Talking Trade: 14th October – 20th October


The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 rose 0.6% last week, closing Thursday at 329.58. Trade by value and volume were both higher and Bordeaux activity was solid at 70.3%. However, First Growth trade was lower at 18.5%, down from 27.5% last week. Lafite Rothschild was the most active, representing 25% of First Growth activity with Mouton Rothschild taking a 22% share.


It was another strong week for Champagne. Krug, Vintage Brut 2000 (AG 95) was in the top five wines traded by value and volume this week. The 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2006 vintages were the most active by value and volume. Salon, Mesnil 2002 (AG 96+), Moet & Chandon, Dom Perignon Luminous 2006, Moet & Chandon, Dom Perignon 1999 (AG 93) were all well represented.


Angelus 2010 (WA 99+) took the top spot this week by value. It traded at £2,875 per 12×75 just below last month’s record high of £2,900. It is available below its 99+ point 2009 sibling that last traded at £3,016.


Two Brunello 2010s featured amongst the top wines traded by volume – a highly regarded vintage, accessibly priced. Overnight, James Suckling published his top 100 wines of 2016. His third favourite was Renieri, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, 2010. He awarded it 100 points.


Bordeaux 2014: movers and shakers

Yesterday the UK trade were treated to a tasting of Bordeaux 2014 at a UGC event in London. The early consensus is that 2014 is a “good” vintage, but that it is perhaps still not showing at its best.

The wines are yet to be released in bottle, but prices have already been rising. Top wines from the vintage are up 13.4% on average since release En Primeur – and many have made even steeper climbs.

The top risers are shown in the table below. Three second wines feature, with Petit Mouton 2014 taking the top spot. Its Grand Vin, Mouton Rothschild 2014, is the only First Growth among the top ten.


A number of wines have bucked the upward trend and are currently available below their release prices. Yquem 2014 – down 9.7% since its release last month – has fallen the most. This is despite favourable reviews: Neal Martin commented: “It’s not quite up there in the rarefied heights of say, the 2001 or 2009, but it is what we call in the trade, ‘the business’.”


The 2014s will become physically available over the next few months and will be fresh in the minds of the trade. This could be a vintage to watch closely.

This is an extended version of an update sent to Liv-ex members earlier today.

Pape Clement 2009 reaches new highs


Pape Clement 2009 hit an all-time high this week when it traded at £1,335 per 12×75. This is an increase of 64.8 % on its trade price of £810 at the beginning of 2016.

The wine was awarded a perfect 100-points by Robert Parker in a Hedonist’s Gazette article, published in April. It has since seen a flurry of activity and rising prices.

Despite this climb, the wine is still available at a 23.8% discount to the Chateau’s equally scored 2010 vintage which is currently commanding a Market Price of £1,720.


Second wines: closing the gap

First growths and second wines

Back in July 2007, it was possible to buy 6.6 bottles of second wines – more than a standard six pack – for every bottle of the Grand Vin on average. That number now stands at half – 3.3.

The chart above shows the relationship between prices of First Growths and their second wines going back to 2005. This relationship has seen a number of phases. In the first, through to the end of the summer of 2007, “traditional” fine wine buyers from the UK and Europe were leading the market. Prices for First Growths were rising, but the brand appeal didn’t trickle down to their second wines, and the price gaps between the two groups broadened.

The second phase was characterised by the increased significance of Asian buyers in the fine wine market. A series of regulatory changes culminated in the complete removal of duties and tariffs on wine in Hong Kong in February 2008 – a major catalyst for Asian investment in the sector.

At this time, Chinese brand buying began to push Bordeaux prices higher, with First Growths and their second wines in focus. As prices for Lafite Rothschild and its peers reached dizzying heights, the second wines increasingly looked more attractive as entry levels to these popular brands at much lower price points. As the chart below shows, by mid-2010 the second wines were skyrocketing. Between June 2009 and June 2011, the Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 index – representing price movements of the First Growths – increased by 101%. The Second Wines 50 index soared 183%. By December 2011, first wines were just 3.2 times higher than their second wines on average.

The third phase marked a period of market decline, but the price gap began to creep higher. Prices for both groups dipped – the second wines a little further as mainland China all but abandoned the market. The market bottomed in July 2014.

The Bordeaux market has recently seen another boost. Once again, the second wines of the Bordeaux First Growths have been among the top performers. The Second Wines 50 index has gained 28.5% year to date* compared to a 21.3% move for the Fine Wine 50. The broader Bordeaux 500 index is up 17.7% over the same period. Their strong showing has once again been linked to Asian brand buying which has become increasingly powerful with Sterling weakened.

The average price of a First Growth is now 3.3 times the average price of a second wine. As the first chart shows, this number is dropping – but for how long?

*end Dec 2015-end Sep 2016.

Liv-ex 100: Performance by currency


The Liv-ex Fine Wine 100 index – the industry benchmark which is calculated in Sterling – has seen strong upward momentum since November 2015, rising 18.8%.

As can be seen from the chart above, the index looks very different when viewed in other currencies. It has fallen in all currencies apart from Sterling.

Euro, Yen and Dollar-based buyers have been taking advantage of the favourable currency situation. As the chart and table (below) show, the fine wine market has fallen the most in  Yen year-to-date.


Sterling weakness has also benefitted the FTSE 100 equity index with companies receiving a boost when foreign earnings are converted into Sterling. Since the end of June, the FTSE 100 is up 6.1%. The Fine Wine 100 is up 8.3% over the same period.



Talking Trade: 7th October – 13th October


Market activity remains solid with trade by value up a tick on the previous week. The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 rose 1.1%, closing Thursday at 327.68 – its highest level since April 2012. The market continues to receive a boost from a weaker Sterling which fell to a fresh 31-year low against the Dollar.


Bordeaux was particularly strong at 79.3% of trade by value. First Growths were more active and represented 27.5% of trade. Mouton Rothschild 2000 (WA 96+), Mouton Rothschild 2009 (WA 99) and Lafite Rothschild 2003 (WA 100) were in the top wines traded by value.

Burgundy and the ‘Others’ category were more active. Penfolds Grange saw good volume with a number of vintages trading on the Exchange. Burgundy saw DRC, Romanee Saint Vivant 2012 (WA 96), DRC, Richebourg 2012 (WA 97) and DRC, Romanee Saint Vivant 2012 (WA 96) trade this week.


Second wines were active again. Forts Latour 2009 (WA 94) was among the top wines traded by value and Pagodes Cos 2012 (WA 88) was the top wine traded by volume.



Liv-ex interview with Tim Atkin MW, part two

On Monday we published the first part of our interview with journalist, presenter, wine judge and photographer Tim Atkin MW.  In part one we discuss his career in the world of wine, wine writing and the changing role of the critic. In the second part, below, we discuss the wine industries of Bordeaux, Spain and South Africa.

Has the wine industry in Bordeaux and the style of wines produced changed throughout the course of your career?

The first Bordeaux vintage I wrote about was 1986. What I thought about Bordeaux then is still true today:  it’s the most interesting market in the world for wine. It produces comparatively large volumes of fine wines that are talked about and traded. Added to that, you’ve got vintage variation, you’ve got consultants, you’ve got diversity of style. I think Bordeaux is an amazing region and some of its best wines are among the greatest I’ve ever drunk. Primarily, though, what interests me is the way it’s marketed, sold and commoditised. As a journalist, I find that really interesting.

Having said that, I think that there was a stylistic line in the sand with the 1982 vintage. This was the vintage upon which Parker built his reputation and also the start of the rise and rise of Michel Rolland. I think that together they changed the way most wines are made in Bordeaux. They would defend their position and say that they like the style of wines that they have promoted, and there is nothing wrong with that. But I sometimes miss the older, fresher style of Bordeaux that needed a couple of decades or more in bottle to show at its best.

So where is Bordeaux at the moment in terms of style and place in the market?

Recently there has been a bit of a reaction to the style that Parker seems to prefer. We are slowly moving back to wines that are slightly fresher, and that I think have better balance.

The world of fine wine has diversified so much that you can find fine wine almost anywhere these days: the playing field is broader and flatter. Bordeaux used to dominate the scene like some enormous Himalayan mountain range. Most people thought that all the world’s greatest wines came from Bordeaux, with a few from Burgundy, Champagne, the Douro Valley, the Mosel and Barolo. I don’t think that’s true anymore.

En Primeur has become a system that consumers have lost a bit of love for because they got stung with the 2009s and 2010s. I also think that in a world of Amazon Prime, Twitter and immediate news, waiting 18 months for a case of wine to arrive is a bit passé. And if the wine has decreased in value, people are right to ask themselves if they’re being ripped off.

There has been a lot of discussion about Bordeaux’s lack of appeal to millennials. Do you see this as an issue for the region?

I have a lot of Bordeaux in storage, but there’s very little in my cellar at home – it’s just not something that I drink much of these days. I’m not a millennial, obviously, but I don’t think I’m atypical in that consumers – even in my generation – are just not drinking Bordeaux as much. People who are in their 30s are drinking even less Bordeaux. And people who are drinking wine in their 20s are drinking almost no Bordeaux. I think that’s a real worry for the Bordelais and I don’t think they’ve seen the car crash coming.

Yes, the top 50 properties are always going to sell their wines because they are in demand and they are very good – they are luxury goods. But they are like a hot air balloon that’s drifted away from the mooring of Bordeaux itself and they are just looking down at this thing from a few thousand feet and chucking the occasional sand bag out at the peasants down below. It’s not a unified region and it’s hard to see how the region will function economically in the long term. They probably need to pull out some vineyards.

Are any Bordeaux wines undervalued?

Bordeaux is so diverse that it is difficult to generalise – but that’s what makes it fascinating. I think that the sweet wines are very undervalued, as are the dry whites. There are even Crus Classés that are undervalued, Grand Puy Lacoste and Rauzan-Ségla being good examples.

Do you have a favourite Bordeaux vintage?

Easy. 2010. I love 2010 everywhere. I think the idea that 2009 was as good as 2010 is laughable. Some of the 2009s have already started to seem a bit pruney and overripe, although it was obviously a very good vintage for some châteaux. For me, 2010 is the great vintage of the last 15 years – in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Montalcino and Rioja… It is just a fantastic European vintage. The last time that you had a vintage like that – that was good almost everywhere – was 1990.

You wrote that “a greater focus on terroir is essential in Spain”. What are the key problems facing the Spanish wine industry?

Spain’s biggest problem is that it is the biggest bulk wine supplier in the world, with an average price of just over a Euro per litre. Spain produces a lot of cheap wine and has to shift it as effectively as possible. It all comes down to economies of scale. And subsidies.

By and large, Spain is not perceived as a fine wine producing area. But that’s just so wrong. There are a lot of amazing wines in Spain at the moment, and not just from classic regions like Rioja, Ribera, Priorat and Jerez. Just look at what’s happening in Ribeira Sacra, Bierzo, Empordà, Tenerife, Mallorca and Manchuela, to take only a few examples.

Why are those not expressed as terroir wines?

I think they do express their terroir, but sometimes the people who produce them are not allowed to identify specific vineyard parcels or their villages on labels. It’s a real problem for Spain. A lot of the Consejos, who administer the DOs, or appellations, are run by politicians, cooperatives and large companies whose primary interest is to flog as much booze as effectively as possible, often at cheap prices. It’s is not really in their interests to promote the fact that many of the best wines tend to come from specific vineyards.

And why is this important?

I think that the current approach is short sighted. If Spain had a better fine wine image it would help to improve the whole country’s wine industry, making it easier to sell the best Spanish wines at higher prices. It is crazy that you can buy Valenciso Rioja Reserva 2009, which is an amazing wine, for £17, when that wine should cost £40 if you were comparing it with the rest of the world.

But I think that Spain is starting to rectify its image problem. The younger generation is starting to go back to the land – a lot of them have taken their parents’ vineyards out of co-operatives. And the power of the big merchants who buy bulk wine, and of the co-operatives – although there are some good ones – is waning.

You’ve recently published a lengthy report on South Africa. What is exciting you most about the country’s wine industry?

I think that South Africa is the most exciting wine producing country in the world at the moment – and there are unbelievable bargains. It is a little bit like Spain in one sense, where there’s a lot of bulk wine and grape prices are depressed. Having said that, there is this amazing generation of young winemakers that has emerged since the first democratic elections in 1994. The winemakers in South Africa in their late 20s or 30s are just an unbelievably talented group. And the good thing about grapes being so cheap is that anybody can create a winery. I like the dynamism and the creativity of that. I think that South Africa is a place to watch.

What are the challenges facing the wine trade in South Africa?

One of them is that the price of grapes is too cheap. Farmers are realists. The first vines that they pull out are the ones that yield least – and they tend to be the oldest vines. That’s what happened in Spain, too, where plantings of Garnacha have suffered.

It is a great shame that the bulk areas are a lot more profitable than those producing fine wine. It is tempting for grape growers to go somewhere where they can irrigate, and prune and pick their vines mechanically.

It also goes back to this issue that that people think that fine wines can only come from a narrow band of regions and countries. South Africa and Spain both have image problems, though I think that is changing. I hope that over the next fifty years the perception of what constitutes fine wine will become much more diverse and that both countries will benefit.

Which other regions do you feel have improved the most over the last decade? Which have the most potential?

Argentina still has masses of potential. So has Italy. We tend to focus on Tuscany and Piemonte but I think there are many great wines being made in Italy. Sicily still has enormous promise, as does Basilicata on its volcanic soils. Parts of the Abruzzo are amazing; parts of the Friuli area are incredible. I think Italy is an amazing country.

I also keep thinking that the Languedoc’s day is going to come – the wine just keeps getting better and better. Again, they just don’t achieve the prices that I think they deserve. This is great for consumers, but less good for the people making the wines.

Do you think these regions need the support of the critics?

Yes, and I think this is where critics can be useful. Parker, in his pomp, was capable single-handily of doing that – and sometimes he got the right answer. Now it is much harder. There is this guy in South Africa called Chris Alheit who Neal Martin and I both like very much. Both of us gave his initial releases very high scores. I am not saying that he succeeded because of that, but I think it helped.

I can almost have a bigger influence in a country like that, where I am one of only a handful of critics who are seriously reviewing the wines, than I can in Bordeaux where nobody is going to go, “Oh wow, Tim Atkin has given it 100 points. I am going to buy 1,000 cases”. The further you are from the epicentre of the fine wine world, the easier it is to have an influence.

Do you have any favourite emerging winemakers?

Roberto Oliván of Tentenublo in Rioja is pretty special, as is Sebastian Zuccardi in Argentina. And there’s a ludicrously young winemaker in South Africa called Reenen Borman at Boschkloof who is already a star. His Epilogue Syrah is the best South African red wine I’ve ever tasted. This kid is 28 and he is off the charts brilliant.

What would you consider your greatest achievement to be so far?

To go on making a reasonably good living out of something that is basically my passion, and continuing to live like a student in some ways. I am also proud of some of the writing I’ve done. I think I’ve written in an entertaining and approachable way about wine, and, I hope, got some people into wine.

How do you see the wine industry changing in the next ten or twenty years?

I think it’s very hard to say. The one thing that people underestimate is climate change, which is the single biggest thing we face if it continues to accelerate at the current rate. I think that some fine wine regions won’t be growing the grapes that they are growing now, certainly in twenty years and maybe even in ten years. Access to water in drier areas is going to be crucial.

I reckon the influence of Bordeaux will continue to decline, personally. This is partly because of the younger generation. The people coming online are going to want to drink different things. So we’ll see more diversity, probably different regions, and maybe the existing regions will grow different things or be forced to do so because of different, hotter temperatures.

What’s your next project?

I haven’t written a book in a very long time because I have wanted to wait and write book about something I am passionate about. However, yesterday somebody came up with an idea for a book and I thought, “that’s a great idea”, so I think I may finally do it. It’s the kind of wine book that isn’t a specialist monograph on one region, however important those are. It’s the kind of book that I would want to see people reading on the tube. So it would use all of my experience about wine but would do it in a sort of way that I would hope is entertaining, and journalistic really – treating wine as a subject that is worthy of enquiry.

To read the first part of our interview with Tim, please click here.

Bordeaux 2016 harvest – Quantity and quality

The 2016 harvest in Bordeaux is now entering its final phase. In the post below, Bordeaux grower, winemaker and writer Gavin Quinney (@GavinQuinney) offers an update on its progress so far.

Nature has been kind to Bordeaux this year. A bumper crop for many, and a fine harvest – so far. It may be over for some growers in this vast region but there are plenty of bunches still out there, as numerous chateaux hold on for the later-ripening Cabernets and the last Merlots from cooler soils.

There has been no rush, no panic, to bring in the grapes. After the bone-dry summer, the vines enjoyed some overdue refreshment thanks to heavy rain on the night of 13 September. It cleared up soon afterwards and, since then, we’ve had dry and sunny weather for the build-up to the harvest – and for the picking itself – with just one more night of rain on Friday 30 September during a crucial four week period.

Most importantly, given that we’re now well into October, is that there has been no pressure from grey rot on the reds at all. At least, none that I’ve seen in the last fortnight, from St-Emilion to St-Estèphe, and this has given viticulteurs and winemakers more breathing space over which parcels to pick and when.

Without wanting to jump to conclusions about the vintage while the grapes are still rolling off the sorting tables, it’s fair to say that there’s quality and quantity in Bordeaux in 2016. Here’s what we do know:

  • Bordeaux had a wet Spring, which proved to be helpful given the drought that was to follow.
  • Only a few unfortunate vineyards were hit by the late April frosts that so adversely affected the size of the crop elsewhere.
  • Most vineyards – though not all – managed to avoid problems with mildew during the damp weather in May and June.
  • Courtesy of excellent weather during the flowering in the previous vintage – or even the two previous vintages – the vines produced plenty of potential bunches in 2016: ‘une belle sortie.’
  • The flowering in early June this year was remarkably successful, especially on the Merlot, given that the weather was pretty mixed. (See daily rainfall chart below.)
  • We had almost 12 weeks of glorious summer weather – for holidaymakers – from 23 June to 13 September, when many areas of Bordeaux saw just a tenth of the normal rainfall.
  • Young vines on dry, porous ground suffered in the drought and the heat. There won’t be much Grand Vin produced from the tiny grapes from those poor things. Not this year.
  • Some estates, as is often the norm, cut back the crop with successive green harvests, notably on the Merlot. Most vineyards in the so-called ‘lesser’ appellations don’t do this. And can’t afford to.
  • Two nights of rain on the 13 and 30 September accounted for most of the month’s rainfall. Far better this than multiple days of drizzly weather during the harvest.


  • The amount of rain on 13 and 30 September varied for each region: Margaux (50mm on 13/9, 8mm on 30/9), Northern Médoc (32 and 15 at Bégadan), Léognan (47 and 28), Saint Emilion (32 and 10), Blaye (43 and 9) and Entre-Deux-Mers (50 and 35 at Haux).
  • The dry whites were harvested in September in fine weather. Picking dates varied considerably, even in the same appellations. Most growers are reportedly extremely happy with their yields. (Given the drought, where did all the juice come from?)
  • The Merlot harvest began in September, with some of the action taking place in the last week of the month but most of it – across the region as a whole – in the first week and a half of October.
  • Several estates in the Médoc began picking their Cabernet Sauvignon in the first week of October, while others waited until this week, from the 10th onwards.


  • October has, so far, been dry. We’ve had mostly sunny days, no rain and properly chilly mornings from 5 October.
  • 2016 is a later harvest and in keeping, timing wise, with what they call ‘classic’ Bordeaux vintages. Cumulative temperature comparisons put 2016 on a (lateness) par with 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014, oddly enough.

It would be wrong, given what I’ve seen, to make assumptions about who picked what and when, and to question whether they did the right thing. I have, though, been surprised to see that some estates decided to harvest certain blocks, while others waited to pick their vines nearby. Each, as they say, to their own.

It’s the third year in a row – 2014, 2015 and now 2016 – when there’s been minimal rot on the reds, in contrast to the ‘challenging’ 2013 harvest. There was also pressure, at the time, to pick both the 2011 reds and the 2012s (both good but not great vintages) towards the end of those harvests as rot started to take hold. Other vintages with minimal rot? 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010.

Chateau l’Eglise Clinet, Pomerol (Merlot)
Chateau l’Eglise Clinet, Pomerol (Merlot)
Vieux Chateau Certan, Pomerol (Merlot)
Vieux Chateau Certan, Pomerol (Merlot)

The yield on the Merlot, prior to those ‘green harvests’ mentioned above, is the biggest I’ve seen since 2004 and the quality is far superior to that attractive but uneven vintage. As Bordeaux is 89% red and Merlot accounts for two thirds of that 89%, it’ll be a big crop out in the sticks. (The maximum yields have been set last month at between 5000 and 5800 litres per hectare for red, depending on the appellation.)

Yields on the Cabernet Sauvignon are lower than the Merlot, and the harvest is far from finished. As so much of the reputation of the vintage will be based on the great estates of the Médoc and their Cabernets, there’s still so much to play for in the next few days.

Chateau Leoville Barton, St-Julien
Chateau Leoville Barton, St-Julien

I’ll report back on what we might expect from the wines – there’s no lack of colour on the reds, that’s for sure – and what some of the key players make of it all.

First Growth value: Haut Brion 2012


Robert Parker’s 100-point rating system has had a significant influence on fine wine prices. A perfect 100-point wine typically trades at a substantial premium to a lower scored wine. An upgrade can see prices increase dramatically. Despite Parker’s recent retirement from reviewing Bordeaux his scores still have a profound influence on the fine wine market.

The chart above plots prices for First Growths from the Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 index against their Parker scores, with a trend line highlighting the relationship between Parker score and price. The trend line shows that not all Parker points are equal – lower scoring wines tend to trade at similar prices, while Parker points become increasingly valuable for higher scoring wines.

The trend line might be helpful in determining a wine’s “fair value” with wines below the line potentially offering greater value for money than wines above the line, based on their Parker score. Of course, there are other factors that influence the price of fine wine such as brand, vintage and age. However, the chart and trend line still offer a useful starting point in the identification of wines that might be mispriced.

The chart highlights 98-point Haut Brion 2012 as perhaps one of the most undervalued First Growths in the Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 index. It trades at a 41.1% discount to the average price of the other 98-point First Growths and was heralded by Parker as “one of the stars of the vintage”. It is the second most viewed wine on Liv-ex this year, is actively traded in the secondary market and has already been on the rise for several months. Since the market low in June 2014, Haut Brion is the second best performing First Growth of the Fine Wine 50 index.


Liv-ex interview with Tim Atkin MW, part one


Tim Atkin is a Master of Wine, journalist, presenter, wine judge and photographer. He writes for a number of publications, as well as running his own award-winning website, Tim kindly set some time aside for an interview with Liv-ex. The interview will be published in two parts. In the first, published below, he discusses his career in the world of wine, wine writing and the changing role of the critic.

How did you get started in the wine industry?

I did a French degree and during my year abroad I lived in Avignon. I’d love to claim that I spent every weekend in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but I didn’t. To be honest I wasn’t that interested in wine and I coasted through university like most people without any idea of what I was going to do afterwards to earn a living.

I ran a magazine called The Idler with two mates and when I left, I applied to a magazine company for a job and they said, “oh you sound interesting, there’s a job going on a wine magazine. Do you know anything about wine?” And I said, “Not really”. And they said, “Well, there’s a job going and they would like to interview you to be an Editorial Assistant”. So I went out and bought Serena Sutcliffe’s Wine Drinkers’ Handbook – which I still have – and read it overnight. I turned up to the interview wearing my father’s boating jacket and carrying a copy of the Literary Review because I thought it would made me look more intellectual. And I got the job.

The magazine company I got the job on also ran something called The Good Van Guide. So I could have got a job on The Good Van Guide. I could have been Mr Van.

What happened next? What triggered your interest in wine?

I liked the journalism more than I liked the wine. The wine trade in 1985 was very male dominated and you know that old line “your first son goes into the army, your second son goes into the church and the third one – the stupid one – goes into the wine trade”. It was a bit like that really. In those days I thought “I don’t think I’m going to stick this out for very long”. I wanted to get into political journalism or sports journalism. Then the more I did it, I thought “actually I quite like this”. I started to travel, which is one perk, but I liked the people who made wine much more than the people who sold it.

The older I got the more the wine trade changed – I think the wine trade has altered massively for the better in this country – and I became more and more fascinated by the subject. I remember talking to Brian Croser, the Australian winemaker, and I said, “don’t you ever get bored of wine?” and he said, “How could you get bored of wine? It’s geology, geography, it’s politics, it’s economics, it’s sociology, it’s people, it’s flavour”, and I thought, “You’re right – what a great job”. So I sort of spent five years thinking, “Do I really want to do this?” – being a bit English and miserable – and then I thought, “Actually I do want to do this”.

Then I was lucky. I got promoted to run the magazine I was on, Wine & Spirit, because people left above me, and then I won a wine writing award, and then I got the job at The Guardian as their wine correspondent. Aged 27 I was suddenly The Guardian’s wine correspondent, having barely been to Bordeaux. I learned very quickly just by doing it, and I hope by having an open mind, and just by being a journalist first and foremost; asking a lot of questions. I have always been good at asking questions.

Now what you do is so diverse. How do you manage all the different parts of your career?

When I got a job on The Guardian it became comparatively well paid and in those days you could live just from a newspaper column. Now, unless you have very modest expectations, you can’t. What has happened is that we have all had to diversify. My column in The Observer, where I was wine correspondent for 17 years, got reduced in size at just the right time. I left and it meant that all of the things that I do now – the diverse portfolio – emerged out of that. To be honest I am more fulfilled now than I have ever been.

I still think of myself as a writer, but I think more accurately you’d call me a communicator these days. I write, I taste, I judge, I teach, I give speeches and I take photographs. And I also publish other, award-winning writers on my site,

As a communicator, what makes you different? What’s your USP?

I suppose enthusiasm – but other people have that. Also an open mind. I don’t have a fixed view of what is fine wine or what isn’t fine wine. I like to think I am reasonably approachable and that I’m not a wine snob.

I write about lots of different areas – but not hundreds. I have increasingly decided to specialise in certain places. Rather than being an intellectual windsurfer where your knowledge isn’t that deep, you don’t cover as much ground but your knowledge is bit deeper. So I mostly write about Burgundy, South Africa, Argentina, Rioja and Bordeaux.

Can you tell us what led you to study for the Master of Wine?

I got half way through the Diploma course and the person giving the lecture about Portuguese wines was quoting extensively from an article I’d written. I thought, “Why am I doing this? Why am I paying to do this if somebody is just using my material?” So I gave up. That was 1987. Then, in the late 1990s, people started asking me if I could help them with blind tasting. Friends who were doing the MW would come to my house and I’d line up wines and ask, “What’s this? What’s that?” Having done this for a few people, I thought, “I could pass this” and in slightly a foolhardy way – and I do like exams and I am competitive – I thought I’d do it. And so I did it.

In a previous interview, you said: “Wine writing is changing for the better as at least one dinosaur waddles off into the sunset”. Can you explain what you meant by this?

I was referring to Parker, but he is just the main representative of a certain type of wine writing. I’ve never met him and I’m sure he doesn’t care what I think. But I think that his approach is outdated. With a few exceptions, he doesn’t appear to feel the need to go to places, talk to people, walk through vineyards, and try to understand what they are trying to do. He is a kind of uber-critic who just judges what’s in the glass. This is not the sort of wine criticism that appeals to me. I think that you are missing out on a lot of those things that I talked about – the 98% of things that make wine interesting. If wine is just a liquid in a glass in front of you then I don’t really want to do that.

For all that, it might have been a bit unfair to call him dinosaur, because I do respect his work ethic and his honesty. I’m less convinced about the kinds of wines that he appears to like: ripe, fleshy and high in alcohol. For me, they are not the way forward. I think that more and more wine drinkers are moving away from those wines, though not necessarily the trading platform and market in general. I think the trading market is still dominated by the post-1982 Bordeaux world, which is a world that he helped to create.

So how about blind tasting?

I enjoy doing it. I enjoy challenging myself and I think it leads to discoveries. There is a place for it. But the type of wine writing that I like is about stories – about people. I think that makes wine interesting. So that involves talking to winemakers about their wines and often tasting with them. I want to learn from them and I’ve got enough experience to filter out the bullshit while I’m tasting. Sometimes I just ask people to be quiet for a moment or two.

I do points. I’m a child of Parker – not literally – but if it is just a case of saying, “this is 98 points and it tastes of blackberries” then it’s not very interesting. I mean, you are looking at centuries of civilisation – Western and otherwise – and it ultimately becomes too reductive and maybe even a little absurd.

And that is why I focus on just a few the places. I like to go there and spend time talking to people and visiting their vineyards. And think that every year I learn more about them. In my view that makes me a better critic, one who understands those regions better.

I’ve just spent two weeks in Rioja visiting 72 bodegas. Not many critics do that. I don’t do that in Bordeaux, to be honest, as much as others do because it is not my primary focus. I review Bordeaux because it is an important part of the fine wine world and market. And it’s there, like Mount Everest. But I’m happier in Burgundy, the Cape, Argentina or Spain.

There’s quite a lot of rivalry among Châteaux in Bordeaux and among the trade. Is there rivalry in the critics’ world?

I think there’s probably a bit. As is always the case with these things, there are people that you like more than others. Some people are my friends, and some people are people I would not particularly choose to spend an evening with. But that’s fine.

I think what is happening now is that there are about twenty critics worldwide who are reasonably important in different areas, and I think that’s good because you get diversity of opinion. I might not like the same wine as Jancis [Robinson], Jancis might not like the same wine as James Suckling who might not like the same wine as Neal Martin – but I don’t think that is a bad thing. We’re all different; we all like different wine styles.

I think it’s time for consumers to grow up in a way. Consumers should say, “I don’t want to be told by just one person” and follow that person as an oracle. Instead, look at a variety of things the way you would if you were buying a car or a hi-fi system. You would look at different reviews – a pool of opinions. I think that is positive. I really do.

What would be your view on an average or consensus score for wine?

I think it’s dangerous. I sometimes get accused of marking too highly in South Africa, for example. It is a country I am very passionate about and I think the wines are underrated. On the other hand, I don’t often over-score in Montalcino, for example, as some people do. But at least you know my scores are my scores, for better or worse.

I like what you guys [Liv-ex] do during En Primeur where you can look down a list of individual critic scores and say, “five people really liked, for example, Lafleur or Pétrus this year – it’s probably pretty good”. If only one person liked it everyone else gave it 85 points it probably isn’t very good, unless you happen to think that person’s palate is the one that always chimes with yours. I think an average score is a bit dangerous personally.

Do you see the role of critics and writers changing with the role of the internet and peer to peer sites such as Cellar Tracker and Vivino?

Yes, probably. There are more and more points of view. What may happen, and this is partly wishful thinking, is that, because there is so much noise out there, really good, informed criticism will become increasingly important. It’s a paradox in a way: the more information there is, the more useful reliable information becomes.

On the other hand, I have always been a democrat.  I like diverse of points of view, even when they aren’t necessarily ones I share, so there’s something very positive about consumers rating and discussing the wines they’ve bought and drunk. Why should only professionals have a view? Why should it not be the person that walks into their local Wine Rack? Their point of view may not be as informed as mine, because it is what I do for a living, but theirs is still a point of view, and if they want to exchange it with each others, that’s great.

The second part of Liv-ex’s interview with Tim will be posted later this week. In it we discuss the wine industries in Bordeaux, Spain and South Africa.