Dave Jones’ Cafe Beat

Food & Drink Opinions - July 7th, 1989
Number Three James Street’: on wine writers

In my opinion, the best wine merchant in the business is Berry Bros. & Rudd at No. 3 St. James’s Street, London. That’s where I buy my wines and cognacs.

But they are more than wine merchants. They are wine consultants and will help you select the wines you need if you need help. They arc solicitous of their customers and will store their wines for a paltry fee in ideal conditions.

“How surprised the old school of wine writers like Andre Simon. H. Warner Allen and Maurice Healy would be if they could see the extent of the readership and influence enjoyed by their modern suc­cessors. Not only do books on every aspect of wine flow con­tinually from the presses, but most of our newspapers, colour supplements and magazines now carry regular columns re­porting on current tastings, reviewing the latest offerings and advising readers on the best buys to be had from mer­chants, chain stores and super­markets. The wine writer has joined the ranks of the book reviewers, fashion experts and entertainment critics as a force in shaping popular taste.

“It is all part of the tremen­dous growth of interest in wine, and from the trade’s point of view we must count ourselves fortunate in having so many authors and journal­ists in this country who have made a serious study of wine and are able to share their enthusiasm with a wide audi­ence.

‘They are carrying on a well established tradition, be­cause Britain has a history of good wine writing. Like the trade itself, our writers have benefited from the fact that this country has for centuries been an importer and not a producer of wine and has therefore been able to draw its supplies impartially from all the best sources, becoming the acknowledged wine capital of the world. This has helped our writers to acquire a very broad knowledge of the subject, whereas their counterparts in wine-growing countries have tended to be more parochial and concentrate mainly on the local production.

“From the days of Profes­sor George Saintsbury, British wine writers have commanded international respect—and this remains true today (even if the French still find it hard to accept that women loom so large in the profession over here!). In recent years our journalists have done a par­ticularly useful job of educat­ing the drinking public about the excellent wines now com­ing from California, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, as well as the “new” wines emerging from lesser known areas of Europe.

“Meanwhile the ‘democrati­zation’ of wine has brought about a noticeable change of style in writing on the sub­ject. Andre Simon, Maurice Healy, H. Warner Allen and their contemporaries were, by and large, addressing a fairly small readership and one that could be assumed to know comparatively little about par­ticular regions and their wine-making methods.

“These authors generally took a sauntering, anecdotal approach to the subject, well embellished with local colour and topographical details. Above all, they were able to take a long-term view of the vineyards and wines they de­scribed, since they were writing for a readership — usually in books or annual publications— that did not expect snap judge­ments.

“The new breed of wine writer is altogether more busi­nesslike, since he (in which we also, pace the feminists, in­clude she) has to a considerable extent taken over the tradition­al role of the merchant in re­commending what to buy. He can take for granted much of the background that an earlier generation felt obliged to fill in and give more of his space to reviewing what is currently on offer, how much it costs and where it can be obtained. At the same time, with a weekly or monthly deadline to meet, today’s wine journalist has less time to digest his im­pressions and compose his thoughts — which is where friction sometimes arises be­tween the wine trade and its scribes.

“Like the publisher or author of a book, the supplier of wine naturally hopes to get a good review of his largest product and is understandably put out if something he is proud of gets a poor write-up – and equally boast about is picked out as his best offering.”