My Round: Which country's wine could we live without?

(Clue: it's overrated, over-priced and over here)
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Here's a hypothetical that I e-mailed to eight of the UK's most distinguished wine journalists. "A new weapon of mass destruction has been developed that is not harmful to humans but does destroy vines. There is just one batch of this weapon and it can only be used on a single country. My question: which nation's vines would you be least sorry to see destroyed? Putting it another way: whose wines would you be least sorry never to drink again?"

Here's a hypothetical that I e-mailed to eight of the UK's most distinguished wine journalists. "A new weapon of mass destruction has been developed that is not harmful to humans but does destroy vines. There is just one batch of this weapon and it can only be used on a single country. My question: which nation's vines would you be least sorry to see destroyed? Putting it another way: whose wines would you be least sorry never to drink again?"

I stipulated that I was asking about major producing nations whose reputation is based, at least in part, on "fine" wine and not merely on serviceable quaffers. I also told everyone they would be replying in confidence, "so you can be as rude as you like" (which is, I suppose, another way of saying: "the ruder the better").

Seven writers replied. Some wrote just a few sentences, some a few paragraphs; one sent a short, passionate essay which was delightfully libellous to at least two people. The results of their voting? A split decision: three for the US (meaning California), three for Australia and one for Chile.

There isn't enough space to print all their amusing points, but I'll quote some extracts, to let the pros state the cons of their chosen candidate for annihilation. I'll leave out Chile, which in my view doesn't have enough of a fine-wine reputation to deserve the big bomb, and focus this week on the arguments of the anti-Californiatics.

Few had anything nice to say about Californian wine in general. "There is so much fuss made over the collectability and supreme quality of many of the wines made in the USA," writes one of the nay-sayers, "yet every time I cobble together the tenners to buy a bottle of Parkerised, allocation-only, super-boutique Cabernet, I am completely underwhelmed."

This correspondent is referring to California's over-generous supply of hugely expensive wines, few of which would hold their own against comparably priced bottles from France or Italy. They often appear to be made to a formula designed to please Robert Parker, the American wine commentator whose approval can make the fortunes of a wine before it's even out of the new oak barrels that he regards as essential. The point is echoed by every other California-schemer. "Although there are exceptions," writes one, "I find Californian wines overblown, overdone, cloying and frequently oversweet plus over-priced at the top end."

The other end of the California market comes in for equally unflattering attack. "Bye bye Gallo," one writer puts it succinctly. "There is too much wine in the world. Californian is responsible for an awful lot of it, and charges too much for it, even at the bottom end." Writes another: "The USA has two levels of quality, 1) appalling and cheap and 2) good but horrendously expensive. Getting value for money is impossible."

California has been allowed to live complacently because most Americans, when they bother to drink wine at all, drink Californian wine. On the world market things are tougher. "Australia's main point is that it has managed to bring wine to masses of people with its simple, straightforward flavours and presentation, and a kind of universal quality that climbs in proportion to price paid, from £3.50 to £20, in easy stages. The US had a 20-year head start on Australia but doesn't appear to have made as much progress."

A final note, while waiting for next week's anti-Australia brigade to have its say, this from a winemaker in California. He wasn't interviewed for this exercise, but once said: "Why would anyone in Europe want to drink Californian wines, when they can drink French and Italian?" My correspondents can't answer him, apparently. *

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