Friday, September 23, 2011


I was listening to Yvonne Lorkin, one of the wine commentators (critics) on Jim Mora's afternoon show on National Radio. She is a capable woman, not blessed with huge wine knowledge but enthusiastic and confident. Lorkin has managed in a few short years to get herself syndicated to a few publications where she selects wines for consumers. Now to give her credit she selects wines that are at least available and affordable, not like some ratbags who have tried to be so esoteric that to find the wines they have recommended you have to have the (unlisted) phone number of the importer.

While listening I came to the conclusion that the day of the wine writer, wine critic and wine recommender may well be over. Years ago when good wine was scarcer and when the whole bloody wine business was a minefield for the uneducated (I knew someone in the industry who used to say: "there are only two types of wine buyers - the insecure and the very insecure"), wine writers were helpful in guiding consumers to the source. Nowadays, with radically changed distribution channels that have led to the dominance of supermarket selling of wine, there is not so much consumer choice for if your local supermarket doesn't stock the wine you want or have had recommended you are stuffed. No matter how well it is written up by a wannabe writer if you can't find it easily you are hardly likely to contact the producer to find out where to get it from. Nowadays that is. Years ago when I first entered the wine industry, when a new shipment of top notch European or Australian wines were on the way (let alone landed) you had to be in the know to pre-order them from the wholesaler/importer who was in those days also the retailer. What was left over hit the shelves and was usually not worth bothering about.  Wine scribes were useful in giving the nod. The same went for the early examples of good New Zealand wine. We have all heard about the early offerings of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from McWilliams and later Montana and Nobilo but if you didn't cosy up to your wholesaler you missed out.
Nowadays there are so many good examples of New Zealand and Australian wine that, because of standardisation, bulk production, wine-swapping amongst companies and professional winemakers and viticulturists changing companies and moving about, are often, at the commercial price points, virtually the same. A wine writer talking about XYZ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc could just as well be recommending ZYX Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Often it doesn't matter.
Blah, blah, blah

Unfortunately if a wine writer today was to talk about a particularly good French, Italian, Spanish or American wine the chances are that you will never find it to buy. The supermarket chains won't be stocking it. The Wholesale/retail chains of yesteryear are not interested and, if you live in Northland, Southland or most major regions outside of Auckland or Wellington you won't be handy to the 'specialist' importer/retailer who has it.
OK. Back to the premise. To be legitimate as a wine writer, wine commentator or wine critic today it is no longer adequate to just mention wine names and companies and rate them by stars, points or grades, there is something else needed. This is information but with some excitement added. There is only so much room for the academic approach and this is very ably covered by the likes of Michael cooper and Bob Campbell (and, for the good aspect of esoteric - Geoff Kelly). Stories, experiences and fun is what we want, not endless lists of 'what I tried with dinner; who I was talking to; who wants or has paid to have their bloody name/brand/company in my publication type of stuff. Give me more of Sue Courtney's ramblings or even Keith Stewart's acerbic exposes. What I am really looking for is an A.A. Gill type writer to be based in New Zealand and stir us all up.


Richard (of RBB) said...

A quiet Saturday, was it?

THE WINE GUY said...

Actually Richard it was Friday night.
Are you really going to come and visit? Please let me know so we can arrange to be out (of the country).