Print this page


Presumptuous of me to produce a piece on wine writing, since that is what I’ve been doing for the Monnow Voice for the last three years. But here goes.

Why is wine writing in the national newspapers so dull? Who is interested in reading lists of (cheap) wines that you can buy in the supermarkets with dreary descriptions telling you they taste of nuts or melons, or whatever? It’s all so earnest. About as interesting as train timetables or telephone directories.

There are honourable exceptions, and my two favourites are Ned Halley, who writes for the Western Daily Press and used to publish his own magazine, Spyglass, which I thought of as the Private Eye of wine magazines, and Henry Jeffreys, who writes for The Lady and has a blog

They both have wives and families, and make their articles personal (not too personal!). The result is that they’re a thoroughly good read, funny and interesting, and make the whole business of wine fun, rather than earnest and dull.

Here, for instance is a quote from a recent article by Ned Halley:

“I judge supermarkets by their wines. My wife dismisses this notion, claiming that fruit, vegetables or meat are miles more significant, but wine seems by far the fairest yardstick to me. The ranges differ much more radically from one chain to another than mere groceries do.”

And one from Henry Jeffreys:

“I approached tasting the Burgundy 2010 vintage with a sense of dread that I couldn’t put my finger on. Perhaps it was the worry that I was out of my depth tasting such fine wines. What if I said something stupid? What if I dribbled Clos de Vougeot all over my tie? What if I called Jancis Robinson Janice? So I brought my father along for moral support. Despite pretending to have no sense of smell he has unerringly good taste in wine also his tie is normally filthy so he makes me look smart.”

And Evelyn Waugh, who liked his wine (and spawned a wine writer), produced in Brideshead Revisited a little piece of wine writing – it is a scene where Charles and Sebastian raid the ancestral cellar, and drunkenly chat about the wine they’re swallowing - as follows:

"It is a little, shy wine like a gazelle."
"Like a leprechaun."
"Dappled, in a tapestry meadow."
"Like a flute by still water."
". . . And this is a wise old wine."
"A prophet in a cave."
". . . And this is a necklace of pearls on a white neck."
"Like a swan."
"Like the last unicorn."

Wonderful, eh?