Why does anyone drink wine? We think this is why.

In 'Why Does Anyone Drink Wine?' (The Spectator, 8th June), Rory Sutherland gets some things right for mostly the wrong reasons, and with the wrong intentions.  Barring a bit of philosophical padding it is a near-identical re-heating of an article Mr Sutherland wrote in June 2009, right down to the Kingsley Amis quotation and Gimlets, and presumably also after a good lunch.

If we're speaking purely in terms of volume, Mr Sutherland is right to say "most wine is actually rubbish". He is right that wine can be a complicated subject, a situation abetted by some members of the wine trade (mostly unintentionally, though some by cruel design - these are the people getting their own back for being picked last in the playground).

He is right that many people find drinking wine in public akin to walking on eggshells.  He is right to highlight the fundamental silliness of blind tastings - a bit of fun rather than an exact science, yet in doing so though he inadvertently points to the pitfalls even experts encounter when tasting blind, rather than anything remotely to do with the quality of wine as a beverage.

Much abounds too of what Mr Sutherland calls the "illusion of autonomy".  The grossest example is the wall of wine in a supermarket: the con-trick suggesting untrammelled choice but offering a range narrower than Hugh Grant.  The 'independent' sector can be guilty of this too, rightly making a virtue of difference but at the same time lapsing into hyperactive differentiation.  There are more distinctions between wines than Mr Sutherland likes to let on (there are also more colours than red and white), but not as many as we like to think.  The Spanish white grape Godello, for instance, is very similar to better-known Albarino and both come from Galicia.  They produce, on the whole, quite similar wines, with some differences dependent on the producer and the location and for the most part discernible only to the most determined of drinkers.  Yet as a grape, Godello tells a most wonderful story of survival, being as it was nearly extinct only a few decades ago.  For me it is the stories - the idiosyncratic tapestry of culture, geography and history - that brings wine to life, and aside from sleuthing skills, it is in imaginatively relating those stories that the true value of the wine merchant resides.

The trade is right to market and sell this expertise to less knowledgeable customers - indeed has as much of a right to do as the advertising industry. And here is where Mr Sutherland - peculiarly given he has made a career out of being an accomplished commercial storyteller - seems to miss the point.

So much wine is rubbish, which is why so more and more people are avoiding drinking that kind of wine and instead expanding their knowledge, widening their purchasing horizons and becoming more adventurous. Particularly younger wine drinkers.

It is why when I go to a pub, I drink beer. Instead people search out real points of difference (and they do, it doesn't take much searching).  Wine is also typically better when drunk with food, which is how most people in traditional wine regions such as France or Italy take it.  And both because wine can be tricky to navigate, and merchants are prone to obfuscate in their own interests, drinkers are taking upon themselves to learn more about what they're drinking.  We are going through a youthful renaissance in wine all over the world because more than any other drink it has a compelling story to tell. Its sheer unpredictability, flexibility, diversity and enjoyability paint a salivating picture any ad-man would surely delight in.  Above all, the story wine tells is a human story.

Many millions of satisfied wine drinkers cannot all be guilty of Mr Sutherland's "Freudian" anxieties.  It is an entertaining argument, but long words and straw men are time-honoured tools for writers desiring - to scrounge a phrase - to "advertise their own discernment". Ultimately Mr Sutherland's explanation does more to explain why wine is undergoing such a surge in popularity, rather than dispel it.


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