Who says natural wines can't make great computer tables?

Paul White

Context is everything in wine. Getting beyond one's own parochial influences is an important step in recognizing and overcoming bias. As a wine writer, educator and judge--this is essential.

Here is a bit of 'cultural' terroir that has shaped my views on wine over the years...

My initial exposure to wine came through the ‘cool climate’ wines of Oregon while living there in the 1970s. This was during the rise of California’s spin on New World wines and--Oregonians being Oregonians--the attitude I picked up was Californication wasn't always a good thing. As a result, my tastes were formed around aromatic wines with natural acidity, relatively transparent textures and linear structures, invariably made by small producers. From the start my favorite grapes were Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris…

During the 1980s I moved to Europe to study music in Holland (Koninklijk Conservatory) and followed that with a Doctorate of Philosophy at Oxford University in England. While at Oxford I captained and coached the Oxford University Blind Wine Tasting Team and presided over the university’s wine society, The Wine Circle. Blind tasting provided an excellent opportunity to understand aspects of grape characters, wine structure and terroir from the inside out. Oxford, with its 36 college cellars, daily trade tastings and high table culture, is one of the best places to learn about wine in the world. The experience I gained in teaching others how to blind taste has proved central to how I still teach wine appreciation today. The decade I spent studying the classical wine regions in Europe has continued to shape my sense of taste up to the present.

As an American, I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to British wine culture, which is one of the most cosmopolitan in the world specifically because it lacks the inward looking nationalistic bias of places like France and Australasia. Between competitive blind tasting and initial experiences as a judge at London’s International Wine Challenge I gained a good exposure to the classic wine regions of Europe, as well as the emerging ‘New World’ wine styles of Australia and New Zealand.

After having lived in the two central wine cultures of our time, Europe and USA, I moved on to New Zealand in 1993 to observe Australasian wine culture first hand. Over the last decade I've found myself bouncing between all three continents, with an increasingly strong gravitational pull back to my European roots.

Wine Writing and other wine experience

I published my first wine article in UK's Wine magazine in 1993. While in New Zealand I took on a job as a wine buyer and marketer for a chain of 16 wine stores for a couple of years in mid-1990s. This was a sobering experience that shook me out of any romantic pretenses that wine wasn't primarily about business. I left that job in 1999 after I won an open competition for NZ's top wine columnist slot at the New Zealand Herald -- the first outsider to break into NZ's wine writing establishment. In 2001 I became columnist for Wellington’s Dominion-Post daily newspaper which I left in 2003. During all this time I had a column called the Good Grape Guide for Australia’s premier wine magazine, Gourment Traveller Wine, while also writing wine features and other stuff.

Although I haven’t won any writing awards I have been Nominated 'Best Drinks Journalist' at the Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 & 2010. I hold the dubious honor of both having had the most nominations and losses for this award.

I have not written in Australasia since 2004, being actively blacklisted because I wrote factual, science based articles detailing faults associated with screw capped wines. Lesson learned is that it's never a healthy move to buck strongly held local religious beliefs. Since that time all my commissioned articles have appeared in European and American magazines like: World of Fine Wine, Decanter, Harpers, Wine (UK), Slow Food (Italy), Sante (USA), Fine Wine (Russia), Wine (Portugal), Enólogos (Spain) and a few other bits and pieces elsewhere. I've also knocked out overview chapters on Oregon and New Zealand for a couple of wine encyclopaedias.

The magazines I enjoy writing for the most now are World of Fine Wine (UK), Slow Food (Italy) and Wine (Portugal) because all encourage me to write what I feel is worthy of discussion. Great wine editorial policy--unfettered by hidden advertorial bias--is a rare thing in wine publications today. These are good publications specifically none of these publications allow advertising to drive their editorial policy.

Wine Judging

I’ve judged wine competitions in Europe and Australasia yearly since 1988. To be frank, I became jaded, early on, about Australasian competitions, the accuracy of their results, and what they actually accomplish in the end.

As a result I have pared my judging now back to those few that give me pleasure and provide useful feedback on the current state of wine: Mondial Sauvignon Blanc (2010-2015), Concours Mondial de Bruxelles (2004-2015), Portugal’s Essencia dos Vinhos (2006-2011) and Collection Pays D'Oc (2011-1012). All of these are judged by a wide range of international palates and limit the wines tasted daily, ensuring the palate fatigue endemic in big competitions doesn't happen.

In hindsight I've probably learned the most from my experience as a Panel Chairman/Super Juror for London's International Wine Challenge (1988-2003, off and on after this) which organizes wines in regional and stylistic context and is judged by people from a wide range of nationalities. For many years I judged the oldest running food and wine pairing competition, Sydney International Top 100 (2000-2008) which taught me that most wines that win medals and trophies in big New World wine competitions are usually horrible with food, whereas the lower scoring wines often shine at the dinner table.

Wine Travels

Travel to wine regions is one of the best ways to understand the fundamental influences that culture, climate and soil play in determining wine styles. I feel fortunate to have tasted wine in these regions: France (Alsace, Beaujolais, Burgundy, Champagne, Rhone, Loire, Provence, Banyuls, Languedoc Roussillon, Jurancon, Cahors), Czech Republic, Croatia (Istria), Italy (Piedmont, Veronese, Tuscany, Sicily, Campania, Coli, Friuli, Emila-Romana), Germany, Slovenia, Portugal (Bairrada, Dao, Douro, Alentejo, Lisboa, Tejo, Madeira, Tras-os-Monte, Vino Verde), and Spain (Rioja, Penedes, Priorato, Jerez, Navarra, Allicante). Beyond Europe I’ve traveled to California (Anderson, Russian River, Sonoma, Carneros, Green Valley, Monterey, Napa...), Oregon, Washington (all AVAs); Argentina, New Zealand (all 10 regions), and Australia (Barossa, McLaren Vales, Eden/Claire Valley, Adelaide Hills, Victoria, Yarra, Hunter Valley, Granite Belt). I hope to visit many more in future.