Book coverIf being a wine writer is all about ‘tasting vast quantities of wine’, why isn’t everyone doing it? Because as Geoff Adams (wine writer, wine author and Greek wine specialist) explains eruditely in his chapter on Wine Journalism within the new book Specialist Journalism (Routledge, £21.99): ‘it can be difficult to commission a sufficient amount of work within this speciality alone to make a good living’. But if that hasn’t put you off, then how do you go about becoming a wine writer?

Australian vineyardStart by knowing your subject and educating your palate, although Geoff also includes ‘visiting the regions, wineries and vineyards’ in his list of must-haves. But the economics of wine writing make this a bit of a pipe dream for the beginner unless you’ve got private funds or have persuaded Decanter magazine to stump up for both your feature and travelling expenses.

If neither of these is the case then go for the cheaper option – the library or the charity shop book shelf. Here you’ll find a vast range of slightly dated (not many brand new publications here) but still useful wine knowledge including Larousse Wine Encyclopedia (my own copy is 1994), The Sensational Liquid: A Guide to Wine Tasting by Malcolm Gluck (1999), The Finest Wines of Bordeaux by James Lawther Master of Wine (2010) and Jancis Robinson’s Confessions of a Wine Lover (her 1997 autobiography).

man slapping headYes there is the internet (just type wine into Google and watch the 568million results pop up) but as all wine writers and wine journalists discover very early on – you must be sure of your sources. Website wine information is often both useful and inspiring but occasionally it can be an inaccurate rehash copied from another website, which was copied from another website...ad infinitum. In this way myths and inaccuracies persist and can so easily end up in the wine writing.

Always double-check until you’re sure enough, and learnt enough, to use what you read.

Okay, but what about the educating the palate bit? Geoff suggests choosing ‘wines of individuality and character, which can be used to train the eye, nose and palate’ from the new and old world wine regions, but not the ‘mass-produced cheap wines that taste the same wherever in the world they are made’.

Tesco Simply Cabernet SauvignonHere I have to disagree with Geoff, cheap wines (those usually priced at £5 or under) may, more often than not, be mass produced but it does not necessarily follow that they will all taste the same: a Cabernet Sauvignon hailing from the vast wine farms of Australia usually (but not always) tastes of diluted jam with its richness overcoming even the most eager palate after a couple of large glassfuls, while the same grape variety grown in the south of France produces a wine that too may be sweet but has a background of balancing tannin (your tasting notes might show tobacco or liquorice) that makes it an easier, and less swamping, match to food. Both wines will cost about a fiver, and both will be found with supermarket own-labels and both will take you along way down the road of educating your palate before you even consider getting onto the £10+ a bottle stuff.

All wines are a learning opportunity. So dismiss them at your peril.

To ‘give your CV an impressive hallmark of professionalism’ Geoff suggests joining the Circle of Wine Writers (CWW). Having your name alongside such luminaries as Jancis Robinson OBE, Hugh Johnson OBE, Derek Cooper and Michael Broadbent sounds very tempting but the Circle’s joining requirements of regular publication plus support from two existing Circle members (plus the annual membership fee of £50) makes it quite a hard gaff to get into for the wine-writing beginner.

I have been tempted to join the CWW. Although membership offers access to tastings, events and trips (plus something to plonk on the CV let’s not forget) I’ve gone about developing my own access to these by contacting wine press relations and marketing departments for myself.

I started by telephoning (yes the old-fashioned telephone as introductory emails from journalists and writers are easily ignored) the press departments within each supermarket HQ (look on their websites for contact details, for example Sainsbury's) and asked to be added to their mailing list. And I soon found that as many of these press contacts changed employer frequently – taking their contacts list with them – that important list of contacts grew without too much assistance.

So you can get by on your own but it takes gumption (never be afraid to telephone or email a wine brand) and research skills, plus tenacity and the ability to put rejection out of your mind (dwell on all the ‘no’ responses that will inevitably come your way and you’ll find your output soon dwindles to zero).

Cockburn and glassBut the final insight must go to Geoff:

'one thing is certain, any budding wine writer or broadcaster must enjoy a passion for wine!'

This article has also appeared as Paula's Wines of the Week on MatureTimes.co.uk

A well-written review of the entire book can be found at the Journal of the Association for Journalism Education