wa2.gif (4241 bytes)

abut9.gif (3095 bytes)

abut12.gif (3207 bytes)
abut10.gif (3636 bytes)

abut11.gif (4039 bytes)


Part 4
The failure of the wine press

This section puts me in a difficult position. I’m very much a beginner in the field of wine journalism, and I’m reluctant to write what could be seen to be an attack on fellow members of the Circle of Wine Writers, many of whom are much better writers than I am and almost all of whom have far more experience than I do. But what I’m about to say needs to be said, and so I apologise in advance to those who feel stung by it. It is not meant personally. Here goes…

The wine press, by and large, have failed to speak out against the soulless uniformity of branded wines. There are exceptions, such as Andrew Jefford and Tim Atkin, but the majority of  journalists and publications have been so overawed by the economic power, prevalence and success of the brands that they have joined in with uncritical applause. They are like the neutrals at a sporting event who wait to see which way the game is going before deciding which team to cheer for. There are very few in the wine press who are prepared to plough their own furrow and go out on a limb alone (forgive the awful mixed metaphors here); the press tend to hunt in packs with an eye on who else is recommending what. We’ve therefore ended up in the dreadful situation where the very people who should have been protecting consumers from the dreadful blandness and uniformity of branded wines have betrayed their readers and been busy promoting these soulless brands with gusto.

Newspaper wine columns seem to be a threatened species at the moment. There are several reasons for this, but perhaps one of the contributing factors is that the newspaper wine hacks have done themselves out of a job. By and large they’ve been supportive of wine brands. In an attempt to appeal to a wide audience their recommendations have been largely restricted to inexpensive, widely available wines: they are targeted deliberately at a ‘general’ audience. But are general readers interested in reading about uninteresting branded wines? If that’s all they are looking for they hardly need to read a wine column. Branded wines fill the supermarket shelves: if you want a taste-alike Chardonnay for around £5 the best advice is probably to see what’s on special at the gondola end of your local supermarket wine display. If all newspaper wine columns are doing is telling you where to buy dull-but-safe wine at discount, it’s akin to a travel writer focusing solely on package holidays at Mediterranean beach resorts. No wonder they’re being axed. 

But let's try to be even handed. This difficulty with newspaper wine columns may simply reflect deficiencies in the genre of communication. If anyone is attempting to communicate wine to a general audience, they have to make what they say accessible to people without specialist knowledge, and if they are going to recommend wines, it helps if those wines are generally available. So it could be that anyone writing a newspaper wine column is forced into a bit of a corner, and what we see is skilled professionals trying to do their best job with a rather difficult set of constraints forced upon them.  

See also 

Back to top
November 2002