Blogosphere Fractals: Buggering The Bumptious?
Wine Writing: Written Right Off?
Newspaper Columns: Dogfood Wrapper?
by PHILIP WHITE
“A good wine with a pleasant nose and balanced palate, a wine which could be drunk now and also put away with advantage for cellaring”, wrote Dr. Bryce Rankine of the Mitchelton cabernet sauvignon 1979 in the early ’eighties. Goodbye that's all he wrote. This was the nature of wine reviewing thirty short years ago.
While that was the total 1983 appraisal for Winestate by the leading academic at the great Roseworthy winemaking college, one could argue that it was a respected provincial academic’s opinion of an ordinary provincial red in a country a long long way from the rock’n’roll of the winebiz. So let’s head to the honeypot of those days: London, and check the wine writing of, say, the great Michael Broadbent, examining a wine of considerable provenance, the 1970 Chateau Mouton – Baron Philippe Rothschild, Pauillac, Bordeaux.
“Fairly quick developer,” Broadbent wrote, “very flavoury.”
And that was it. That’s from his Great Vintage Wine Book, Mitchell Beazley, 1980. I tasted with him and the bumptious Len Evans one year about then at the legendary Yalumba Museum Tasting, and was confounded by his inability to discuss or describe any of the great old wines the Hill Smiths had generously dragged out.
Now those weren’t typical reviews of the day, but such bland writing in the name of gastronomic appraisal was common. Since then, the gastroporn glossies have struggled to keep the form alive, whilst some of the more adventurous newspapers and wine mags went right out the other way for a while, and actually got adventurous.
But the curtains are coming down now on formal newspaper wine columns, if their shrinking size indicates anything. All over the English-speaking world, at least. While I don’t think the wine industry fully appreciates this, it has even less chance of understanding what’s suddenly happening in the digital ether.
The internet is jammed with wine blogs that offer the opposite of the above examples. Thousands of them. People simply start one and put their thoughts on it. These vary from rather risky reports from, say, a review of a licensed premises in Yemen, to the minutae of the entire drinking lives of some poor lost souls. Turn on a searcher, for, say “blogs - Australian wine”, and you can get hundreds per day. Search “chardonnay”, and you’ll be sick.
Unfortunately, most of the stuff on the blogosphere is patent claptrap. It’s opinion, sure, but it’s not the place to trawl thinly for facts. Facts are pretty scarce. But the opinion’s really on a roll.
It was the blogosphere which led to a certain unwinding of the influence of Robert Parker Jr., for example, as suddenly there were endless venues for people to disagree with him. The big newspapers know this in the USA: within the span of a couple of weeks of each other, it seemed every major US daily from one coast to the other recently ran pieces about how America was sick of big thick jammy wines beloved of the Parkerilla. These papers weren’t following each other. They were following the blogs, the first democratic forum for people who like wine. Throw a contrary trend into the ether, like no more big thick jammy wines, and the odds are that it’ll catch fire internationally within a week.
Along comes A Taste Of The World Of Wine. Revered academic Drs Patrick Iland and Peter Dry, of the University of Adelaide, have written this with Peter Gago, the Penfolds chief winemaker, and Andrew Caillard MW, the wine auctioneer who co-founded Langtons Fine Wine Auctions, which was recently sold to Woolworths for a motza. Iland is also the publisher.
While this looks and feels like an academic textbook - it’s not meant to be pretty – it is much more than a cold schoolroom tome. It’s essential. On my shelf, it’s already nudged in beside John Gladstone’s Viticulture and Environment (Winetitles), which could do with an update but is the key to Australia’s vineyards.
A Taste Of The World Of Wine starts when the vine was cut into two species after the Eurasian and American plates separated in the Pleistocene glaciations. It finishes, two hundred polished pages later, with an uncommonly intelligent treatise on the matching of food and wine. Between the two, these four masters of their realms take you on a tour of the vineyards, the countries, the varieties and the methods which I cannot find better addressed in any other single volume. Its chapters on ferments, on oak, and packaging have you dying of thirst just in time for the taste section. Then it whisks you back for an intensive session in the vineyard, and repeats the basics, but in much finer detail.
I’m sure this worthy local work is already finding its place in the hallowed halls of academe, but honestly, I think that a lot of people won’t need to spend years at the University – or on the internet - if they simply buy themselves a copy and get studying.
A Taste Of The World Of Wine, AU$59.95, www.piwpwinebooks.com.au, Dymocks, Imprints, Angas & Robinson, contains no cigarette advertising. It would probably look better if it did.