There’s an article by Craig Brown (the humourist not the former Scotland football manager) about being present at the one and only meeting between Anthony Burgess and Benny Hill. Apparently it was not a great success. Though the two great artists admired each other’s work they could not find any common ground: Burgess wanted to talk about comedy and Hill wanted to talk about literature. Specialists often want to talk about almost anything else apart from their area of expertise. This is common in all walks of life except it would seem wine writing. Wine writers only talk about wine. Compare two writers for the Times for example: on the restaurant page Giles Coren pontificates about whatever he feels like with the actual food coming far down his list of priorities whereas Jane McQuitty sticks to recommending wine with not a mention of her hell-raising days at Studio 54*.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. There is a wonderful purity about reading someone who really knows their subject and writes about it to the exclusion of everything else. I like that Tim Atkin et al don’t blether on about their private lives (unless of course they were interestingly scandalous) or use their columns as a platform to opine Archbishop of Canterbury-like on the failures of the Coalition. And God forbid that wine should ever have the Observer Food Monthly treatment with its celebrity lifestyle nonsense. But it does seem odd how wine seems to exist in a bubble cut off from politics, culture and the minutia of everyday life. Occasionally it ventures out to look at global warming, tax rises or a black workers co-op in South Africa but mostly its nose is firmly planted in a glass.
This is fine if you are Jancis Robinson and have a large wine-literate audience to talk to. One of the joys of her website is feeling that you are part of a knowledgeable club. But other mainstream writers have the difficulty of not knowing quite how interested their readers are in what is a complicated subject. Inevitably many fall between two stools: one being too winey for the general reader; the other being not winey enough for the wine bore. Perhaps newspapers wouldn’t be cutting their wine pages if there was someone who wrote not to impart knowledge and recommend but merely to entertain. After all who reads AA Gill to decide where to eat?
* This is a joke. To my best knowledge Jane McQuitty never raised hell at Studio 54.