So big Bob has publicly lost it with those of us who champion rare grape varieties and obscure wine regions. In an attack on sommeliers who dare to branch away from notions of a classic wine-list, he wrote:
A bit elitist and ignorant, don't you think? Here he is saying, and we paraphrase, ‘I know all there is to know about wine, and I have ruled that these are the best regions and grape varieties’. Well good for you Bob, but most people haven’t decided yet, and remain interested in discovering more about the big wide world of wine beyond Napa and Bordeaux. Bob can stick to what he likes, enjoying his Sine Qua Non and Petrus in gown and slippers.
Jancis Robinson weighed in with a piece in the FT (£), asking whether the quest for "novelty" is being followed at the expense of quality. Credit where credit is indubitably due, Jancis is often a flag-bearer for rare and unusual grape varieties (Wine Grapes is the grape geek's Bible); so though she sort of agrees with Bob about not "throwing the baby out with the bathwater", she does unapologetically defend many wines and rare grape varieties, Fronton (and Négrette) for example.
Truly obscurity does not guarantee quality. If that is what Bob believes, he can't be talking to many of obscurity's lovers. We dismiss plenty of wine that doesn't cut the mustard. If we wouldn't pay the price for a quirky wine ourselves, we wouldn't stock it. Not everything "novel" has to be unusual, nor is everything that is unusual by that virtue great. Yet some (indeed many) really, truly are. And the best thing? Given that these rarities are not routinely garlanded by people such as Bob, more often than not the ordinary drinker can afford them.
Wine is also about stories. August "classics" such as Super Tuscans have parachuted in non-native grapes, barging aside "classic" grape varieties and wines such as Sangiovese and Chianti. The likes of Ornellaia and Sassicaia were just faddish novelties, once. They have a great story, that of intrepid pioneers breaking the fuddy-duddy mould. And so many so-called "novelties" have great stories too, some that go back through the annals of time. Only ten hectares left in the world? Amazing. You're practically drinking a dodo.
What is "novelty" anyway? Unpronounceable grapes that have gone into making delicious wines in curious places for millennia?
Or when growers grub up indigenous grapes and plant "classic" Cabernet? All to hit the oenological G-spot of a Western wine critic? Is that "novelty"?
Georgians have been burying their wines underground in qvevri for hundreds and hundreds of years. These are not "novel" wines.
There are plenty of parameters beyond just being good or bad, permitting or preventing wines appearing on our shores. Why do we go ga-ga in Britain about claret? Of course it can be jolly good; but for centuries it was easier for us to get hold of wines from Bordeaux than Savoie.
Bob is bang on the money in one respect. It is ignorant to dismiss "classics" just because they're old hat, and only to be satisfied by novelty for novelty's sake. Several international grape varieties are international for a simple good reason: they make good wines. You'll find crazy Juhfark here, but you'll also find Merlot Bordeaux Supérieur.
Bob's right. With such a wonderful world of variety out there, extreme dogmatism one way or t'other is daft and self-defeating.
And if his imagined opponents are one way, he's t'other.
Robert Woodhead & Nik Darlington