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The second look

Published:  18 January, 2007

Has Tim Atkin MW finally acquired a sense of humour and become a satirist? Surely he cannot have meant what he wrote, as quoted in Harpers (16 December 2005, p.10), that of the 10,000 wines he reckons to taste in a year, only 500 are worth a second look? What a crippling critical burden for a man to carry; one that would, if its claimant cared to reflect a moment longer and his editor to read what his wine correspondent has written, surely disqualify him from being a consumer wine writer of any value whatsoever - except, perhaps, to the editors of those fatuously hoity-toity mags
that clutter up Harley Street consultants' waiting rooms. Is it conceivable that 95% of Tim's tasting wines are not worth re-evaluation? If so, the matter begs several more questions that must nag at anyone who thinks about this for more than 30 seconds.

The first is, How can such a critic write a consumer wine column if 95% of the wines he writes about he does not enthuse over? I assume Tim writes once a week. That is 52 columns. Ten thousand wines spread over that number of weeks offer a maximum of 192 wines to cover each column, with fewer than 10 wines able to attract any kind of encomium. Can this be how it really is, my dear Tim?

Not being a devoted reader of wine columns, I cannot offer any personal insight here, and perhaps 10 wines a week is sufficient to keep the Atkin readership buoyant. I suppose it must be, though it seems meagre to me, for when I wrote a weekly column I sometimes covered three times this number of recommended wines. Ah, well. Perhaps my standards of entry are that much lower than Tim's, my palate not so finely attuned to the less-than-outstanding.

Two questions remain, though, still nagging at me, not receding as I cogitate on the matter. One is to wonder if other wine critics are equally choosy? Would MacQuitty, Ehrlich, Moore, Goode, Robinson, Rose and so on be equally snooty about 95% of the wines that swilled around their delicate palates? Perhaps Harpers might invite each and every one of them for their opinions. I would be keen to see if I am the sole wine critic who finds that many times Tim's number of acceptable wines is acceptable to me.

(I base this on the fact that my annual wine guide Superplonk probably carries recommendations for 2,000-3,000 wines, and I can only taste as many wines in a year as Tim does - perhaps a couple of thousand more at the most. My website's current database lists around 15,000 wines, but I have been unable to aggregate how many score above the threshold of acceptability. My guess is 25% at least.)

The other question that amuses me to ponder is that if 95% of any wine critic's tasted wines are not worth a second look, does this not damn all the wine ranges at all the wine merchants in the United Kingdom? Are really only 40 wines from Tesco's range of 800 worth a second look, Tim? Gosh. Gee whizz! Tesco has some explaining to do here: 760 mediocrities out of 800 bottles? It's a scandal. How come Tim has not written in his column that this is the case? Or has he already done so? If so, I hope the advertisement department of the Guardian and Observer newspaper group were able to explain the situation to Tesco and not lose the millions that the retailer spends in ads in its publications.

We are lucky, indeed, to have a wine critic among us who is so fearless. I feel humbled by Tim's stance on this matter. True, the only logical next step is to resign. I mean, how can anyone work in an industry where he has to stomach a 95% failure rate? One is forced to wonder if this is the Olympian Atkin's next move. I tremble with anticipation. Not because I would be in the queue to fill the gap created by Tim's resignation, but because it would show the world that, contrary to the views of the highly strung Parker with his attacks on the integrity of the average British wine critic, we have in Atkin a man, a colossus of rectitude and ethical courage, who puts his principles above all else. Well done, Tim! I can tell you this, mate. If I had a say in Betty's New Year's honours list, you would already be settling into your bench at the House of Lords, ready and willing to denounce the second rate at the highest court of political appeal in the land (have you sampled Parliamentary house red, lad? Ee, by jiminy, you've got your work cut out there!).