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Storytellers ‘replacing role of critics’

Wine writers who tell stories are replacing the role of the wine critic and are helping to swing the pendulum away from score chasing wines, according to Mark Andrew of Roberson.

Mark Andrew

Speaking to the drinks business, Andrew said: “The role of wine critics is being counterbalanced by a new breed of wine writer that is less score driven and more focused on telling stories, which is providing a better balanced conversation.

Andrew singled out New York Times writers Eric Asimov and Alice Feiring, and Jon Bonné of The San Francisco Chronicle as three writers that symbolise the new type of wine commentator.

He also cited the rising importance and power of the sommelier as helping to lessen the influence of score-driven critics on the market.

An ardent trumpet blower for Californian wine in the UK, Andrew believes this new approach will stop consumers using wine scores “as a crutch”.

Kutch Pinot Noir changed Mark Andrew’s perception of Californian wine

“During the ’90s and early noughties, a lot of Californian wines were driven down certain stylistic roads in order to get a high score. Wines got heavier and diversity was no longer there, but it’s time to tell a new story now,” he told db.

Having taken on Wall Street trader-turned-Pinot Noir maker Jamie Kutch in 2010, over the last five years Andrew has expanded Roberson’s California wine portfolio to over 30 producers including Sandhi, Wind Gap, MooBuzz and Broc Cellars.

“Kutch woke me up to the idea that California wasn’t just about big, heavy wines, and that there was elegant stuff coming out of the region. There was an opportunity to reset the UK’s view of California wines and I knew I’d be a fool not to get involved,” he told db.

Andrew reports that all of Roberson’s California wines are “flying” and that the phone hasn’t stopped ringing since the merchant hosted a tasting of its California range that featured a talk by Jon Bonné, author of The New California Wine.

“People are re-energised about Californian wine now. There’s a new face to the region and young winemakers are making all sorts of wacky stuff, from Gamay, Nero d’Avola and Picpoul to carbonic Carignan,” he said.

In terms of style, Andrew has noticed a lot more elegance, freshness and brightness from California reds, while the whites have evolved to become more virant, energetic and mineral, making them much more food friendly.

The next step for California, Andrew believes, is telling the terroir story.

“There has been a shift in emphasis towards wines with a sense of place and the emergence of terroir as a genuine factor in the wine conversation.

“From the Sonoma Coast to the Santa Rita Hills, California has massively diverse terroirs and incredible potential,” he told db.

For an in-depth look at the latest developments in Californian wine, keep an eye out for our California supplement, published with the February issue of the drinks business.

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