Critics lock horns in English wine row

29 June, 2007

This writer was referred to in two places in your issue of June 15 on the subject of English wine and I beg leave to respond in kind.

Firstly, the difference between myself and Tim Atkin, who wrote at length on my alleged vinous Anglophobe shortcomings, is that he is not an impartial, unbiased critic so his views are valueless. I am wholly without partiality where any wine is concerned and I judge English wine as I do Chilean, Australian or Bulgarian.

Mr Atkin, in a shocking compromise of his position as a consumer wine writer, is forced to say congenial things about English wine because not to do so would damage the International Wine Competition (sic) of which he is a co-chairman. He really should do the decent thing and resign from the Observer. Indeed, if that newspaper had understood the notion of conflicts of interest in this context I have no doubt it would replace him with an untainted wine critic.

I also rebut his suggestion that my views on English wine are formed in order to seek publicity. I attend wine tastings. I taste the wines. I rate them (the only critic who does so on a value-for-money basis). I rate most - not all - English wines very low both as value-for-money acquisitions and as deliciously contrived liquid artefacts.

Justin Howard-Sneyd, Waitrose's wine buying manager, describes me as "like King Canute" in that "the tide of opinion" is against me. I am delighted to be spoken of in the same breath as this great monarch who, rather than having any tide of opinion against him, was revered as all-powerful.

The only reason he entered the waves and commanded them to retreat was to prove to the world that his power was limited. A lesson for every wine critic was old Canute, not least your ethically screwed-up, hopelessly hypocritical Mr Atkin.

Malcolm Gluck

Atkin responds

There is no conflict of interest between my co-chairmanship of the International Wine Challenge and my work as a consumer journalist. I am paid a competitive per diem rate for my work, but I have no financial stake in the IWC's success. All I do is taste wines to the best of my ability, seeking to reward excellence and guide consumers towards better bottles. I am proud to be part of a fantastic team.

The IWC judges wines blind. No one is put under pressure to give medals to "mediocre wines", or any wine for that matter. The people who judge at the IWC do so honestly and professionally. Despite Mr Gluck's claim that he is "plagued with invitations to become a judge at this Challenge" he hasn't been invited since 1999. Readers of OLN might wish to ask themselves why.

Mr Gluck is welcome to his views on English wine. I don't happen to share them, but that is by the by. Nor do I feel constrained to say "congenial things" about English wines because of my connection with the IWC. Anyone who knows me will appreciate that I always describe wines as I see (and taste) them.

Tim Atkin MW

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