Monday, 7 December 2009

Wine and sexism

Earlier this year, a woman called Lucy Wadham wrote a book about marrying a Frenchman and moving to France, only to discover that she didn't like France and that her husband was having affairs with their friends. A Times review of the book concluded thus:

Along the way she’s fallen in and out of love with France several times, proving that nations and their inhabitants defy generalisations. I ended up concluding that Wadham hadn’t, after all, married into the wrong country, just into the wrong milieu with the wrong guy.

It was this ending that sprang to mind as, in horror, I read a Canadian piece on men and women and their differing approach to wine. At first I started out a little worried, and gradually grew more and more aghast as the piece went on. Halfway through I wondered if it was a very clever piece of satire. But I finished wishing we lived in a matriarchy. In fact, I haven't read anything quite so worrying for a long time.

The title of Jeff Heinrich's piece is What Women Want (wine wise). Here. Enjoy:

A lot of women live for the moment, for what can be consumed now, for what's good even if it's cheap, and that's the way I think it should be.

How many women can you insult in one sentence - and, at the same time, majestically pronounce yourself in favour of this?


I got ample proof of the male-female divide a week ago at Montréal Passion Vin. Not only do the two sexes appreciate wine differently, I learned, they also talk about it differently.

The men I met enjoy ranking wines on a scale of 100. One wanted to know how many bottles I've got in my cellar (for the record, it's 150). These guys call a merlot "feminine," a cabernet "masculine," and describe an imperfect vintage as like a woman's face: a few wrinkles add character.

Women, I found, aren't nearly so competitive or obsessed with naming what's in their glass. For them, it's all about the pleasure. They're full of questions that accentuate the positive. Is this wine good? Does that one taste like the part of the globe it's from? Can I meet the person who made this assemblage? Is there any food - please! - to go with this grand cru?

I can't work out whether or not Jeff is deriding the practice of comparing the number bottles in one's cellar, but he's just done it. One hundred and fifty, eh? I began to worry about Jeff's portrayal of men.

And 'a few wrinkles add character'? Ah, the male pontification on beauty... One presumes the best vintages are like a perfectly-formed, barely legal Czech model for Chanel? If I had a penny for every time I'd heard a French winemaker say somthing similar...

And the third paragraph? If that really is a snapshot of the people at the tasting, you can't begin to name the places I'd rather be than in that room. Sitting on a fondue heater while being forced to listen to the full production of Oliver! was as far as I got.

Then I read about Alexandre Kalos:

[He] brought a date a generation or two younger than him.

"Madame is coming here for the first time - it's an initiation for her," said Kalos, who entered the raffle for a case of Cheval Blanc, one of the world's most expensive Bordeaux wines. He visited the vineyard in the 1990s and has a photo of him riding the famous white horse.

"I'm an amateur of good wine and beautiful women," Kalos said. "I'm sharing my joy and my pleasure."

After several minutes' shuddering, there were some unpleasant facts to face. Firstly, this was obviously real life. Secondly, I'm sure there are people out there like that; I know, for a fact, that wine is compared, day in, day out, to a woman's wrinkles or her breasts or any part of her anatomy but her brain. I realised that hanging around in that kind of company had skewed Jeff's article.

I thought of the Times review. Women, of course, defy generalisations and Jeff hadn’t, after all, walked into the wrong debate, just into the wrong milieu with the wrong people. I do not seek to excuse the amazingly sexist article, it merely draws the wrong conclusions.

Lastly, it more than proves that (male) wine writers should stay well away from the gender debate. It's not doing 'us' any favours.

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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Wine and snobbery

It was like watching two children in an 'I know more than you do' argument.

In the Seattle PI Steve Body, who writes as 'The Pour Fool' (why oh why oh why are we subjected to these appalling puns?) attacked 'some knucklehead' for berating the number of non-estate bottled wines in the USA.

I'm going to withhold the name of the author because taking a shot at him, here, under MY byline, is nearly as bad a choice as his uninformed rant.

So I'll spare you the trawling: the 'knucklehead' was Keith Wallace in The Daily Beast: How wine became like fast food.

Both articles are excruciatingly long, so I'll paraphrase.

Firstly, Wallace has got a few points and to be fair to him, he seems to have done some research and phoned a few people up. He says that the top 30 brands in the US are not the quaint, little, family-produced wineries we associate with winemaking. Most of us knew that, but never mind. His further points are (a) that some of the top US wines (including Au Bon Climat, Pahlmeyer, etc) are, or were once made, in custom crush facilities, not at an actual winery, (b) some wineries are creating white label wines (a phenomenon not restricted to the US) and (c) that looking for a wine that was made by a 'real person, in a real winery', was getting harder and harder.

Body attacked this. I wont resume his 2,300 word rant - it merely said that Wallace's points were misguided, that it isn't worth getting your knickers in a twist about this. And in many senses he's right. For instance, I'm not in the least bit worried that Au Bon Climat was/is/will be made in a custom crush facility, and I'm well aware that Yellow Tail is a family-run brand.

What worried me greatly about Body's article was the inverse snobbery that was its conclusion:

"What grapes are in this blend?" I asked.

"Do this wine?" Riccardo replied.

"Oh, very much, every vintage," I smiled.

He smiled and nodded.

"Then what do you care?" he beamed. And gave me one of those eloquent Italian shrugs.


It was like reading Jonathan Nossiter's epiphany. I had the reading equivalent of a double take. I like the wine, so I don't need to ask questions about it. What?

It's precisely because I like wines that I want to know more about them, where they came from, what's in them. If I didn't mind, didn't care, just enjoyed it, I wouldn't have got past Gallo. I'd still think Paul Masson wines were cool because their bottles were shaped like a vase.

That doesn't mean that all cheap, mass-produced wines are bad. Tesco makes (made?) a great blended white for under £5 that hit all the spots. It was fantastically good for the price. Wouldn't you want to know a bit more about that wine?

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