Penderyn Celt Whisky, Wales (£36.88, penderynstore.com) A ripple from the culture war disturbed the placid surface of the drinks industry earlier this month. The cause: a liberal sprinkling of liberal-baiting tasting notes from the pen of spirits writer Jim Murray, as published in the latest edition of his annual Whisky Bible. In an Instagram post, fellow whisky writer Becky Paskin took issue with the apparent sexism of Murray’s notes: Paskin found “34 references to whisky being ‘sexy’ and many more crudely comparing drinking whisky to having sex with women.” The descriptions of the whiskies made by Welsh distiller Penderyn were particularly distasteful. As Paskin pointed out, Penderyn has an all-female distilling and blending team. Given his power in the whisky industry, that gives Murray’s Swiss Tony-ish response to Penderyn Celt (“If this was a woman, I’d want to make love to it every night. And in the morning. And afternoon, if I could find the time… and energy…”) a distinctly creepy cast – not to mention an image that I’d rather not have in my head when I have a dram of this fine whisky.
Zuccardi Valles Torrontés, Salta, Argentina 2019 (from £13.99, cambridgewine.com; kingsgatewineswinchester.co.uk; portlandwines.com) Murray for his part has defended his corner stoutly, and, as is the depressing modern reactionary way, has invoked principles of free speech being imperilled by a miserably over-sensitive and humourless woke generation. Since his book is widely available, it would be hard to argue that such deathless phrases as “if whisky could be sexed this would be a woman” have not been freely and widely expressed. Still, let he without sin and all that, and the Murray furore has prompted me to ask if my own tasting notes are entirely free of the sort of casual sexism that Murray’s reveal. The wine trade as a whole is certainly guilty of a habit of describing wines in stereotypically gendered ways: lighter, perfumed, pretty wines are routinely described as feminine. Mea culpa: I’ve fallen into this language unthinkingly when describing such aromatically floral wines as Zuccardi’s beautifully balanced torrontés employing archaic imagery I’d never ordinarily use: boudoir, buxom, though thankfully not sexy. This time around I’ll simply say it’s a beautiful, spicy-food-friendly white.
Fonseca Unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal 2014 (from £14.99, robertsandspeight.co.uk; frazierswine.co.uk; cadmanfinewines.co.uk; noblegreenwines.co.uk) No prizes for guessing which types of wine get to be described as masculine: it’s the “powerful” wines that are high in alcohol, tough or “muscular” in tannin and strong in flavour. These vinous Marlboro men are generally red wines, or fortified wines such as port, although a red wine can apparently have a feminine and masculine side. Certainly, I’ve seen the ports of Fonseca, with their combination of silky texture, violet-edged fruits of the forest fruitiness, and deep concentration and intensity (qualities all very much present in the 2014 LBV) described as both feminine and masculine. Is this kind of thing offensive? To me it’s representative of the dated worldview of the milieu in which modern wine writing developed: a world dominated first by English upper-class men and then American ex-fratboys. As the wine-writing (and spirits-writing) world has become more inclusive, so the tics and mannerisms of the old school have come to seem ridiculous. Like a badly stored old bottle of claret, today they’re best left alone.
Follow David Williams on Twitter @Daveydaibach
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