67 Pall Mall goes up in the world (including full online wine list)

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67 Pall Mall goes up in the world (including full online wine list)

London's club for wine lovers, 67 Pall Mall, has now been operating for just over two years. Last month, they opened a new upstairs floor which doubles their capacity and provides a much-needed casual space for drinks and food. (Unlike downstairs, jackets are not required, but there is still a ban on sportswear, ripped jeans, gym shoes etc).

The club room bar

The club room bar

The club room, as the upstairs is known, seats 93 in a cleverly designed space that has several different sections. The horseshoe bar is the main feature, with an assortment of tables and chairs around it. There's a large oak boardroom table high stools, and a coal fire with easy chairs.

The boadroom table and below the mirror behind it, the marble fireplace

The boadroom table and below the mirror behind it, the marble fireplace

Towards the back of the room is a smaller, more private section of tables and chairs which can be commandeered for book launches and the like, then a final cubby-hole known as the naughty corner, which features a mini cocktail bar and saucy pictures on the walls.

The smaller section

The smaller section

The way to the naughty corner

The way to the naughty corner

This extra space has made a huge difference to the usability of the club, which could frequently be overcrowded in the bar and mezzanine for those who hadn't booked a table. The lounge (downstairs) remains unchanged, serving a full menu and requiring bookings; the club room (upstairs) is unbookable and serves a different menu from a dedicated kitchen.

The by-the-glass lists are different too, though have similarly big range. Both are accessed via tablets, and can therefore be found online, using these links:

WINE LIST FOR THE 67 PALL MALL LOUNGE (DOWNSTAIRS)
WINE LIST FOR THE 67 PALL MALL CLUB ROOM (UPSTAIRS)

It's very useful being able to look at the wine list in advance! Top tip: hover your mouse to the right of the wine name to see how much is available. (Often there will be fewer than two glasses left.)

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Compared to last year, I've been using the club much less in 2017. About half as much, in fact, though my average spend has doubled. That means I've been in around 25 times and spent about £2,000 (including the annual fee of £750). That's pretty small fry compared to some many of the spending I've seen in there, but it represents pretty good value for me.

Talking of which, the wine list is full of outstanding buys. Some of my highlights this year have been:

  • Château Tahblik Shiraz 1999 Nagambie Lakes, £7
  • Domaine de la Côte, La Côte Pinot Noir 2013 Sta Rita Hills, £17
  • J L Chave Sélection, Offerus 2013 St-Joseph, £11
  • Julien Pilon, Lône 2014 Condrieu, £8.50
  • Dom St-Prefert, Collection Charles Giraud 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, £8.50
  • M Chapoutier, Chante-Alouette 2015 Hermitage, £11
  • Two Paddocks Riesling 2105 Central Otage, £7

For me, the club has become indispensible as a place to meet colleagues and friends for drinks and meetings, or as a quiet place to work during the day. The food keeps getting better, and the kitchen seems proficient at everything from steak to Thai-style salads. And the staff are, without fail, professional, welcoming and superbly efficient.

Is 67 Pall Mall a perfect 100-pointer, then? Not quite. The biggest bugbear is the amount of time it takes to get served. This is perhaps an unavoidable consequence of a huge list and using the Coravin, but it isn't uncommon to sometimes have to wait ten minutes to get your wine in front of you. Regarding food, I'd still like to see a fixed-price menu option. Otherwise, the reception and cloakroom area can get congested at peak times and I'd like better filtering/sorting options in the wine list - arranging search results by price or vintage, for example.

But these are small gripes and overall, I am very impressed. What amazes me now is how we ever managed without a place which has now become a London wine institution.

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Writing a book part 27 - a new deadline

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Writing a book part 27 - a new deadline

After taking a month off (to write an entry for this competition), I have returned to first draft of my book, and it's not as awful as I thought. In fact, I'm quite pleased with the last few chapters and the ending - perhaps only because they seem to need minimal rewriting. 

Elsewhere, however, much more is needed. Chapter 19 didn't exist apart from a few notes, so I'm currently writing that. Then I will start rewriting from the beginning, working from the printed copy of my first draft, which I have been annotating. 

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I've also decided to swap the order of two chapters, and completely delete chapter one. I'm now not sure how the book will start, and how much extra I will have to write. The word count is pretty low - currently under 65,000 words, which is short for a novel. I had originally intended to reach 80,000 but the idea of having to write an additional 25% of the existing book seems way too time-consuming.

As things stand, I hope to have the second draft finished by March 2018. At that point, the intention is to start sending it to agents and publishers. (I say that like I know what it actually involves. I suppose it starts, as all things do, with Google.)

There are a few people I have a vague connections to that could potentially give me some leads, but I'm quite looking forward to sending it out unsolicited to get some reaction and feedback. I reserve the right to change my opinion on this based on the nature of the reaction and feedback.

But before that, there is plenty to do to get it into shape.

 

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Everything I wrote in November

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Everything I wrote in November

November saw my Rhône en primeur coverage published on JancisRobinson.com, which took up most of my time. In other news, A Glass With was selected for Spotify - one of only three wine-related podcasts on the platform! Olly and I are busy planning more episodes for the new year.

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What's in my Eurocave 2017

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What's in my Eurocave 2017

When I bought my Eurocave over two years ago, the intention was to keep some bottles long term, but to have at least 25% ready to drink. There have generally always been a few spare slots as I drank various bottles and bought new ones on a whim. Last month, however, I filled every spare slot, so I figured now would be a good time to audit what I've got and provide a few selected highlights.

Of the nine wines I mention in December 2015, only three are still present. So much for keeping wines long term. They are: 

  • Samsara, Rancho La Viña Pinot Noir 2012 St Rita Hills
  • Cien y Pico, Doble Pasta 2009 Manchuela
  • Damianitza, Uniqato Rubin 2010 PGI Thracian Lowlands

I'm endeavouring to not open them until at least ten years after their vintage. Based on my prowess so far, that isn't very likely. However, there are plenty of others to drink in the meantime ...

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The Taylors 1985 was a recent purchase from The Wine Society - at £75, this is a massive bargain, and I intend to open it this winter. The Schloss Johannisberg Rotlack Riesling Feinherb is a 2013 and should keep for years, but I reckon about five years old will be just to my taste - not too oily, still full of fruit. I bought a bottle of Solace Syrah in Edinburgh earlier this year and it blew me away. It's made by Iona, and is genuinely one of the best Syrahs I've had all year. When I saw it for £21 from The Wine Society, I bought three more. And Norman Hardie Chardonnay is one of my all-time favourites. Olly Smith gave me this bottle in this podcast episode.

Then there's a bunch of bottles that I will try and keep a bit longer, if I can.

The Janasse Vieille Vignes Châteauneuf was a gift from the singers in Skin Côntact LIVE AGAIN so has great sentimental value. I intend to open on the ten-year anniversary of the gig (12 May 2026). I got lucky with the Château Figeac, which came in a random case of bottles bought from the Institute of Masters of Wine when they were clearing out ready for their office move. The 2016 Assyrtiko de Mylos was the last vintage made by Harry Hatzidakis before he tragically died this year, so I will open that in his honour in the next few years. And the Jamet Côte-Rôtie 2010 is pretty much my ultimate wine. The 2010 vintage is going for around £150 per bottle today - way beyond my usual price range (this bottle was a gift).

Oh, and that random bottle of sake? I finally chucked it away last week. The bottle was leaking and it had turned yellow.

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How to get a job in the wine industry 2017

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How to get a job in the wine industry 2017

Since I first wrote this post two years ago, the principles of getting a job in wine haven't really changed. But because that article has become one of the most popular on my blog, I wanted to provide an revised version. What follows are my top tips for how to get a job in the wine industry right now, and an updated resources section.

This advice isn't the only way to get a job in the wine trade, but it covers the most common experiences that most people have in the UK. (If you want to read about how I did it, see here.)

  1. Start at the bottom of the ladder. This could apply to any career, of course, but for the UK wine industry it means working in retail, B2B sales or hospitality. (Increasingly, there is the option to work in production too - although these jobs tend to require specific training and are generally over-subscribed). Entry-level jobs are rarely glamorous and never well paid, but they will get you crucial experience - and contacts - in the business. There's no substitute for learning the basics the hard way.
  2. Learn about wine. Many people are attracted to the wine industry because they already love wine, but learning about it to a professional standard requires serious commitment. Taking WSET courses is virtually a prerequisite, but you should also be reading books, magazines and websites as well as tasting as much as possible. If that sounds like a hardship, the wine industry probably isn't for you!
  3. Be flexible. Developing a career in wine can require relocations, unsociable hours and low wages. It's usually easier to do this relatively early in your career, but either way, you need to be prepared to make sacrifices and adapt to whatever opportunities come your way.
  4. Go where the money is. Rightly or wrongly, there will always be more opportunities to work in wine (especially fine wine) wherever disposable income is highest. For the UK, that means London and a few other large cities.
  5. Keep the faith! The wine trade is competitive and oversubscribed. Having a successful career requires commitment and longevity. It isn't always easy, but the perks - the travel, the people, and most of all, loads of delicious wine - are usually enough to convince most of us that it's a great industry to work in. So good luck!

USEFUL RESOURCES

WINE TRADE JOB ADVERTS

These sites are the main UK-based wine jobs boards and are all reputable and trustworthy sources.

OTHER ADVICE

  • Master of Wine James Cluer wrote this blog about getting into the wine industry in 2017
  • This 2016 post from Craft Beverage Jobs is particular relevant to woking in the US wine industry
  • The WSET careers path page contains descriptions of 19 important roles in the wine industry. There's also a series of blogs going in to more details about specific wine jobs.
  • Wine Folly have a post from 2015 giving the US perspective on wine careers, including salary expectations
  • This 2008 article from The Independent has useful guidelines to working with wine
  • Decanter wrote this article in 2003 which is still relevant, if out of date

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Writing a book part 26 - half-time hiatus

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Writing a book part 26 - half-time hiatus

My work on the novel has ground to a halt - I'm telling myself this is a deliberate and temporary ploy, but there's a niggling doubt that it might be more than that. The reasons are simple: firstly that I've been away travelling for a fortnight, during which time I (intentionally) didn't take the first draft with me to proof read; and secondly, that I've now reached the end of the first half anyway - and have realised how much rewriting is required.

Worse still, the rewriting is needed because what I've already written is so poor in places. There are long sections which I thoroughly dislike and which need to be cut and started afresh. This is a depressing thought, and a drawn-out process, which makes me question how committed I am to seeing it through. Do I want to spend another year writing this book? Or even longer? For what purpose?

One of the original motivations I had was to simply to see if I can indeed finish a complete novel. I'm under no illusions as to its likelihood making any money from it - but I still wanted to achieve the goal. Right now, however, I am enjoying the break from it - and distracting myself by writing something totally different instead - an entry to the Mogford Prize short story competition.

Next month, I will return to the novel. But I can't be sure if my feelings will have become much more positive.

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Everything I wrote in October

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Everything I wrote in October

For two weeks this October I was travelling in the Rhône valley, tasting the 2016 vintage and taking notes for publication soon on JancisRobinson.com. In the meantime, here's the other writing I've been doing.

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Decanter gets a paywall

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Decanter gets a paywall

This month, Decanter.com quietly announced that it is launching a premium service, which will offer access to wine reviews and online versions of the print magazine articles, as well as priority booking for their tasting events.

There is still plenty of free content on the site - the perennially popular Jefford on Monday column, for example - but much of the material which was preciously free to access online is now available only to subscribers. 

It's tough to change a model from free to fee, and I'd guess that a large number of existing visitors won't bother paying the £75 per year (or £10 per month) subscription. But speaking as someone who makes a living from wine writing, it is important that Decanter Premium succeeds.

Whatever you think of the magazine, it is the last remaining dedicated mainstream consumer wine title in the UK, and it would be a portentous moment for the industry if it failed. Everyone knows how hard it has been for print media in the internet era, but Decanter managed to stay profitable (one of the few Time Inc brands to do so, I gather) via events such as the Fine Wine Encounter and the Decanter World Wine Awards.

But for the written content to succeed - which is, after all, the original purpose of the brand - they clearly need to charge for access. Perhaps this is part of a wider shift towards subscription-based content online, as media providers realise that advertising alone is financially unsustainable. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if future generations will look back at the first 20 years of the internet with amazement at how much was given away for free. Perhaps we are finally realising - both as consumers and professionals - that paying for quality content online is imperative.

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The problem of tasting

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The problem of tasting

Last week, I wrote 465 tasting notes on (mostly) red wines from the 2016 vintage in the southern Rhône. This is less of a boast than a plea for sympathy. At an average of 116 per day, it was an onslaught on the senses, and brought up the perennial problem of how to taste wine in the most efficient yet fair manner.

This applies to any tasting situation, but is especially pertinent for en primeur tasting. With young southern Rhône reds, the volume of alcohol, tannin and fruit quickly becomes problematic. The result is a seriously impeded ability to assess every wine properly. Tannin build-up leaves the mouth parched and astringent, alcohol dumbs cognition, and flavours start becoming samey. And on top of all this, there is the increasing difficulty of writing notes which are concise, informative and avoid excess repetition.

After 50-60 wines the cumulative effect is very challenging. I know - oh, boo-hoo. Professionals should surely be able to get used to it and get the job done. But in my experience, the impact of alcohol and tannin on the senses doesn't lessen with increased exposure. Tasting a large set of reds is always going to present the same problem.

The simplest solution - to taste fewer wines in each session - is not practicable. There is comfortably enough time in the day to take more than 120 tasting notes, so stopping after 60 would mean leaving half a day unused. When you are in a region to taste the new vintage (and already taking two weeks to do so), this would be too inefficient.

I'd like to propose a solution.

But unfortunately, I can't think of one. The current system is how the wine trade has operated for generations - if there was a better way, it would almost certainly have been introduced already. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be discussed and thought about - it will certainly be on my mind when I go back to the Rhône on Monday morning to spend another week tasting 2016s.

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Rhôneward-bound to taste en primeur

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Rhôneward-bound to taste en primeur

Today I'm heading to Châteauneuf-du-Pape to start a fortnight of tasting the 2016 vintage across the entire Rhône Valley. I will be writing tasting notes (approximately 1,000 in total) and reports for JancisRobinson.com - the first time I've covered the region in this way.

I've always loved Northern Rhône Syrah - in fact, this is my default answer to the question 'what's your favourite wine' - but have only come to love the Grenache-based reds of the south more recently. Since Jancis asked me to cover Rhône en primeur for JancisRobinson.com, I've paid much more attention to southern Rhône reds so that I have better understanding of them.

The last time I visited the region was 2014 (I took the above photograph in Cornas) but thankfully I'm travelling with somebody who goes much more frequently. Matt Walls is an experienced Rhône expert, and I've been able to piggyback on the schedule he has put together, based on the programme he has followed for several years now. The basic format is generic tastings every morning, where samples are sent by producers to be tasted en masse, followed by visits to specific producers in the afternoon. We've got some great names lined up: Jamet, Chapoutier, Sorrel, Chave, Guigal, Vernay, Rayas, Clos des Papes and more.

Lots has been written about the benefits and pitfalls of tasting en primeur. Tasting in excess of 100 wines every day is certainly not ideal, but it is something you get used to with practice. Besides, intensive tasting is the best way to get a comprehensive impression of the vintage.

Thankfully, 2016 has produced some great wines in the Rhône, and I'm looking forward to being able to discover them all in greater detail.

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Writing a book part 25 - redrafting

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Writing a book part 25 - redrafting

It's all complete crap, of course. That's what every novelist thinks when reading back their work. Right?

It certainly is in my case, since I've started editing the first draft of my book, which I finished last month, after 21 months of writing. In the process, I found out how much the book will cost: £29.80, the price of printing and binding it at Mail Boxes Etc. Not much room for profit on top of that.

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And while it's exciting to have something printed, there is still loads to do before it's ready for the next phase - whatever that is. Sending it to agents? Publishers?

Anyway, there's at least entire one chapter that I need to write, because I somehow forgot to write it first time round. And I might completely rewrite chapter one, which I don't think sets the right tone for the book at all, and involves a few characters who don't appear at all in the rest of the novel.

It's also clear that I will need to work on the characterisation to make it more consistent. When Freddie Farnham first appears, he is talkative and slightly arrogant, but by the end he is thoughtful and sensitive. I'd love to say that's a journey that the character goes on, but in reality it's inconsistent characterisation.

I suspect there is much more descriptive work in the early part of the book too. I think I must have used up all my similes and metaphors in the first half, whereas the second half is much more functional and prosaic. Again, I want to be consistent in style. 

So, it's all complete crap - apart from the bits which aren't too bad, and perhaps even a few bits that I think are rather good. It's quite nice to re-read an entire book and come across passages which I don't remember writing at all, and which hold up pretty well.

There is much more to be done, of course. I was envisaging having a finished second draft by Christmas, but some of the rewriting seems like it might require longer than that. Furthermore, my word count is only 61,000 - 19k short of my initial target, which is very annoying. At my average rate of 300 words per day, reaching that target would take another 12 weeks at least. 

Still, it's taken me two years to get this far, so what's the rush?

 

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Everything I wrote in September

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Everything I wrote in September

Phew, busy month! That's my only excuse for not writing more blogs here, but I'm still just about managing one a week. There's plenty of other stuff going on - including more episodes of A Glass With coming soon.

Oh yes, and I won a Roederer Award this month! You are now reading the words of the Online Wine Communicator of the Year, no less.

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Assuring the Future of Wine: a manifesto

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Assuring the Future of Wine: a manifesto

Explanatory note: this post has been prompted by the current debate between the anti-alcohol lobby and the wine industry. It has been running for several years now, but is becoming increasingly prominent.

I believe it's the most important and potentially damaging long-term issue the industry is facing.

So far, the arguments from both sides have tended to be antagonistic and unconstructive. Such impassioned rhetoric polarises the debate, and makes it much harder to have rational discussion.

My manifesto is intended to be conciliatory, realistic and discursive. It's a way to promote reasonable, respectful and open-minded discussion about a topic which has become increasingly combative. 

It might be naive, but it's worth a shot.

Assuring the Future of Wine: a manifesto

  • We believe that wine is a drink with unique and irreplaceable cultural, social and artistic value, which deserves preservation and protection.
  • We also believe that alcohol in wine can cause serious harm to the health of the individual, and of society as a whole.
  • We make no claims regarding any purported health benefits of wine. This is because studies on the effects of alcohol on health, whether positive or negative, are now so numerous and contradictory that they have become impotent, distracting and counter-productive.
  • We believe that the best way to tackle alcohol abuse is in collaboration. However, the implicit bias of wine industry bodies and religious groups means they should not be given undue prominence in the debate.
  • Our goal is to preserve and protect wine, not just as an invaluable work of human ingenuity, but as an industry that supports many people around the world, especially in rural communities that rely on wine to make a living.
  • We acknowledge that the wine industry has a responsibility to combat the harm that alcohol can cause.
  • Consequently, we are open to all options that aim to help reduce alcohol-related damage, but we oppose any legislation that will unduly compromise or restrict the enjoyment and culture of wine in our society in general.

The wine industry and the anti-alcohol movement often seem to have irreconcilable objectives. This opposition has resulted in significant ill-feeling but little progress, if any.

Both factions need to admit the merits of the other's arguments, and to stop relying on contradictory studies and statistics. If we are to combat the harm caused by alcohol while ensuring the future prosperity of wine, we need to reframe the debate; to extend an olive branch. This manifesto is an attempt to do exactly that.

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Writing a book part 24 - finishing the first draft

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Writing a book part 24 - finishing the first draft

After a summer hiatus, I've started writing the final chapter of my book. The plot is still holding together, I think, and I know exactly what I have to wrap up. I want it to be unambiguous and satisfying, but I also want it to be realistic, and fiction plotting can feel a bit pat when all the loose ends get conveniently tied up together.

As well as resolving the main storyline, I want the love story to come together too. It's a straightforward girl-meets-boy romance, and (spoiler alert) they get together at the end. However, conveying strong emotional feeling is probably the thing I find hardest without resorting to didacticism. 

This isn't helped by being impatient to finish. I'm well aware of how much rewriting is going to be necessary, because I have looked back into various chapters to remind myself of what I had already written, and found plenty of writing that I dislike. In fact, it's very easy to convince yourself that large parts of the book, or perhaps even all of it, is complete rubbish - so I try not to dwell on that too much. 

Either way, by the end of next week, I should have completed the final chapter. I will then combine all the separate chapters into one document, print it out and start editing it - on the printed page at first, rather than on screen. I'd like to have a redrafted version ready by Christmas, at which point I will have to decide what to do next ...

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Why it matters that wine gets you drunk

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Why it matters that wine gets you drunk

Last night, I delivered a short speech at the launch event for the 2018 Masters of Wine Symposium. The idea was for a group of wine trade people to talk about something important and potentially controversial in an irreverent way. Here's a rough transcript of what I said.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a shocking confession to make. As I stand here before you, wobbling somewhat on this precarious soapbox, I am drunk. Perhaps only slightly, but there is no question that I am under the influence of alcohol. Indeed, every person in this room drinking wine right now is drunk, to a greater or lesser extent. 

This is not a subject officially scheduled for discussion at the upcoming Symposium – nor in fact is it much discussed anywhere within the wine trade, yet this is surely wine’s most controversial ingredient: not grape variety or enzymes or cultured yeast or sulphur dioxide or terroir, whatever that is, but alcohol.

When this great Institute was first founded in the 1950s, wine labels didn’t even need to state alcohol content. Today, not only must abv be stated but the majority of wine labels carry guidelines about safe consumption levels, and warnings about consuming alcohol when pregnant.

For wine professionals such as ourselves, the alcohol level on a label is primarily a useful hint as to the wine’s quality and style – a Syrah at 12.5% will be very different to one at 15%. But we tend to avoid talking about the effect of alcohol on our bodies and minds – the effect that we are all experiencing right now, and which is making me look so particularly attractive to you all.

But consider this: in 1979, the guideline for maximum alcohol consumption was 56 units per week, which was subsequently reduced to 36, then 28 then 21 and now 14. At this rate, within our lifetimes, government guidelines will recommend drinking no alcohol at all.

Of course, that isn’t very likely – but then again, who would have predicted the severe clampdown on tobacco over the last forty years?

Incidentally, alcohol guidelines vary hugely internationally – from 52 units in Fiji to 35 in Spain to 7 in Guyana. So perhaps the answer is that we all move to Fiji, where drinking alcohol is evidently much safer.

So, what’s the right response? For a long time, the wine trade was very keen on presenting the health benefits of wine consumption, but such a tactic seems extremely inadvisable now. The primary argument against alcohol is its cost on our nation’s health, and specifically on the NHS – a sum estimated at £3.5 billion every year. That’s the same price as a case of Petrus 1990.

But we can’t ignore the issue either. Health lobbies are becoming more influential and anti-alcohol rhetoric is growing. For them, all types of alcohol is the same – a harmful drug that should be regulated, restricted – even prohibited. It may be true that lower alcohol wines are becoming more commonplace and trendy these days, but so long as it contains any alcohol at all - and I for one pray it always will - wine will always be a target.

Wine is a drink with unique diversity, and of rich cultural, historical and artistic value. It also gets you drunk, and we must admit that alcohol is an integral part of wine, rather than trying to pretend otherwise. If we are not honest about the role of alcohol in wine, then everything else we value about this precious, fascinating drink is at risk. 

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Everything I wrote in August

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Everything I wrote in August

As usual August was a quiet month for the wine trade, and I was away on holiday for several weeks. I also visited Canada to tour British Columbia (pictured) and deliver a keynote at the British Columbia Pinot Noir Celebration. Here's what I published.

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Meaningful experiences: talking about Pinot Noir

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Meaningful experiences: talking about Pinot Noir

I was invited to give the keynote address at this year's British Columbia Pinot Noir Celebration this week. Here's an approximate transcript of what I said in two parts - the introductory address, and the concluding remarks.

Photo courtesy of Christina Rasmussen

Photo courtesy of Christina Rasmussen

Introductory address

Thank you very much for inviting me here to speak to you today. It's my unfortunate duty to travel the world tasting wine for a living, and it's a burden I do my best to handle with dignity. That duty has brought me here today, and I'm delighted to join you in celebrating Pinot Noir. It seems to me that there are more festivals and tastings dedicated to this particular variety around the world than any other. Why is that? There must be something special about the variety.

One of those things is Pinot Noir's ability to express a sense of place. Other varieties can do this too, but Pinot Noir is particularly adaptive to terroir, and can produce hugely different wines from vineyards that are within a few feet of each other. It is a great example of what makes wine so compelling to taste the variation that Pinot Noir can achieve.

It's also difficult to get right. There are only a few places in the winemaking world where Pinot Noir really excels. It requires specific climatic conditions, it is susceptible to disease, and it only becomes interesting when the conditions suit it perfectly. That challenge is something which increases its appeal, I think.

Another reason Pinot Noir is special is its sheer deliciousness. There is a range of flavour in Pinot Noir that is unlike any other variety, and it can produce wonderful, esoteric, sometimes even quite challenging flavours. Experiencing those flavours and aromas is something that makes Pinot Noir so treasured.

There's also something else which is equally important, I believe: Pinot Noir can provide a meaningful experience; something that triggers an emotional response. Other varieties can do this too, sometimes, but Pinot Noir is particularly adept at it. People often talk of a Pinot Noir epiphany - that pivotal moment when tasting a Pinot Noir that flicks the switch and converts the drinker into a Pinot lover. [I wrote about this in The Pinot Of No Return.] It is an instinctive, gut reaction - and whether you've had one or not, I think it is the possibility of that response, the quest for that kind of feeling that makes Pinot Noir so compelling.

I've heard people describe being brought to tears by Pinot Noir. That's happened to me with really bad Pinot Noir but never with a really, really good one, sadly. But maybe that will change today ... and it's that possibility which makes it an exciting variety.

Wine in general, and Pinot Noir in particular, offers a tangible expression of something in an increasingly virtual world. We spend much of our time online, interacting with screens rather than people, so this gathering is a great example of why Pinot Noir enthrals us - it represents a snapshot of a time and a place that can be hugely different around the world. 

I've been asked to talk about my experience of Pinot Noir. I've been lucky enough to taste fantastic examples from California, Australia, Oregon, Chile, South Africa - even the UK, and Canada of course. There's also a place called Burgundy which makes some quite good examples. All of them are very different, and not always necessarily better or worse than one another. Burgundy does not have the monopoly on quality - yes, some of the best Pinot Noir comes from there, of course, but that doesn't mean other regions are not capable of equalling that quality.

Which brings me on to British Columbia. I've had the opportunity to tour the region this week and taste lots of different varieties. It is clearly a very diverse region, and also a relatively young one in terms of wine production. It is capable of greatness in many styles, and there is no doubt of the ambition and potential of the winemakers here. Can BC Pinot Noir stand alongside the best in the world? Well, that's something we are going to find out today - there is a great selection of Pinot Noir to taste, and I'm sure we will all have our own favourites. I'll talk more about the wines at the end of the event.

So, when you are tasting the wines today, remember that the ones which give you that emotional response are the ones that make Pinot Noir so great - regardless of price or label. I'd be delighted if you came and told me about your experiences throughout the day. So with that, I will wish you a fantastic afternoon of tasting Pinot Noir and I look forward to talking to you again later.

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Concluding remarks

Thanks again, everyone, it has been a fantastic day of tasting and it has been a pleasure to meet so many people and experience so many Pinot Noirs. I wanted to give you my impression of British Columbia Pinot Noir, so here goes.

Firstly, it can't grow everywhere here, and I think people need to be honest about that. This region can be very warm and Pinot Noir is at its best from cooler sites. There is still a lot of discovery happening in BC, and producers need to be brave in making changes if they've got Pinot Noir in areas that are too warm. Figuring out terroir is a long-term process - perhaps a never-ending one - and it can be very challenging (and expensive) to find the optimal sites. 

Another point worth making sounds quite mundane, but it's actually really important: the technical standard of the wines today is really high. Making Pinot Noir that has no faults, has good balance of acid, alcohol and tannin and gives an authentic reflection of the characteristics of the variety is no mean feat, and there is clearly a great deal of expertise among the winemakers of this region. 

More generally, I would advise everyone not to worry about the perceived fashion for particular styles of Pinot Noir. There are lots of different ways to make great Pinot, and no doubt each of us have our own favourites. For winemakers, those will undoubtedly be an influence on the style produced - but I would urge them to let the terroir do the talking, and to make the Pinot Noir that comes naturally from the grapes, not to try and manipulate the result into something because it is a popular style from California or Burgundy or wherever.

Also, don't be fooled by high prices or flashy marketing. The most expensive Pinot Noirs in the world are not always the best.

British Columbia is rightly proud of itself, it seems to me. You have great natural beauty here - both in the landscape and in the people, you are all terrifyingly good-looking - a friendly spirit and a great sense of co-operation and open-mindedness. Expressing those qualities through Pinot Noir is the ultimate goal, because wine isn't just a reflection of soil and climate, it's also a reflection of personality.

So, is there a typical attribute common to all Pinot Noir from British Columbia? Well, they tend to have ripe fruit, often with reasonably high tannin. They also have high acid, although that's more of a feature of Pinot Noir in general. Some people have mentioned a character of sage brush, the local woody herb that grows wild throughout the region - but I suspect that is slightly fanciful. As far as I can tell, there is no unique quality that British Columbia Pinot Noir exhibits - but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

There was a recent BBC article entitled What is Canada really good at? which celebrated Canada's achievements on the 150th anniversary of confederation. For British people the BBC is pretty much a bible, so this is what we all think about you. First on the list was entertainment - specifically singers and comedians. Next was inventions - apparently IMAX cinema was invented here and for all you DIY fans, the Robertson pattern screwhead also came from Canada. 

Medicine was on the list - both insulin and stem cells were discovered and pioneered by Canadians. Space exploration was on the list - most notably Chris Hadfield, the astronaut who recently broadcast from the International Space Station and sang Space Oddity.

Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to say that BC Pinot Noir was not on the list of things that the Canada is really good at. In fact, wine didn't make the list at all. 

And that's exactly why events such as this one are so important. British Columbia is still a young wine region, but the results are already fantastic, and showing huge potential. Spreading the word about Pinot Noir and coming together to taste and discuss the wine is exactly what is needed to help evolve the winemaking culture here, in the quest for crafting Pinot Noir that gives us meaningful experiences. And when those experiences are shared in an atmosphere such as this, there couldn't be anything better.

So, in conclusion, I wish to propose a toast to one of the things that makes Canada great. Please raise your glasses for the Robertson pattern screwhead. And Pinot Noir!

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Discovering British Columbia

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Discovering British Columbia

I'm in Canada this week, getting to know the wine regions of British Columbia around Okanagan Lake. It's my first time here, and we have a busy schedule of tastings and vineyard visits.

British Columbia's wine regions are relatively young, commercially speaking - in 1990 there were fewer than 20 wineries, now there are over 275.

That tends to mean that, unlike many long-established European wine regions,  most producers here have a keen understanding of the business side of the wine trade. They are active on social media, have good websites, operate cellar doors with restaurants and tasting rooms, and have strong technical grounding in viticulture and vinification.

However, the sense of tradition and heritage is far less powerful in new regions than it would be in Chianti or Chablis, for instance. While that might be advantageous in that it allows producers to establish their own traditions and doesn't impose any restrictions on their winemaking, it means they have a harder task to establish their region's identity.

One of the questions often asked about wine is: what are the unique characteristics of this grape in this region? Finding a trait that is unique and universal to a set of wines is a handy way of summarising them - as in Mosel Riesling and slate, Coonawarra Cabernet and eucalyptus, Loire Chenin Blanc and wax, and so on.

Such shortcuts might be useful when first teaching people about wine, but they are generally a gross oversimplification. Plus, with the variation of soil and climate in a relatively large region such as the Okanagan Valley, as well as differences in winemaking philosophy, there are bound to be very different styles being made from the same varieties.

But without a simple summary, the problem for emerging wine regions is how to sell themselves. Should they specialise in particular varieties, or focus on specific types of soil, or aspire to premium quality, or champion organic viticulture? There is no straightforward answer to this, but having some kind of simple story makes it far easier for the outside world to understand a region.

Over the next five days, I'll be trying to find one for #bcwine. (At the very least, they've got their own hashtag.)

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Everything I wrote in July

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Everything I wrote in July

I was on holiday in the US for much of July - hence the reduced blogging, and hence also the picture of a Hummingbird, taken in Asheville, North Carolina. Anyway, there was still plenty of wine writing going on, as follows:

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A new approach to combatting trunk disease?

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A new approach to combatting trunk disease?

This vine in Sancerre is suffering from esca, a type of trunk disease.

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It's a fungal infection that grows inside the trunk of grapevines, eventually killing the plant. It is more common in older vines, and can spread through a vineyard rapidly. Other than removing infected material and replanting, there is no widely accepted solution for this modern scourge.

However, help may be at hand.

Jonathan Pabiot's hand, in fact. This biodynamic winemaker in Sancerre heard about an entirely natural approach to defeating esca which is remarkably simple - and seemingly very effective. As shown above, the technique involves sawing into the trunk of the plant and opening up the cut. This reveals the fungal infection and by exposing it to the open air, dries it out. Within a year, Pabiot reports that the plant is back to full health.

Incidentally, he believes that the increase in esca has been caused by the use of omega-type grafting which became popular in the last few decades. He believes this method might allow infection to happen at the moment of grafting, but that it takes several years after planting for the effects to be seen.

Pabiot has repeated his solution countless times across his estate and it works every time. He has now started cutting trunks where infection is not yet apparent in the leaves, but which reveals the fungus in the wood, thereby preventing it from spreading at an earlier stage.

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