Michel Bettane

  • Wine regulation: The devil drives

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I found myself repeating this proverb a few weeks ago at a conference at Maurizio Zanella’s magnificent Ca’ del Bosco winery in Italy. We were gathered there-a few journalists and a large number of wine producers-to ponder the question “What future for great European wines?” It was prompted by Maurizio’s growing concern over EU legislation and the issues it raises for domestic production.

  • Bad Deal

    We French know that we are basically ungovernable. There’s no hope for anyone whose policies contradict the deeply held beliefs of the average voter in this country. When it comes to welfare reform, for example, the French man in the street is happy to make the rich pay. But giving to the poor-well, that’s another story. Likewise with wine (and, indeed, French food in general). People want the best goods but not at prices that reflect their true market value.

  • Lessons of the past

    When it comes to wine appreciation, you really have to taste grand cru wines from very old vintages. What a pity it is then that so few people can afford to taste them at all, particularly when understanding the world of wine means understanding not just the wine, but us, too. This simple truth was brought home to me yet again this summer. It was a beautiful day in Provence and I had just uncorked our first candidate: a 1983 François Raveneau Chablis Blanchot. The wine was a souvenir from my early years as a wine writer, working on the debut edition of the Guide Hachette des Vins de France. It was an opportunity to sample hundreds of wines from a prolific vintage, with yields up to and exceeding 100hl/ha.

  • The Absurdity and Flattery of Scores

    I am a wine critic. And so, of course, I am called on to judge the quality of thousands of different wines every year. Not just to describe them or to give an opinion on their quality but also to score them and rank them in a league table. And that’s where the trouble starts.

  • Benign Intervention, Part 2

    Most wine reviews, French or otherwise, are essentially subjective. All they boil down to are the personal likes and dislikes of the reviewer, which count for nothing if you are a professional wine taster. Equally worrying, they betray an almost willful disregard for the principles and practice of winemaking, even though both are essential to appreciate the characteristics and qualities of wine.

  • Man, Wine, and Nature

    Few aspects of wine culture are more hotly debated (and as a result, more boring) than the concept of terroir. Nobody knows this better than the readers of these pages, regularly showered with articles on terroir that might be erudite but are never quite convincing. The writers put me in mind of Talmudic scholars, endlessly trying to explain a mystery that actually defies any rational explanation. Such argument may have its place in moral philosophy, but it is completely pointless in the context of wine tasting and the enjoyment of wine, and it is utterly meaningless with regard to agriculture (whatever the “culture” bit of the word may suggest).

  • Did Someone Say “Classification”?

    Wine buffs just love official wine classifications, especially French ones. So do the producers-among the top Médoc and Burgundy growths, anyway. It is easy to see why: Classifications push up the prices of their wines and land. But the whole thing takes on a nightmare quality as recent classifications come up for review. The squabbling over the Médoc crus bourgeois has exhausted the patience of even the best-intentioned regulators; and two years of wrangling by the crus classés have made a laughing stock of the St-Emilion classification.

  • Business to Charity, it’s all about Wine

    Hong Kong is ever more puzzling. The biggest puzzle, for me, is the incredible curiosity that Hong Kong’s people have for wine-and especially French wine, which right now can do no wrong. Puzzling because distressingly childish vanity and snobbery seem to go hand in hand with refined tasting sensibilities that are unmatched in the Old World. Local wine collectors delight in the soaring values of the Bordeaux first growths. But they are also adept explorers of the extraordinary variety of French wine types.

  • Muddled Thinking

    In October, wine growers in AOC areas throughout Southwest France made their villages disappear. No more Pauillac, no more Jurançon, no more Sauternes-an irreplaceable part of French heritage simply wiped off the map. Rest assured, this is not permanent sabotage, merely an act of protest by wine growers who are sick of being treated like criminals. This is their response to the groveling obeisance of philistine public authorities to a handful of doctors who like to play God.

  • Typicity, I hate you!

    The French word “typicity” took a long time to be recognized by dictionaries and is particularly popular with the little world of wine. It sums up, in a single word, the comfort of being anchored in age-old tradition, the need for every industry to establish standards. It is a rallying banner for all those disaffected spirits frustrated with the way the world is going. So when I hear the wretched word used and misused by imbeciles to disguise their own intellectual shortcomings or side-step challenges in wine tastings, I reach for my gun.