, the writer retreats to a safe distance, whilst a mix of casual observers, sycophants and naysayers proceed to slog it out. I even feel the need to stick my two penn'orth in occasionally! A recent example was where the writer (a particularly prolific blogger, tweeter and - to be frank - serial troller) suggested that, because he didn't rate a wine that another (world-renowned) critic scored highly, said critic had somehow lost the plot. He then went on to remark that the very same critic is "a legend, a hero and an inspiration to me, but his scoring is boxing him into a corner."  It all smacks of a "my points are worth more than so-and-so's points" sort of attitude. Even more annoyingly, the original comment was made on Twitter, but also appeared automatically on Facebook, although the writer didn't see fit to reply to any resulting comments by his Faceboof "friends". Which to my mind displays a staggering level of arrogance, not to mention a large degree of contempt for his "friends" or followers. And because this was a far from isolated incident, I felt rather good about deleting this person's Facebook and Twitter feeds from my accounts! 

Another situation which occurred around the same time concerned another equally well-known wine writer (and an MW no less), who became embroiled with mutual a friend/follower on Facebook about the subject of ageing wines - my, what a controversial subject! Whilst many people, myself included, think that too many wines are drunk far too young, our writer friend decided to take completely the opposite view, stating quite categorically that "most whites, except Riesling and (at a pinch) Chardonnay, Beaujolais, most Pinot Noir, a lot of Syrahs, Loire Cab Francs, etc, etc" do not age. I replied that, in my opinion, virtually all of the above (which are any good in the first place, that is) benefit from plenty of age. Back came the reply "No they don't. Most of them are great young too. You need to taste more young Pinots. Which wines evolve in fascinating ways? Chenin, yes, Riesling, yes. Sauternes at a pinch. Hunter Semillon. That's about it." Given the rather dismissive (nay, arrogant) tone of this guy's replies, I decided that there was little point in continuing the discussion. Just as well, really, given that it deteriorated thereafter into a rather unseemly bout of handbags between the two original protagonists, resulting in a very public "unfriending". A very unseemly episode and a lesson in how not to use social media.

And then there is the seemingly never-ending one-man crusade by a wine journalist and fellow blogger to discredit a  producer of sweet wines in the Loire Valley, whose viticultural and vinification methods he suggests are at best contrary to the principles of fine winemaking and at worst illegal. The fact that this grower is particularly highly-regarded by so many wine drinkers (and indeed makes arguably the finest wine of the appellation in question) seems to make no difference to the journalist. Unfortunately, having done so much good work in the past, investigating so many more worthy incidents of real wine fraud, I feel that he is in danger of damaging his own reputation as much as - if not more than - his quarry. 

The thing that links these episodes together (albeit very loosely) is that they are all propogated by men. Not that the fairer sex is entirely blameless, but the nearest I have seen to spats about wine involving women was a bit of "handbags" between Jancis Robinson MW and Robert Parker Jr over the merits of a certain Bordeaux chateau's wine (and I know whose palate I would trust!) and a respected female Loire expert's online discussion/argument with the aforementioned blogger about his vendetta. Again, I know whose side I am on.

But now to the thing that really prompted me to publish this post - the work of a certain lady by the name of Helena Nicklin (a.k.a Winebird), whose interesting take on the wine video genre appears to have split the jury, garnering praise and derision in equal measure. The videos came to my attention via a thread on a UK-based wine discussion forum (which many of you reading this may well contribute to, or at least read). Ultimately, the thread ran to almost 200 posts and I have to admit that, as a man, I was more than a little disappointed - though far from surprised - at some of the derogatory remarks offered by so many regular (and almost exclusively male) contibutors, not to mention the (male) owner of the forum..

Personally, I think they provide an entertaining, light-hearted, yet extremely effective concept in attempting to bring "proper wine" to the masses. And thankfully, a few of the more tolerant and enlightened contributors seemed to agree with me. More importantly, I have a feeling that the same sentiment would be shared by countless hordes of non-wine geeks - surely the sort of people they are actually aimed at (rather than those of us who think we know it all). Of course, a pretty face helps (with apologies to anyone who thinks I'm being sexist, but I'm a red-blooded male!). Would I find the videos so interesting if they were presented by a man? Probably not, but the content would still be relevant and informative. Perhaps "Winehusband" (I believe that is Helena's other half's handle) could make some for the ladies!
Should Winebird be accepted into the world of the professional online wine commentator? Damn right she should. Her style might not go down too well with the old guard, whose often elitist and tired approach to the subject of wine is threatened by the more populist style of the new generation, but if it gets more people genuinely interested in wine (rather than just consuming the cheap and cheerful stuff as a beverage) then that can only be a positive.

As for wine commentary as a whole, and the Internet in general, it really doesn't matter whether you are a man or a woman - there's room for everyone. And if you don't like it, then don't read/watch it - but don't just jump in and slag it off without good reason.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Sensational new Jurançons from Domaine de Montesquiou

Apologies for the rather "sensationalist" headline, but there are occasions when only a tabloid-style title will suffice! And this is one of those occasions, because each time I take delivery of the latest vintages from Domaine de Montesquiou, I am filled with genuine excitement about the mouth-watering wines that lay in store for me. They actually arrived about a week and-a-half ago, but I have been so busy with various tastings and other commitments (wine, family, a poorly mother) in recent weeks that I have barely had time to sit and write them up until now. And my word are they good - indeed, collectively the finest set of wines I have taken from this grower since I started working with them. Which is remarkable, because they have always been nothing less than brilliant in the past. And as if I needed confirmation, both of the dry whites went down extremely well in the tastings I have presented over the last week (as did the 2009 Grappe d'Or, last evening in Grimsby). These are now available via the LSFineWines website, so if you have never tried them, give them a go - and prepare to be bowled over!

Clear, pale silvery-gold colour, with a lovely nose of freshly-cut lime, grass, nettles and pea pods. Very floral, too, redolent of spring flowers and elder blossom, dried herbs and a real sense of stony minerality. The flavours are intensely fresh and focused, zingy rather than pithy, with flavours of lime and lemon zest, hints of tart apple and a touch of peach. Medium-bodied, but with excellent concentration of fruit, wrapped around a core of intense minerality and quite breathtaking acidity. Subtle ginger and spice notes linger on a persistent, mouth-watering finish. If you appreciate delicate, nervy whites – light and fresh on the palate, yet with tremendous depth and complexity - then you will love this wine. Furthermore, whilst it is wonderful to drink on its own, it is also a superb match for all manner of foods. Wonderful to drink now, or over the next couple of years - and really benefits from plenty of air. Amazing quality/price ratio, and one of the finest bargains on our list.

Quite a deep, rich gold colour, courtesy of later harvesting than l'Estela (above) and 10 months in a mix of new and used barrels. This really is a spectacularly lovely and considerably complex wine, with such an evocative nose, combining baked apple and peach, lime oil, banoffee pie and brioche aromas, with intense minerality. Subtle hints of cinnamon, clove and fresh figs, together with beautifully-judged oak contribute even more layers of complexity. The palate shows a quite wonderful concentration of all that goes before it on the nose - at the same time fruity, honeyed and rich, yet simply loaded with intense minerality and nervy acidity, whilst a hint of wood and grape tannin adds depth and makes for a rounded, rich and supremely elegant wine. I would lay money on any lover of fine white Burgundy going a bundle on this and wondering why they pay such large sums of money, when they could have this for a fraction of the price. This really is a stunning wine. 14.0% abv. An absolute steal at £12.50.

Domaine de Montesquiou Grappe d'Or 2011 Jurançon
The grapes for this wine are harvested deep into November, by which time they have begun to dry on the vine, concentrating the flavours, whilst retaining all of the bracing acidity which is the hallmark of Petit Manseng. The colour is a very enticing shiny, rich yellow-gold. The nose has everything, from tangy lemon and lime oil, baked apples and apricots, through to figs, toffee, ginger and exotic spices and herbs. And it almost goes without saying that you can smell the minerality. The palate hits you with a mouthful of sweet, rich apricot and peach flavours, with a viscous but never gloopy texture, and all manner of fresh and preserved citrus and tree fruit flavours. And then, milliseconds later, you get that incredible wave of nervy acidity and steely minerality, followed by a warm, spice and ginger hit at the end. Not that anything sticks out, as it all comes together beautifully, in a wine that keeps you coming back for more. And with every sip, it reveals yet more layers of complexity and wonderfulness! This is the 7th vintage of this wine that I have had the pleasure of writing-up, and not one has ever failed to bowl me over. And this one is no different. I don't know that it is actually better than those that preceded it, but it is certainly as good. It really is a quite stunning wine, and one which I could never tire of drinking. 13.0% abv. One of the great bargains of the wine world at just £16.50 - for a whole 75cl bottle, not one of those silly halves!

Domaine de Montesquiou Vendanges Tardives 2010 Jurançon
Read my note on Grappe d'or (above) and then add on another month or so of hang time on the vines and a few more superlatives, and this is what you get. Several more notches up the ripeness scale, this really is a super-concentrated version. Pure 24 carat gold in colour, with a nose that possesses everything that Grappe d'Or has, along with candied fruits of all descriptions and colours, along with notes of toasted almonds, diesel and woodsmoke, basil and oregano. A hint of honey even suggests a touch of botrytis (on both the nose and palate) whilst the acidity is definitely more tangerine and seville orange than the lemon/lime of its sibling, still wonderfully bracing and tangy, but richer and fuller, and with all sorts of apple crumble, honeycomb, raisin and mixed spice things going on. In terms of richness, ripeness and balancing acidity (and simply as a guide, rather than a flavour comparison) I would liken it to a Mosel Trockenbeerenauslese - and at £28 for a full 75cl bottle, it really does provide amazing value for money. Plus of course it will keep for weeks, or even months in the fridge, once opened - if you can resist, that is! A quite extraordinarily lovely wine. 14.0% abv. £27.95.

More shortly...........