A wish list for change in 2019

26 March, 2019

This is the time of year to resolve to do something about our bad habits.

And even if the point of the exercise is more about recognising things that are injurious to our health and wellbeing rather than actually succeeding in doing something about them, that’s better than nothing. The wine trade could do with a similar process of taking moral stock. So here, in no particular order, are my suggestions for making the wine world a better place in 2019.


Even the strongest advocates of point-scoring in wine would have to admit something’s gone awry in the process when anything under 93 points is considered a failure. The problem of grade inflation is even worse for established, so-called fine wines – which critic would be bold enough to give a Bordeaux first growth less than the 94-96 en primeur range? Critics need their scores to be quoted if they’re going to be seen to be influential, but no producer’s going to put your score on the label if it’s lower than your rival’s numbers. My solution: let’s have an amnesty. All critics agree to start again from scratch using the full range of numbers available from 0-100. Then scores might mean something again.


We’ve had more than a decade of ideological toing-and-froing about the merits or otherwise of natural wine, with neither side willing to back down or take a more nuanced position. Isn’t it time we realised that, on the one hand, not all natural wines are disastrous, bacterial and fungal messes, and, on the other, that not all supposedly ‘conventional’ wines are sterile, soulless industrial products? Can’t we just admit that what’s important in wine, so long as it’s not causing egregious damage to the environment, is not the way it was made but the way it tastes? I live in hope.


Too often, reading wine labels I can hear my high-school English teacher tutting and muttering: “Define your terms.” Vines are described as ‘old’ or ‘very old’ without corroborating age statements. In the New World, a reserva or gran reserva can mean whatever the producer wants it to, and ‘sustainable’ is there for even the most short-termist farmer. I’ve seen terroir used to describe wines made from vast tracts of land such as South East Australia. In a world which is so concerned with transparency in sourcing and labeling, it would be great to see more honesty on bottles.


Individual consumer choices are never going to be enough to make the changes necessary to help combat environmental challenges. Governmental and inter-governmental action is more important. But, as buyers, readers of this magazine have the ability – and responsibility – to make a real difference. You can choose not to stock that absurdly heavy bottle – and explain why. You can persuade producers to use bulk shipping and lightweight packaging; you can suggest improvements in water and energy use at wineries. Using big listings and long-term contracts as your carrot, you can make the wine world a better place way beyond 2019.

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