Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Noble Rot magazine - giving the middle finger to the wine establishment

‘Fucking hell,’ says Lily Allen, ‘what the fuck is that?' It's the only instance I can think of which pairs the comely balladeer (she's basically Ian Dury as reimagined by William Gibson, if you will, in drag) with a Trousseau from the Jura. The interview is given a further salty tang by the photo, in which the first thing you notice is Allen’s middle finger cheerily saluting the photographer.

Samizdat: Noble Rot
That jaunty digit is what Mark Andrew and Dan Keeling’s Noble Rot magazine set out to give the world of wine writing – stick it to pomposity, verbiage, ‘the mind-warping, shallow dull content of most wine magazines’ as Jamie Goode is quoted on the back cover. And 90% of the time they’re spot on. Each issue (we’re on number 3) aims to be ‘totally different and better than the last,’ Andrew says.

Noble Rot is a fresh and stylish antidote to the established wine press. A disparate bunch of writers, chefs, photographers, artists, wine merchants and winemakers sound off on whatever topic tickles them and the editors. So in this issue we have Richard Hemming on getting pissed (‘the love of wine and the love of inebriation are as intertwined as Muscadet and oysters’), Cave de Pyrene’s Doug Wregg on Georgia, Allen tasting a flight of eclectic goodies like the Philippe Bornard Trousseau and Arnot-Roberts’ North Coast Syrah, a ‘21-year-old illustrator from Omsk’, sommelier Wieteke Tepperna, Neal Martin and so on.

I don’t know Dan Keeling, a former A&R man who signed Allen to Parlophone (so he’s alright by me). Andrew is a polymath whose day job is senior wine buyer for Roberson, the best wine merchant in London. He’s a Burgundy expert, Sonoma, more, can’t utter a sentence about wine without the word ‘structure’ in it, says bracing things like ‘the most boring wine regions in the world are Bordeaux, Napa and Stellenbosch’ because he thinks they’re ossified closed shops. He loves magazines, the physicality of them, and refuses to put Noble Rot online on the basis that 'everything is online, and if everyone's doing it, we want to go the other way.'

He admires Anthony Bourdain - Kitchen Confidential is one of his favourite books, because Bourdain 'contextualises' food and cooking and restaurants.

‘I love context,’ he says. ‘Most wine writing puts wine in a sealed bubble with no attempt to show where its place is in the wider world of art and culture.’ Noble Rot – which is funded through the crowdsourcing site Kickstarter to the tune of £11,607 with 276 backers – tries to prick that bubble.

Mostly, it works. The Lily Allen interview is a delight, capturing the wit and detachment that make her songwriting so brilliant, and ends with a lovely riff on the coolness of Cornettos; Daniel Primack takes a scalpel to the ‘rare wine’ orthodoxy: ‘I might start a new venture called the Even Rarer Fine Wine Company.' There’s a nice interview with Kermit Lynch, and I liked Graham Hodge’s thoughts on wine labels, and getting the designer of the Chemical Brothers album covers to critique labels like Kung Fu Girl and Petrus (didn’t like the first, adored the second).
Cheery salute: Lily Allen

Sometimes you feel it’s a bit self-consciously iconoclastic, or there’s a whiff of too-clever-by-half school magazine writing. Hugh Jones’s grape biographies are just too whimsical – ‘Syrah was sitting in a cherry-red wing-backed leather chair in his study smoking a cigar…’ – I’ve always found anthropomorphism too cutesy for my taste. Then there are the Dolly Parton descriptors, which are no fresher now than when the kids at Wine X magazine were trotting them out a dozen years ago. And the wine and music thing. There’s always someone who’ll tell you that love of music and love of wine go together, especially classical music - the more Teutonic the better – Wagner nuts are particularly tedious on the subject. But it’s a trope that goes through the industry, so while the bloke in red trousers can’t shut up about the Ring Cycle and how it goes wonderfully with Barolo, at the hipper end of the spectrum there’s all these references to Daft Punk and the Stone Roses.

Many wine writers are under the widespread delusion that broadcasting one’s music tastes confers credibility. There are some serial offenders, insisting on telling us what’s on their iPod, or 'turntable' as if they're teenagers on work experience at the NME instead of lauded wine critics. You know who you are. Take it from me – you may be brilliant on trellising systems and much else besides but no one gives a tuppenny fart what you think about the Arctic Monkeys.

But these are cavils. There’s so much to like about Noble Rot. It’s got a nice samizdat feel, Louise Sheeran’s illustrations are superb, it’s authoritative and witty, and you know you can rely on the writers’ opinions because – in the end – Mark Andrew is very, very serious about wine.





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