What I’m doing (March Edition)

All the odds and sods that went on in March and I didn’t bloody tell you about. Hampshire yomps, Hampshire scoff, wine bizniz and a special arrival…

Yeah, I know it’s April now. Sue me. Here’s what I’ve been up to in March.

Walking the Hangers Way

Isn’t it fabulous — genuinely fabulous — to live in a country so crisscrossed and enmeshed with long distance paths? Of course there are the well known national trails: your Ridgeways and West Highland Ways. But there are hundreds more. The Hangers Way passes only minutes away from our house and is named for the range of hills about and atop which it meanders, the Hangers. In spring its woodlands are carpeted with wild garlic and the Hangers bloom from brown to green. Like so many of these paths, the variety of terrain and ecosystem is fantastic.

Eating at the White Hart, South Harting

The White Hart is one of the best of several good food-oriented pubs that dot our patch of the South Downs. Come here for lunch or dinner after you’ve clambered your way up and down neighbouring Harting Hill. We had supper here on Saturday with Amy’s parents: excellent mushrooms, egg and prosciutto on toast (yup, with wanky shrooms), then tender, deep-flavoured venison haunch. Cooking is generally very good and the staff are charmingly gauche. The place has a pleasantly convivial atmosphere and is (crucially) welcoming of yellow labradors. Wine list could do with a revamp (too few food-friendly reds) but the Berry Bros Claret is a solid choice.

Reading about Majestic’s demise

If it weren’t for Majestic Wine, my life would undoubtedly be very different. The bastards rejected my graduate trainee application after interview on the basis of my not being ‘a natural salesman’. A fronthanded compliment indeed.

Majestic is to be subsumed into the company it bought a few short years ago, Naked Wines, which (in the abstract) gives a whole new resonance to the phrase caveat emptor. But nobody watching the UK wine bizniz with even the vaguest interest can have been much surprised.

I enjoyed two takes on the sadly predictable story, both (in their contrasting ways) eloquently evoking the dissolution of the old Majestic: Victoria Moore’s and The Sediment Blog’s.

Celebrating with Veuve Clicquot

I’ve never had the pleasure of tasting the main Champagne houses’ non vintage wines side-by-side, so I have no objective favourite champagne. My subjective favourite, though, is Veuve Clicquot. So there. I’m not reviewing it because it was consumed in celebration — of the fact that, on the same day that Theresa May failed to deliver Brexit, my dear sister succeeded in delivering an infinitely more welcome entity: one tiny human female.

My niece, Elara, with her father Ed.

So, really, all the above waffle is nothing. What was up to in March was: becoming Uncle Parn.

Oddbins launches promotion *definitely nothing to do with the Olympics*

In which Old Parn is grudgingly impressed by the PR tactics of a reinvigorated Oddbins. Tactics that are in no way related to the Olympics whatsoever, it might be pointed out.

Oddbins promo artwork for a campaign definitely not linked to the OlympicsOkay. Now, I normally tear through unsolicited email press releases like a velociraptor through a paddock of newborn foals. But the Oddbins one I received yesterday was rather entertaining.

Ayo Akintola, the Oddbins MD, has apparently become incensed (with, of course, that particular kind of anger that just so happens to make for a good news story) at the branding restrictions imposed on small businesses that aren’t official Olympics sponsors.

As a result he is offering a ninja discount to all Oddbins customers. It’s not an Olympic discount — because he can’t call it that. It’s just a discount that coincidentally happens to celebrate an unnamed national event and to last for the next three weeks.

Here’s the funny bit.

The discount (30% off) applies to anyone coming into an Oddbins shop bearing items made by non-Olympics sponsors. Nike trainers, Vauxhall car keys, a can of Pepsi, a KFC receipt…

Yup. It’s provocative and attention-seeking. But I kind of like it. Here’s another image.

Oddbins promo artwork for a campaign definitely not linked to the Olympics

Old Parn’s Wine Awards 2011, part 2

In which your host doles out some more awards, in his customarily otiose manner, including those for best wine retailers — and your own favourite posts from 2011

A week or so ago, I dusted off my red carpet (sorry about those stains — I’ve no idea where they came from) and presented Old Parn’s Individual Wine Awards. You’re a sucker for a bit of that award night glamour, aren’t you?

Which is, of course, why you’re back for today’s second instalment. So let’s get on with it. Mandolin-strummer, step forward; do your strummy thing!

(NO, NOT LIKE THAT. I MEANT ON YOUR MANDOLIN, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. GET OUT OF MY SIGHT.)

Wine retail awards

Best online wine selection

The Wine Society — if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll’ve gathered that I love the Wine Society as though it were a small, adorable puppy. A small, adorable puppy that brings me lovely, lovely wine. Brilliant.

Best online wine communicators

Naked Wines — These guys are doing something different. For this I love them as though they were all small, adorable puppies that by their very existence somehow subverted the notion of puppyhood while simultaneously also selling some rather good wines.

(Let me know if the puppy analogies cease to be illuminating at any point.)

Naked Wines is firing a champagne cork into the arse of the stodgy, stolid wine world — by according prominence to the wines that normal people like, rather than wines that the establishment recommends. I’m not saying the establishment’s recommendations have nothing going for ’em, incidentally. But there’s a balance that needs redressing. And it’s a thing of joy to see those Naked folk redressing it.

Best supermarket for wine

Waitrose — Are you surprised? Really? Are you? REALLY?

Best value wine retailer

The Wine Society — Yes, again. I’m not going to apologise. I don’t know of any other wine retailer, online or offline, whose selection of £4.50–£7 wines has such a goddamn high hit rate.

Your Favourite Posts

Finally, here’s my token nod to democracy. Here are the five posts from this ol’ blog of mine that received the most traffic in 2011. I realise that it’s an unjustifiable leap of reasoning to deduce that these are your favourites. But I’m all about unjustifiable leaps.

(Ow. I just twisted my ankle.)

So. Here are 2011’s most trafficked posts:

  1. The Shit Written on Wine Labels
  2. Wine Writing is Broken
  3. Le Froglet Wines (the horror! the horror!)
  4. Five reasons to swear — about wine or anything else
  5. Benjamin Darnault Picpoul de Pinet review

Well. That’s is (I promise) for the gratuitous end-of-year list posts. Thanks for bearing with me through the oscillations of 2011, and let’s clink our glasses in that vulgar way we do in honour of 2012. In daringly Mayan-defying style, I have a feeling it’s going to be good.

Wine’s image problem is about far more than supermarket pricing

In which Old Parn outlines his own opinion as to why a love of wine is so often associated with snobbery

The question that’s flapping around the wine world like a startled goose is, ‘Why won’t the British treat wine seriously?’ — and, in parallel to that, why does wine have such a problem with allegations of snobbery?

Well, that flapping goose has woken me up, too. So here are my thoughts.

First up, I think it’s a little too easy to blame supermarkets for the situation in which wine-lovers are stereotyped as snobs.

Guy Woodward (in the Guardian piece I linked to, above) writes:

‘It’s a situation that several supermarkets have helped to create. By directing consumers to the “3 for £10” promotions, stores are hardly encouraging us to discover new wines. The wine industry’s own trade body, the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, has even criticised such “deals”, arguing that they stymie consumer education.’

But I’m not sure that supermarkets’ pressure to hit the lowest price points is really responsible in a fundamental way for perceptions of wine snobbery. After all, supermarkets have surely also remorselessly driven down the price of meat and beer (Guy’s two examples of segments not afflicted by perceptions of snobbery).

So why is wine a target, while meat and beer are not (or are much less so)? It can’t be as simple as supermarket pricing, the issue on which Guy’s article focuses pretty much exclusively.

Incidentally, I absolutely agree with everything Guy says about wine pricing in supermarkets. I just don’t think this is the root of wine’s problems with snobbery.

To which I think there are at least three major contributing factors he doesn’t mention.

Wine’s history

Historically, wine has been associated with privilege in a way that beer and decent meat have not (to anything like the same degree). I’m not saying this association is fair. I’m saying it exists. Powerfully. Not especially because wine was historically expensive, but more because it is associated with Oxbridge cellars, arcane drinking societies, aristocratic dinner parties — in a way that beer and decent meat are not.

That gives wine a hill to climb that others don’t have to contend with.

The lack of a ‘story’ for wine

People have been told a story that allows them to understand and relate to the benefits of spending more on better meat (and allows them unequivocally to feel good about doing so).

The story is that animals get to lead a better life. The customer is supporting a small farmer, not a big corporation. There’s a human touch. Local meat feels more connected to the customer. And so on.

Yeah, sure, the more expensive meat also tastes better. But that’s not actually the main thrust of the story. The emotional story of animal welfare, conservation and support of farmers is the more emotionally compelling factor. Even if it’s not always true or accurate.

Wine is not yet successfully and consistently broadcasting an emotional story that’s as good as this. It could. But it’s not. Notice that Naked Wines is making progress on this — getting customers to relate to wine stories, to see what being a small wine producer (and supporting those producers) actually means.

The relative weakness of wine advocacy

This links with the story argument, above — but goes further.

Neither the decent-meat lobby nor the beer industry persistently shoot themselves in the foot in the way that the wine industry does. I’ve written before about my belief that wine writing is too often insular and exclusive. If wine wants to shake off its snobbish stereotype, the industry needs to make a concerted effort to stop blathering on with terminology nobody understands and implying that there is a hierarchy of enjoyment of wine, the upper echelons of which are reserved for the cognoscenti.

I’m not saying there’s not a hierarchy of enjoyment of wine, incidentally. You may think there is. But implying this is powerfully alienating to people who feel like they’re far from cognoscenti.

Anyhow. Lots of the success of the decent-meat lobby is down to its use of charismatic, passionate advocates to put across its story in an immediate and accessible way: Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and all. People who are selling the lifestyle and the benefits, not just the product; who talk to their audience in language that is free of jargon, who seem like ‘one of us’. And, yes, people who have a very high profile.

Now, I realise it’s all very well for me to say ‘the wine world needs advocates like Jamie Oliver’ — when it’s not exactly easy to propel oneself into a position of that kind of influence. I’m not pretending the wine world can just create charismatic, popular advocates — like that. Nor am I saying, incidentally, that every single advocate that currently exists for wine is rubbish. Obviously that’s not the case.

Not one of the above three factors has a quick’n’easy solution.

What I am saying is that, combined, they are (in my view) hugely implicated in the allegations of snobbery with which wine is beset. And that whilst supermarket pricing may play its part, I’d say that the wine industry deludes itself enormously if it lets itself believe that this is the only — or even the principle — cause of its snobbery woes.

The Shit Written On Wine Labels

In which Old Parn takes issue with the arse-woundingly banal, turgid bunch of old silage that gets written on wine labels

A macro shot of the text written on the back of a bottle of red wine from Marks & Spencer

There are plenty of things in this life that give me a wounding great pain in the arse. If you want to hear more about them, I suggest you follow me and my wounded arse on Twitter.

But, today, my arse is in ribbons thanks to the banal, turgid bunch of old silage that gets written on wine labels. Here are four arse-wounding things that wine producers should stop doing. Right now.

1. Giving ludicrously specific/esoteric food matching suggestions

Excellent. So your wine goes well with lava-cooked unicorn steaks marinated in dolphins’ milk and irony. That’s helpful. Your head goes well with your arse. May I suggest you match the two?

2. Giving ludicrously vague/fallacious food matching suggestions

Oh really? Goes well with fish, chicken and meats, you say? Now. You realise that chicken is meat, right? Yes, so Shakespeare could get away with doing stuff like that. ‘Angels and ministers of grace’ — that kind of thing. But you can’t.

Moreover, if your wine actually does go well with everything from pan-fried plaice to seared chilli tuna steaks to coq au vin to frigging beef and ale stew, congratulations. You have succeeded in distilling the mythical liquid of ambrosia. And all the other winemakers might as well just give up now and start constructing dubiously phallic monuments in your honour.

Or else, you’re a lying charlatan.

Now, which’ll it be?

3. Spewing out interminable, drivelling blather

I don’t give a halfhearted wipe of a frog’s arse about the view from your winery. Nor do I trust your declarations of ‘passion’ any further than I could throw the metaphysical concept of passion. Which is no distance. Because it’s a metaphysical concept, and TRY AS I MIGHT I CAN’T SEEM TO PICK IT UP.

I’ll be the judge of your goddamn capacity for passion. So let’s get a hotel room and we can work out a mark out of 100.

4. Including any kind of pun in the wine’s name. Whatsoever. No exceptions.

I’m not going to elaborate. I’m tired now.

What wounds your arse, dear reader?

What else do those label-crafting buggers do that causes you to double up in agonised rage and frustration? Tell us — share the pain — and, in so doing, administer the internet’s very own soothing arse-balm, by leaving a comment.

UPDATE: Inspired by Graeme’s comment, below, I’m upping the stakes. Provide a particularly lamentable example of wine label wank (in the comments, below) and I’ll send you some kind of prize. To be decided. So search those wine racks/liquor store shelves for the purplest prose you can find. Enter as many times as you like. Make us laugh/cry. Wound our delicate arses. You’ve got until the end of the week.

UPDATE 2: Okay, so the prize will be a bottle of this rather lovely wine, Verd Albera, I just reviewed. The best comment(s) will get one (unless you’re overseas, in which case you might have to settle for something else).

Portugal diary finale: wine, branding & stories

In which Old Parn concludes his Portuguese wanderings with a delicious dinner at Afros Winery, and is moved to meditate upon wine and the ancient art of the story

Here’s part two of my final day in Portugal (grab a look at part 1 if you missed it, yeah?)

Two crosses on a red-tiled roof and, in the background, a view of sun-bathed countryside, hills and skySo — for our final tastes of the Vinho Verde region we found ourselves at Afros.

Well, strictly speaking, they weren’t my final tastes of the trip — which were my pre-flight breakfast of yoghurt and jasmine tea, and my in-flight sandwich of reconstituted dead children of which I took but one traumatic bite.)

But let’s not dwell on that, eh? Back to Afros. (Two words of warning for that link: 1. the website doesn’t do the winery justice, and 2. IT PLAYS MUSIC AT YOU WITHOUT YOUR ASKING IT TO. So beware.)

Vasco Croft of Afros is a biodynamic wine producer. He tries to do things in a natural kind of way. The upshot of this is that he preserves biodiversity (in other words, tries to grow vines in harmony with, rather than in replacement of, all that other nature stuff that exists), he keeps bees, his grass is grazed by roaming sheep, and he concocts exotic potions from, um, walnuts and stuff? Or whatever that is in those jars.

In the foreground, a large jar of walnuts; in the background, green leavesNow, people who are far better informed than I have strong views on this stuff. I’m not going to venture into that territory, because, honestly, beyond an instinctive, kneejerk scepticism, I don’t know squat. And, in any case, what you want of me — am I right? — is shallow, superficial aesthetic observations and predictable bouts of strained humour. So if you’re hoping for Old Parn’s rigorous deconstruction of the principles of biodynamism, I’m afraid you might be better cutting your losses and fucking off somewhere more scholarly.

What struck me about Vasco was that this is a man who has opinions, who feels. Coincidentally, I’d scribbled (in that achingly tedious way I have) in my notebook, earlier in the day, a little memorandum: ‘Knowing about wine vs understanding wine… FEELING wine’.

(Hat-tip to Freya Reinsch for getting my old brain churning along these lines, thanks to a remark she made on the distinction between knowing & understanding wine.)

And I think this is pretty important. Because so much is spoken and written about wine that insulates it from everything else. Puts it in the lab, hermetically sealed. Obviously this approach has its place, but for me wine is all about experience. On its own, I’m not really interested in wine, you know? I’m interested in what wine makes people feel. In the crossover between wine and people. Wine and stories. Wine and emotion. Wine and laughter.

It’s like the difference between being interested in a painting and being interested in paint.

A bottle of Afros sparkling wine, black-labeled, on a white tablecloth

And, at Afros, we got painting. We drank Sparkling Loureiro Reserve on the terrace, looking out over dusky vineyards, soaked in slow evening sun. To me, this was hands down the best sparkling Vinho Verde we tasted. But, you know what? It might not have been, objectively speaking. I honestly can’t tell you. But it felt fucking awesome.

Then we ate. De-goddamn-licious. Monkfish and orange. Sardine and lime… Lovely combinations — regional elements with a global twist. And beautifully matched to Afros’ wines. In each case, Vasco told us about the food we were eating: its origins, the reasons for its pairing with the wine.

Finally, after an intriguing (and excellent) fortified, Port-style red — and some gob-hoofing grappa — I found myself (alarmedly) in the unaccustomed position of after-dinner speaker. A position to which I was elected, ad hoc, on account of my ‘wonderful Oxford English’. Unlike the occasion on which I found myself compelled to make an unprepared speech at the end of our school Christmas dinner (aged 13) — a humiliating memory that still kicks me in the emotional bollocks each time I recall it — I was fortunately able to think of something to say other than ‘Thank you.’ I said that, as well as offering us hospitality, giving us delicious food and wine, he’d also inspired us with his passion — and, most of all, with his stories.

Portrait of Vasco Croft, talking to an audience, off-camera. In the background, out of focus, Vinho Verde countryside, a spired church, bathed in evening sunlight

In his reply, he cast himself as something akin to a figurehead or conduit. ‘I, the winemaker, am really just the last stage of a process that goes so much deeper.’ An ancient process. An old, old story, whose beginnings are obscure.

And I cast my mind back (not that hard, because it’s only a day ago that I wrote it) to my post about the surprising lack of ‘commercialism’ in many of the winemakers we visited. And realise that ‘commercialism’ isn’t necessarily what I mean, at root. What I mean is simpler (and potentially more innocent). I mean a story.

Because here’s the thing: we’re all people, and we’re all build around these wobbly, fragile, sporadic hearts. And we can’t help but respond to the other wobbly, fragile, sporadic hearts around us. This is what the fucking thing is all about. And by the fucking thing, I mean life. Right? And it’s stories that span those gaps between us. If I’m grabbed by a story that give me a sense of a passion, a journey — this will stay with me longer than any number of statistics about residual sugar, acidity and alcohol levels.

That’s all branding is: imbuing a product with people and passion and stories.

And, yes, it’s the man who says he doesn’t give a crap about marketing and fashions and the like who (as far as I’m concerned) did the best job of actually creating a brand. Because he knows his wine, sure — but he also knows his story.

(Now he just needs a website that tells it as well as he does.)

Edit: I’m not the only one, it turns out, to admire Vasco and his wines. Have a read of Robert McIntosh’s thoughts on the Afros experience.

Is Naked Wines capturing the winos of tomorrow?

In which Old Parn comments upon Naked Wines growth in the online wine retail market, and its apparent success in grabbing the interest of web-savvy customers and influencers — the gold-dust wine consumers of tomorrow?

Today, I noticed (not for the first time) that this blog attracts a large number of visitors searching for ‘naked wines‘, ‘naked wines reviews’ and similar. Indeed, over the past 30 days, the above terms were the 3rd and 4th most popular searches leading to my blog, respectively.

[Edit: GrapedCrusader reports ‘a similar experience with [his] own site’, BenAustinWine also concurs]

This got me thinking (in itself no minor feat). By targeting an internet-savvy segment of the wine market, Naked Wines poses an enormous threat to its competitors in online UK wine retail.

(And good on them for that, I might add.)

Why such a threat? Because the kind of customer who is active online — who googles wine reviews, posts feedback and suchlike — is likely (a) to be an influencer and (b) to be representative of the young(er) generation of wine drinkers. E-winos of the future, in other words.

Considering Naked’s size (still, surely, small) and youth as a company, shouldn’t the more established retailers be seriously worried that they’re failing to capture the customers and influencers of tomorrow?

And shouldn’t they be worried about graphs such as this?

A graph from Google Trends comparing search frequency for five online UK wine retailers

That’s from Google Trends — a nifty tool that allows you to compare frequencies of searches for various terms, over a given period. Purple is Majestic Wine, yellow is Laithwaites, red is The Wine Society, green is Virgin Wines, blue is Naked Wines.

You can see the ‘live’ graph (and mess around to your heart’s content) on Google Trends.

Overall, Majestic and Laithwaites are the most searched-for retailers (peaking especially in the runup to Christmas). But see what’s going on with Naked (the blue line)? It’s gone from a clear 5th place to a position jostling with Virgin Wines (and even The Wine Society).

Notice also that the general trend in all the other retailers is static or downward, year on year, since 2007 or so. Only Naked is trending upwards, year on year.

They’ve also done, by the look of it, a damn good job of making a splash with the recent Naked Wines Marketplace launch (which accounts, surely, for their current surge in searches).

Of course, there is a danger of reading too much into search frequency alone, and I’m not claiming that this is a full picture. Nevertheless, the world of online wine retail is — I predict — about to get a lot more interesting. I think (and hope) we’ll start to see other retailers upping their online game.

On which note, may I drop in a swift teaser: coming soon is Old Parn’s first video interview (just as soon as I’ve got round to editing the bugger) with Rowan Gormley, Naked Wines’ founder. I talked to him about Naked customers, online innovation, business models from outside the wine world and hideous wine-related injuries. So stick around for that in the not-too-distant future…

Wine writing, irreverence and rebellion

In which Old Parn takes issue with the idea that wine is due any kind of reverence — and defends an anti-establishment stance on the subject of wine writing

The author stares directly into the camera, thumbing his nose and sticking out his tongue -- but with a thoroughly unamused expression

Okey dokey.

I wrote a post, a while back, saying that wine writing is broken. I guess I probably didn’t say everything quite right, because I made some blokes with beards quite tetchy. And if there’s one thing I definitely take no pleasure from, it’s making men with beards get tetchy.

It’s heart-rending.

But, honestly: I actually hate this kind of thing. Behind my swaggering bravado, you see, there’s a swaggering vulnerability. My swaggering bravado does something crazy — like shouting ‘WANKERS!’ at a group of drunken and rowdy men with beards — and then promptly vanishes. My swaggering vulnerability is left, tremblingly exposed to the bearded ire and violence that my swaggering bravado has unleashed.

So you have to imagine me here, vibrating with adrenaline and panic, every time I think another man with a beard* might be angry with me.

You think I’m joking, don’t you?

OR MAYBE YOU’RE NOT SURE WHAT TO THINK ANY MORE.

Anyhow. I had another surge of adrenaline the other week (who needs illegal stimulants when you have a blog, eh?) when I found out that another man (who may or may not have a beard) had written an article mentioning me. But — not to worry, sweeties — I’m fine. This man — whose name is Stan — is polite and measured, and has written a piece that I’d actually like to engage with: thought has gone into it and it has no double exclamation-marks.

I would’ve written a comment on the post itself. But then I found out I’d have to create a bloody account just to do that. (Word to the owners of the site: this is probably not the best way to encourage reader participation.)

So instead of writing a ludicrously protracted comment that few people will care about, I decided I’d write a ludicrously protracted blog post that few people will care about.

Specifically, I’d like to respond to three points — or, perhaps, questions — raised by Stan — who seems, incidentally, like a pleasant and moderate chap. But a chap with whom I do disagree in certain respects. These three questions are, in order:

  1. How do you prove that wine writing is broken?
  2. Do we need to rebel against the wine establishment?
  3. Why shouldn’t we be irreverent about wine?

1. How do you prove that wine writing is broken?

Stan agrees with Tom Wark: if Old Parn thinks wine writing is broken, Old Parn needs to prove it. To name names, to give examples.

Now, there are two ways to approach a statement like ‘wine writing is broken’. The first is to interpret it as meaning, ‘All wine writing is shit’.

If that’s what I meant, how would I prove it? By quoting three examples of bad wine writing?

Hmm. How hard would it be to find three examples of bad wine writing? About as hard as picking up three Saturday papers.

Because you can always find examples of bad anything. Examples actually prove nothing. How many examples of bad wine writing would prove that all wine writing was bad? Could I prove to you that red wine is bad by giving you ten glasses of shit red wine?

Yup, yup, yup, Parn. We get your point. Move on now, please.

The second way to approach a statement like ‘wine writing is broken’ is to interpret it as meaning, ‘Something is missing from the world of wine writing’.

Just as I could tell you (well, actually, on point of fact, I couldn’t, because I’m a clueless imbecile in such matters) that a car engine was broken because it was missing a certain key element, I reckon I could also claim that wine writing was broken for similar reasons.

If I showed you this car engine and it was missing (say) a spark plug (INDULGE ME: I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT CARS), and I said, ‘Look, sir! This engine is broken. It has no spark plug’, I suspect you wouldn’t ask me to give examples that proved the engine wasn’t working. Me pointing to the gap where the spark plug should be would (I hope) be enough.

The engine itself might have plenty of more than serviceable parts. But the fact that it was missing a key element would still mean it was broken.

That’s why I burbled on about Giles Coren and Jeremy Clarkson and all that pish. I was saying that the world of mainstream wine writing lacks verve, excitement, provocation.

And that’s an opinion even my swaggering bravado is prepared to stand behind. Without examples.

2. Do we need to rebel against the wine establishment?

Stan says there’s a nagging question: ‘Do we need to throw in a lot of expletives and rebel against the established critics and wine writers?’

I don’t think the expletives and the rebellion are necessarily linked, to start with. I’ve said this before, but I actually think that swearwords are just words. I happen to like them. Some people don’t like them. The people that like them are probably going to get on better with my blog than the other ones. It’s just style, innit?

But: ‘Do we need to rebel against the wine writing establishment?’ is an interesting question. And I thought about this — all the way to Marks & Spencer and back.

And I think the answer is yes.

Okay, so I happen to know that I can find lots of lively, entertaining winey chit-chat — with thoroughly unpretentious folk — on the internet.

But most people who like a glass of wine aren’t going to start reading wine blogs. And, yes, that certainly includes mine, I should add.

I suspect, in fact, that most people who like a glass of wine either think that wine writing is a crock of shit, or else think it’s somehow for people who ‘understand that stuff’.

I think (from things he’s written) that Stan agrees that this is a problem. It’s a problem that needs to be tackled (and is being tackled) on many fronts. And one of those fronts absolutely should be outright protest. Not the only front. But one of them.

Given what I perceive to be a widespread mistrust of the ‘snobbishness’ of the wine world (perhaps especially in the UK?), I’d say there’s at least an argument for going all-out to challenge those perceptions. And the first step in challenging perceptions is getting anyone’s attention in the first place.

Sometimes, you have to be extreme to do that, I think.

3. Why shouldn’t we be irreverent about wine?

Stan’s post is entitled ‘Is irreverence taking over the wine world?’ — and he closes with the hope ‘that the consumer does not need irreverence or a dictionary to peak [sic] their interest in wine.’

I’m absolutely with him on the dictionary part.

But here’s a thing. Reverence. Reverence is what I accord to a firefighter on 9/11 who went back into a smoke-filled hell without thought for his safety. Reverence is what I accord to the victim of gang-rape in the Congo who nevertheless proclaims forgiveness of her violators. Reverence is what I accord to Rosa Parks, to Galileo, to Martin Luther King.

And I’m sorry, but wine is due NO FUCKING REVERENCE AT ALL. I’m not denying that it’s (often) wonderful stuff. But it’s a luxury and a frippery. A damn nice frippery, for sure. But still incredibly, mind-bogglingly unimportant, in the scheme of things.

It’s all this reverence shaboddle, in my opinion, that alienates so many people. That alienates people who actually think, ‘Wait a minute, this is just liquid that I enjoy drinking some evenings because it tastes nice and makes me get a bit pissed.’

Of course, there are also lots of people who are hungry for knowledge and information about wine. These people are already massively well-served by available sources. They are also the converted. They don’t need some ill-informed words from a foul-mouthed twenty-something like me.

But just because we in the wine bubble may take something seriously, I think we need to be reminding ourselves constantly, remorselessly: not everybody does. Reminding ourselves that perhaps, for some people, it’s the seriousness — not the irreverence — that feels like it’s taken over.

My swaggering vulnerability would like to reassure you that I have no quarrel with the notion of the beard — which is often a fine facial adornment, and one that Old Parn himself has occasionally (if never exactly luxuriantly) sported. Many of my favourite men have beards. And a couple of my favourite women. Back to main article

Naked Wines launches Marketplace. (Disruptive young scamps.)

In which Old Parn laboriously and digressively Deals The Scoop on a new marketplace venture by online wine retailer Naked Wines

A screenshot from Naked Wines' new Marketplace (beta)

Okay, so what’s Naked Wines up to?

A Naked Marketplace, that’s what.

Now, there comes a time when dignity and good sense tells you, ‘Stop right there, Parn. Don’t you think that enough easy, easy puns have been made using the ‘naked’ part of Naked Wines? What I’m trying to say, for the love of the risen lord, Parn, is this: DON’T FUCKING BEAT THAT ROTTING HORSE CARCAS ANY FURTHER. Yes, I know it’s a verbal open goal. But sometimes you just have to walk away from an easy open goal.’

That’s what good sense tells you. (Good sense, I might add, would be a shit premier league footballer.)

So. Yeah. Naked puns are cheap as dirt. I know this. But, come on. It’s a NAKED MARKETPLACE. Can’t I please just make one little innuendo?

No?

Fine. Be like that.

So I’ll be serious. Let’s see how much fun that is, eh? Soon, mark my words, you’ll be begging for more naked gags. Bitches.

(Here you see why Old Parn never got out of the starting gates in his early ambition to be a journalist. Because we’re SEVEN PARAGRAPHS IN and you still have no sodding clue what the story is. But we’re amongst friends, here, aren’t we? Besides, TRADITIONAL MEDIA IS DEAD, innit? Like that horse I mentioned, before.)

OKAY. So here’s the scoop. Naked Wines is launching a marketplace via which the customer can ‘bid’ for wines direct from the producer. Naked sits there (like Apple in the App Store — indeed, with nakedness and apples, this is all getting rather Edenic, don’t you think?) — simply providing (in theory) a forum within which these negotiations and purchases take place.

(Naked will take a 10% cut. Which is a good whack less than Apple, I might add.)

What does this actually mean? It means that producers can find a market without going through the usual channels of importers & retailers. Instead, they just go through Naked. Cutting out a bit of the middle-man (for argument’s sake, let’s say his torso and a bit of his pelvis). So — the idea is — savings for the customer and the producer.

Indeed, you could pursue my metaphor and imagine that the wine producer and consumer sit down together and good-naturedly get to know one another over a fine dinner made from the torso and pelvic meat of that unfortunate middle-man we mentioned earlier, with a side dish of beaten horse. All washed down, natch, with a glass of the red stuff.

(I imagine so, anyway. Though none of my wine books or resources suggest appropriate wine matches for either horse-pulp or human meat, so I can’t be sure.)

Now, there’s a bunch more info about this that I haven’t told you (no, no; instead, I’ve wasted your powers of concentration of images of pelvis-chewing and equine violence. Shame on me). Indeed, I have a very nice press release right here that Naked Wines’ very own Fran Krajewski disarmingly suggested I might like to take in order that I might ‘throw it into the bin later’.

Oh, Fran!

So — if only to give the lie to poor Fran’s pessimism — let me rattle through a bit more bumph about this Naked Marketplace.

In a way, think of it like Amazon Marketplace. Anyone can list something on there; Amazon brokers the deal. Because marketplace items may be either very scarce (not available via any other retailer) or bargainously cheap, the customer gets a bit of that thrill of the hunt, I suppose. Snapping up a good deal or a rare delight. Tracking down a virtual wildebeest, as it were, and dragging it back to the cave. (Um.)

So (with each paragraph, my natural affinity for an MBA course at a top business school becomes ever clearer) — the wine producer states an asking price for the wine. The customer can then either agree to pay that price, or can make a lower bid. Say, offering £8 for a wine priced at £10.

A bunch of other customers are all doing the same thing. So what we end up with is a reflection of what people are willing to pay for this wine. The producer can see this — and can make the decision as to the ultimate selling price, knowing exactly how much demand exists at that price point.

So hypothetical producer might choose to stick at a higher price for fewer sales, or go with the lower bids for more sales. Obv, dude. And, assuming the lower price is chosen, the customer gets her wine for less moolah.

I’ll be fascinated to see how this mechanism works in practice. At tonight’s demo (Rowan Gormley presenting to a packed room of wine bloggers), I couldn’t see much of the actual user interface (which I suspect will be key in rendering the whole process simple-seeming and unintimidating). But given Naked’s fairly decent record of simplicity and plain-talkin’, I hope this side of things will be well-managed.

But enough slathering and waffling. Get your bad arse on over to the Naked Marketplace and see for yourself. It’s launching tomorrow. Which is (by the time this is posted) ALREADY TODAY.

And that’s it. Not a naked pun (or, alas, even a naked nun) in sight.

I hope you’re happy.

You can’t tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine? Rejoice!

In which we address the news item of the day: people’s alleged inability to taste the wheat amidst the chaff.

Macro photograph of a wooden-handled corkscrew. The metal screw is in focus; the wooden handle out.

Someone’s screwed. But I don’t think it’s the consumer.

So, big news in the wine world (if that’s not an immediate contradiction in terms) is that a recent psychological study demonstrated that ‘people just [can’t] tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine,’ in the words of Richard Wiseman, who conducted the survey at Hertfordshire University.

You can read more about the story on the Guardian, but the gist is that people were, overall, only able correctly to identify the more expensive wine from a pair 50% of the time. In other words, they might as well’ve flipped a coin.

Predictably, this story is the cause of much wino hullabaloo. On Twitter, I’ve read a good number of tweets in which wine industry members and/or wine bloggers see this as a problem to be overcome.

And I’m not sure I agree. Because, in my view, if people are getting the same amount of pleasure from a £5 wine as they are from a £20 wine, MORE POWER TO THEM. They win. And can use the £15 they’ve saved to buy sex/drugs/rock & roll.

I agree it’s a problem for the wine industry, which wants to make money. That includes retailers and producers of wine. But can anyone tell me why it’s a problem for the consumer who can’t tell the difference?