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Praise for a master writer

Published:  18 January, 2007

Flaubert considered love to be a superior form of curiosity. With wine writers, all of whom claim to love wine, the curiosity is public. We are sending love letters to the objects of our curiosity.

In many cases this can make for painful and embarrassing reading. On three occasions, if my increasingly volatile memory is to be trusted, I have appeared in Private Eye's Pseud's Corner, on one occasion as the result of a bet made with a friend that I could pen a wine description in my Guardian column of such floribundant pretentiousness that, if I succeeded in getting it into Pseud's Corner, he would pay for dinner at Tante Claire, and if I failed, I would.

I have often wondered if wine writer Andrew Jefford makes similar bets with his friends, although as he is so fuse-wire scrawny one must assume he loses. That's is a great loss to Pseud's Corner, since he is given to such extravangances of phraseology as to make a us all bottle green with envy. A man who can describe a Palo Cortado sherry as hermaphroditic is amusing.

Mr Jefford should give lessons to those national newspaper dullards like the one whom, in the words of a leading Californian wine maker, reads as if he "is so constipated he hasn't made it to the john all year". A notable Australian wine writer once asked me if one leading female UK wine scribe was a man. When, somewhat astonished, I asked why, he said she wrote like one. I have since re-read her and he is right; but it would be ungentlemanly to mention her name.

We will also anonymously pass over the pismires, often contributors to the newsletter of the Circle of Wine Writers, who wield a pen as if it were a grouting tool, and settle on the master of the genre: Hugh Johnson.

Johnson often writes so limpidly about his love I can taste the liquid in my mouth, though this is not as a result of crude fruit metaphors, the resort of hobbledehoys like myself, but by pinning down his feeling in such finely wrought aesthetic terms that one feels the experience as a personal encounter. This is, surely, the apotheosis of wine writing and we wine writers are, as expressionists in English, all in the giant shadow of this Monet of the craft.

Malcolm Gluck is the wine critic of The Oldie magazine