Writing about wine is like. . .

I think it was Elvis Costello who quipped ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ I pondered this glass in hand whilst my wife took me through the stark steps of the Le Corbusier polka. Music only stimulates one sense whereas wine is smelt, tasted and admired for its colour all of which have to be described. It is easy to mock wine writers for their purple prose, mixed metaphors, non-sequiturs and tautology but you try and taste hundreds of wines a week and then have something original to say about them. Auberon Waugh knew that the first duty of the wine writer is to entertain and only second to describe how the wine actually tasted. In the column that lost him his job at Tatler he wrote that his cousin’s house wine reminded him ‘of a bunch of dead chrysanthemums on the grave of a stillborn West Indian baby.’  A wine to be avoided then but wouldn’t you want to a least smell a wine that inspired such venom?

When I worked at Oddbins we had to write descriptions to go on the wine bottles. My colleague Matt came up with the immortal – ‘sturdier than Robert Mitchum’s trouser press’ for a Greek wine called the Gaia Estate Nemea. This is a perfect description as it entertains and tells you something about the wine – it will be powerful and masculine but with an easy charm. Compare this to Malcolm Gluck’s description of the same wine from his Guardian column: ‘the sexiest Greek red I’ve ever tasted. Its throaty berries and craggy tannins give it a joyous opening and a heroic finish.’ Not bad, it’s clearly the same wine. The craggy tannins do sound Mitchum-esque but the juxtaposition of ‘sexiest’, ‘throaty berries’ (whatever they are) and ‘joyous opening’ conjures up all kinds of vile images. It is off-putting in a way that Waugh’s isn’t.

I will leave you with another description from my Oddbins days. It tells you nothing about how the wine tastes and like Waugh’s may be offensive to readers looking to get offended. It was for the Weingut Reichgraf von Kesselstatt Graacher Himmelreich Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Riesling Kabinett 1998 and simply said: ‘no wonder they needed Lebensraum.’

Gaia Estate NemeaOddbins sadly no longer stocks their amazing range of Greek wines. I am going to do a Greek wine column soon as I love the stuff. Try Yamas Wines.

Reichgraf Von Kesselstatt – I am currently addicted to their dry Riesling 2009 which is a steal at £8.95 from the Wine Society. The single vineyard wines are even better especially in a vintage as good as 2009.

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About Henry

Henry Jeffreys was born in London. He has worked in the wine trade, publishing and is now a freelance journalist. He specialises in drink and his work has appeared in the Spectator, the Guardian, the Economist, the Financial Times, the Oldie and Food & Wine magazine. He was a contributor to the Breakfast Bible (Bloomsbury 2013) and his book Empire of Booze: British History through the Bottom of a Glass was published in November 2016.
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7 Responses to Writing about wine is like. . .

  1. Hey Henry,

    Will you be covering Portuguese wines any time soon? A long-time obsession of mine, and woefully under-represented in most wine retailers…

    Looking forward to the Greek wines too!

    A

  2. Pippa C says:

    I reckon I could interpret Antoni Gaudi in contemporary ballet, especially given enough Greek wine. It wouldn’t be elegant, but neither is Gaudi nor greek wine.

    Anyway, I’d like to urge you to check out some West Australian wines. My family are terribly patriotic about this. Famous/favourite wineries include Voyager, Leeuwin Estate, Capel Vale and Vasse Felix. There’s normally at least one of them available in Majestic, Waitrose or Oddbins.

  3. Henry says:

    Perhaps the Wines of Western Australia Marketing Board (WWAMB) would send me some bottles to try.

    Henry

  4. Anne says:

    Ah Henry, I really don’t know enough about Portuguese wine to really recommend a particular one. I can never find a wide enough range on sale anywhere to remember what the ones I have tried are…I am hoping you can get the Portuguese Wine People to send you some, then you can educate me! How’s that for a plan?

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