My Round: Wine writers

Richard Ehrlich on wine, women, and so much bull
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Indy Lifestyle Online

At the level of the everyday consumer, there are two sides to this story. One side is the fact that most wine - around 50-60 per cent - is bought by women, and that women have been shown by decades of scientific research to be, on average, better tasters than men. The other side is that traditional wine connoisseurship (and I use the word "traditional" advisedly) is the province of men. Males go in for the geeky, self-important type of wine appreciation that also propels them in the direction of Porsche Spyders, white-water rafting, and other manly pursuits. Knowing the difference between Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet gives a similar feeling of omnipotence to that derived from skiing off-piste.

I know I'm talking in vast generalities here, but they're not far off the mark - not in my experience, anyway. Where many men seek out wine knowledge as a way of impressing others, women who know their stuff go about it more quietly and with more practical aims in mind. They regard wine with a proper mixture of respect and frivolity - it is, after all, a source of enjoyment rather than high seriousness. And they're disinclined to take themselves too seriously whatever their level of expertise.

Recent years have seen an increasing number of publications aimed at women. Susy Atkins's Girl's Guide to Wine and Kitty Johnson's Wine: A Woman's Guide are both down-to-earth beginner's books from UK writers, written with a twinkle in the eye but presenting sound information (and usable by both sexes, needless to say). In the USA there's a comparable book, Wine for Women: A Guide to Buying, Pairing, and Sharing Wine by Leslie Sbrocco. The emphasis in both is on how to choose and use the stuff, rather than on the minutiae. And I'm all in favour of that. But I wonder how far the idea can be taken, and whether there's really going to be a demand for a new magazine launching in (where else?) the USA.

The mag is a bi-monthly called Wine Adventures and I have yet to see a copy, so I may be talking through my hat. But an article on the subject in Salon.com, by its excellent wine correspondent Mike Steinberger, suggests otherwise. He says that the magazine was initially aimed at readers of both sexes. The target: those who are unmoved by US wine writers such as Robert Parker, who give deeply detailed tasting notes and ratings out of 100. A marketing genius later suggested targeting women only, and maybe he or she is right.

But I don't think so. I agree with Steinberger when he says: "it seems odd that the woman wine-drinker has somehow become a proxy for ordinary wine consumers of both genders. To suggest that women have a distinct set of grievances about how wine is critiqued ignores the fact that quite a few men are equally disaffected..." He says it's a "consumer gap" rather than a "gender gap", and I have a feeling that he's right. Showing off one's wine knowledge may be largely a male failing. But that doesn't mean that all men do it, or that the yearning for a straight, sensible vocabulary is confined to females. We all need it. Maybe women are just sensible enough to recognise the need, and to ask for wine writing that meets it.

American reds, North and South

Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (£6.49, Asda) From this newly spruced-up range, a fine Cabernet showing the right cassis fruit and generous but judicious oak treatment. Very impressive.

Dona Dominga Carmenere Reserva 2002 (£6.99, Sainsbury's) A really fine example of Chile's star grape variety, massively-proportioned and spice-rich, but all in balance. Fantastic value. Snap it up.

Clos de Reynard 2004 (£8.99, M&S) A multi-regional Californian blend of southwestern-French varieties made by the remarkable Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon fame. Densely concentrated, unapologetically tannic. A treasure.

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