Poolside quaffers and elitism

a-bigger-splashI’ve just caught up with Christian Eedes’ horrified review of some cheapie whites “sampled literally by the pool”. Some of them I’d also tasted recently, as they were samples sent to winewriters (etc) from producers – though I confess I wouldn’t have considered them material for other than an abstract tasting. There are only a few samples I get that I actually drink – most just get “tasted”, and then handed over to grateful and undemanding neighbours.

Christian’s response roused all sorts of  reactions in my mind, but as he has rested his website for a festive season week or two (to spend more time by the pool, I presume), I thought I’d express some of my genuine confusion on mine, rather.

At first I was rendered rather aghast by Christian’s conclusion that it’s “more than a little depressing that such wines exist”. Wow. What did he expect, I wondered, when he took these wines costing R40-R50 to drink poolside? Then I remembered that when I’d written about the Doolhof Cape Crane Chenin Blanc 2013 a few weeks back (here) I’d said it was “nice” but “I wanted better. I knew I had better available; I might get run over by a bus tomorrow, so why not have the better?” There’s at least some overlap in our reactions.

Christian didn’t tell us what he did when he discovered that the wines he’d brought to the pool were “wine for the uninitiated, wine for those who wish to consume without contemplation, wine perhaps for those who don’t really like the taste of wine”. Did he really want to be “contemplative”, in those circumstances? Perhaps, then, he did like I did when I found the Doolhof “nice” but not what I wanted out of life, and opened a wonderful old Rioja. Perhaps he turned to beer, or water, or some other wine.

I do wonder myself why PR people send this sort of wine to serious wine critics (instead of only to the sort of hack who can be relied upon to be enthusiastic, usually because they want some sort of direct income from the producers, like so many bloggers and advertorialists). It’s unlikely that proper wine people are actually going to really admire the wines. But it wouldn’t be unreasonable for PR people to expect the taster to put the wines in context.

Unlike Christian, I can find genuine virtues in many such wines and don’t condemn their drinkers as  “those who don’t really like the taste of wine”. Personally (if I may wax a bit prissy), I think it my duty to recognise that actual winelovers without much money (or without PR companies pressing samples on them) don’t want to spend more than R40 or R50 on a bottle of wine. Christian in a slightly later blog mentioned enjoying Kloof Street Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2013 by Mullineux Family Wines (“R177 a bottle on the winelist vs. R79 from the cellar”). For some people, that’s not a viable alternative. I can also point out that there are very many worse wines about than these poolside quaffers; I’m a touched bemused by Christian’s virginal horror and apparent surprise.

As a journalist writing for all levels of wine-drinker, I feel vaguely obliged – though admittedly it’s not my favourite duty – to sometimes suggest which are the best cheap wines available (I recommended the Simonsig Chenin, by the way, and have also recommended with some enthusiasm other cheap whites, like those of Kleine Zalze and Joostenberg).

It seems to me that, unless you’re only writing for a dozen sommeliers, you should point out where the punter (who might not be rich, or willing to spend on wine, but might actually enjoy swilling the stuff) is going to do better for his or her R30 or R40.

There are, in fact, some quite serious winelovers who buy wine at that price level, and treat it very contemplatively. I only recently, for example, had an email from one such person discussing the relative merits of the last three vintages of Wolftrap White.

That’s quite apart from the fact that I disagree with Christian’s total dismissal of the wines he sampled poolside. I thought they were pretty fair for that price. (Incidentally, I appreciated the comment from one Grant, who I am pretty sure is involved with an operation selling very pricy wines!, in effect wondering how anyone could viably produce wine costing so little.)

Doolhof Chenin, for example, is very much a drink for people who enjoy wine but don’t want to spend a lot, and whose poolside nostrils are not going to be set aquiver with distaste by anything at that price.

It’s quite a relief to be writing as something other than an elitist…

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