Why I write about wine (apart from the free wine)

I found this introduction that I wrote when I became Lady wine critic in 2011 (I was fired in 2015). It still holds up for why I write about wine though I did break my own promises many many types with spuriously seasonal columns such as “the sun’s out, it’s time for rosé (again)”.

It is customary for new wine writers about to plunge into this crowded field to start with a preamble about how they are going to be different from everyone else. New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik in his new book, The Table Comes First, thinks this is due to a lack of confidence in readers’ interest:

“No subject produces a literature so anxious, expressed not so much in its grandiosity as in its defensive jokiness and regular guydom. A book on wine will always begin with the assurance that it is not like all those other books on wine, even though all those other books on wine begin by saying that they’re not like those other books on wine, either.”

Nevertheless I hope that this column is going to be a bit different. I am not going to pretend that wine is actually very straightforward. It isn’t. It’s a vast and still mysterious subject which is why it is so interesting. Unfortunately for the general reader, many writers feel the need to demonstrate their education. I have a great advantage here of not knowing that much. I am learning the whole time but I will try to never bore readers with newly-acquired facts about precipitation levels and soil types. I will also avoid extensive tasting notes. Putting flavours into words will always be underwhelming unless you have the descriptive powers of Milton.

I was brought up with the vague idea that good wine was something important. Beyond muttering ‘playful but not extravagant’ after a sip of claret my father was, alas, not much help in educating me. It was in my local branch of Oddbins when I was at university where I first started to learn. I spent so much time there that they offered me a job. After two years in the wine trade, I moved into publishing – the two businesses have an affinity for each other – but kept up my burgeoning love affair with wine through drinking and reading everything I could on the subject. My favourite writers on wine are not professionals but enthusiastic amateurs such as Auberon Waugh, Kingsley Amis or Roger Scruton.  

Like the work of these three, the primary function of this monthly column is to entertain, the secondary is to recommend good things to drink and if we learn something that will be a happy side effect. I hope that readers will write in with queries or tell me when I have confused Verdelho with Verdejo (both are grape varieties the first grows mainly on Madeira the second in Rueda in Spain). I’ll avoid spurious seasonal hooks such as ‘it’s May it must be time for rosé.’ Christmas, however, I have no such qualms about using as a peg. It is, in my memory, inextricably linked to wine: the mid morning champagne; the cut crystal glasses, useless for tasting but so pretty on the table; the sediment on the side of the claret bottle; and  best of all port’s yearly outing.

I’ll be posting some Christmas recommendations soon. 


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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