What makes wine special

Reaching the 50th instalment of Hemming’s Way is hardly the biggest milestone, but I don’t need much of an excuse to pour myself a glass of champagne before getting dressed. It’s a better reason than I had for all 49 other instalments, anyway. Not that that stopped me.

When I started writing this column four years ago, few could have predicted the political situation we are facing today. Over the same period, changes in the world of wine have been far less seismic – so far, at least.

My first ever OLN column considered what wine is fundamentally for – and that hasn’t changed. It’s easy for the wine trade to lose sight of how most consumers interact with wine on a daily basis – even when we are the ones interacting with them. What I said back then is as true today as it ever was, and always will be: for the majority of drinkers, wine is a simple, affordable, thoughtless pleasure.

But that doesn’t render it meaningless. Even those who know nothing about wine will attribute some kind of value to it, either consciously or sub-consciously. It’s true that there is still a snob factor attached to wine, but we should be careful not to go too far the other way by devaluing the things that make wine special.

Even the most unengaged wine drinkers have an appreciation of the wide variety of countries and grape varieties that are available. Everyone understands that wines such as Chablis or Rioja or Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or Argentinean Malbec are well known because they have qualities that are unique; and that gives them value. The job for everyone who sells wine is to make it feel special, from everyday Pinot Grigio to grand cru burgundy.

Keeping our own faith in wine is essential. Whether you believe in its ability to reflect terroir, or the way it can capture the character of a vintage, or whether you simply love the way a shared bottle can bring people together – these are the things that give wine value; that provide a vital point of difference to beer or cider or spirits; this is what makes wine special.

Maybe it’s the growing spectre of global political unrest, or maybe it’s having a glass of champagne on an empty stomach, but right now it seems increasingly important to defend and preserve the values of those things we hold dearest. Relatively speaking, wine is insignificant – but it does brings simple, affordable pleasure to millions of people every day, and that’s got to be worth caring about.

I intend to do exactly that for at least another 50 instalments of this column. I hope you’ll join me.


On 23 March, I am launching a brand new project in collaboration with Olly Smith. It’s called A Glass With and we think it will be enlightening and entertaining for everyone who works with wine. To get an exclusive advance preview, sign up with your email address at aglasswith.com.

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