Reading ‘Evans on Earth’ (Lothian press 1992) a biography of Len Evans set off reflections on how the wine business has evolved since the 1960s. One curious feature of the last 50 years, related to the soaring popularity of wine, has been the great number of bloggers, writers and critics that have appeared to explain the meaning of wine. What news should they report, what do we need to know, what good wines have we missed; perhaps now they should they ask themselves something simpler, why do drinkers of day-to-day wines need any of their thoughts?
Australian consumers have moved on from 1962 when Evans penned ‘Cellarmaster’ for The Bulletin, as our first wine columnist and later in 1982 moved to the Womens Weekly to talk of wine to a larger audience.
The wine writer in The Australian, Nick Ryan, in January reviewed six new wine books on these topics; two about Bordeaux, Champagne, the autobiography of a wine merchant, ten wines to understand Australia, and an exotic wine thriller. Ryan explains that the true lover of wine likes to read about the topic. This may be so though my point is there is little to be learned about drinking well from these books. In 1978 Robert Parker began his newsletter the Wine Advocate (U.S.) to explain without fear or favour what subscribers should drink because he saw a conflict of interest in wine reviews that were often penned by sellers of wine. With the sense of duty of a lawyer and a liking for the consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Parker began a journey that after 20 years had reshaped the global wine trade. In the early 1980s the Melbourne merchant Paul De Berg Day, an imported wine specialist, changed from scoring wines his way to using Parker scores. I advised him against this as he would lose identity and as many others found Parker scores took over and ultimately controlled what they could buy and sell.
I now wonder whether the career of Parker has left us with nothing but inflated scores and leap-frogging prices. I also see a conformity in the opinions of writers to bloggers. The 5000 guests to the Bordeaux 2019 en primeur tasting did not arrive and leave to be critical of the wines. The initial impulse of Parker was to score without fear or favour though by 2021 I believe this is not possible. The more I look the more I see that what is written about wine supports the established system and thus distorts the pricing, so is of little help to customers.
The two Australian buying magazines The Wine and Spirit Buyers Guide (1975) and Winestate (1978) helped consumers to get going. Today you will do better going your own way. At Glug, Benjamin and I prefer to work with wine drinkers that can form their own judgement.