Once upon a time, before the arrival of a myriad internet sites dealing with wine, you had to work a little bit to obtain good quality information, even on such a heavily discussed region as Bordeaux. It would have meant a magazine or newsletter subscription, perhaps, or maybe you could learn from discussion and debate at your local tasting group. These days it is potentially all at your fingertips. One of the most popular wine regions, there are more websites and blogs covering Bordeaux than ever before, and if a little heated debate is your thing there are plenty of online discussion forums where you can exercise your Bordeaux-demons as well.
But when it comes to divining whether the author of the blog or website you have just discovered has wine and perhaps even the very soil of the vineyard running in his (or her) veins, or is merely out for an injection of grandiose hedonism disguised as journalism, a few pointers might be required. Here’s how to distinguish two reporters on Bordeaux. I’ll call them Mr WineGeek and Mr Hedonism.
On setting up a visit: Mr WineGeek visits a property and tours with the technical director; it’s the best way to get a true feel of the philosophy behind the estate, and what makes it different from others. Mr Hedonism tours with the proprietor, not a mere employee! The only exception might be if the proprietor has a hot daughter, in which case a tour with her would be OK. Gotta get me some photos of this babe for the blog!
On who to visit: It is important to take in and report on a variety of levels within Bordeaux, thinks Mr WineGeek. First and second growths are all very well, but what about under-performing properties, lesser estates, cru bourgeois châteaux or similar? These all deserve review and reporting. Mr Hedonism holds a different point of view. He won’t travel without appointments at Lafite, Cos d’Estournel, Lafleur and Valandraud at the very least. Where else could he go? What about Cheval Blanc? Hmmmm……..no sexy daughters to photograph…..but they do put on a fabulous spread! Settled – Cheval Blanc it is!
On the importance of the vineyards: Mr WineGeek gets his shoes muddy walking in the vineyards. This is especially so when amongst the vines after a night of heavy rain; you can almost lose your shoes the feet can sink so deep! Connecting with the vines is the best way to understand the soil and vines the staff have to work with. Mr Hedonism’s response to the suggestion of a walk in the vineyard is abject horror. What about my Gucci loafers? Besides, when’s dinner?
On vintages: Mr WineGeek spends his time getting to understand the region in all its forms, especially looking at lesser vintages as well as the more successful. Thank you for the taste of 2009 and 2010, he might say, but what about lesser vintages? Could I taste your 2007? By contrast Mr Hedonism will spend his time bathing in grand vintages and nothing less. It would be great to taste your 1961 again? What about over dinner tonight….your place, naturally?
On dinner: A slightly solitary and independent existence is the price Mr WineGeek pays for maintaining his independence. He will ensconce himself in distant accommodation, his evenings filled with simple pasta dishes and an inexpensive bottle or two, perhaps to taste with a colleague. But Mr Hedonism’s gastronomic radar is on full-tilt on this trip; there’s nothing like a multi-vintage dinner with the proprietor to help form an ‘independent’ and ‘balanced’ opinion of the château. Really….this evening? Why, of course I’m free! I’ll be there at seven. Why don’t you open the ’61? You are? Oh my…the 1861?! I’ll be there at six-thirty.
On photography: Mr WineGeek takes his camera so he can take photographs of the vineyards, individual vines, the châteaux and staff at work, steel fermentation vessels and barrels. Mr Hedonism takes photographs of the plates of food alongside the 1861.
On independence: Finally, Mr WineGeek returns home with a pile of tasting notes and photographs of châteaux and vines. He has tasted and formed his opinions in his own universe, insulated as much as possible from the marketing spiel of the châteaux. He will publish his spell-checked but otherwise unamended notes online. Sometimes he gets it wrong and has to change course when he retastes the wine after bottling, or at four years or older, but the opinions are sound and his own. Mr Hedonism returns home with a pile of tasting notes and photographs of filet mignon and hot babes. He has tasted and formed his opinions in his rather less insulated universe, and has made many new ‘friends’. He will publish his spell-checked notes online…after cross-referencing them with Parker’s opinions. He would never disagree with Parker….because to do so would mean he had got it ‘wrong’.
All thoughts and comments, as always, are welcome.