My Wine Merchant Hero

Number 2 in a short series on my favourite wine writing.

My copy of Adventures on the Wine Route, found in a second-hand bookshop. Thankfully, it’s now back in print.

If Oz Clarke’s book “French Red and Rosé Wines” did more than any other to get me interested in wine, Kermit Lynch’s “Adventures on the Wine Route” was the book that introduced me to the joys of being a wine merchant. It’s witty, sometimes gossipy, warm, passionate, a bit rock ‘n’ roll, and despite being somewhat out of date (it was first published in 1988, but was reprinted, at least in the UK, recently), it still contains some of the most sensible views on wine I’ve ever read.

For those of you who don’t know, Kermit Lynch is one of the most highly respected wine merchants in America. The book describes his discovery of “authentic” French wines, for him the point at which he first grasped the notion of “terroir”, that complex interplay of winemaker, soil and climate.

The pen-portraits of individual producers and the different wine regions of France that make up each chapter are lovingly-written and entertaining (and make me want to drink the wine), but the real reason I love this book is the way Kermit Lynch scorns both the idea of scoring wines as if there are invariable absolutes of quality and the wine snob’s resulting search for only the “best”. As he asks, best for what?

“Take two impeccable wines, the Domaine Tempier Bandol rosé…and a bottle of Château Margaux…Compare the two side by side. Award points. Do not be surprised if the Margaux wins handily. Now serve the same two wines with boiled artichoke and rate them again. The Margaux is bitter and metallic-tasting, whereas the Bandol rosé stands up and dances like Baryshnikov.”

Comparing a “light, spirited” young Monthélie burgundy to a far grander Musigny, he says that there are meals when the supposedly inferior Monthélie would simply work better and that anybody who would only drink the Musigny is just a status seeker. I have to say that this appeals to the underdog-lover in me, but Lynch is only just getting started. This little rant feeds into another of his pet hates – the fact that better is often equated with bigger (oh I’m with you on this one, Kermit):

“Rejecting a wine because it is not big enough is like rejecting a book because it is not long enough, or a piece of music because it is not loud enough.”

“Study the vintage charts…you will see that the hot years, whose wines are dark-coloured and full of alcohol, receive the highest ranking. Vintages of light-coloured, light-bodied wines, no matter how aromatic or fine the flavours, receive low marks…I do not care whose vintage chart you choose, you could turn it sideways and upside down and it would still be no less helpful as a guide to buying a good bottle of wine.”

Despite the impression I may have given, this is a warm and generous book. It just happens to have an opinion. And in the end, that’s why its great – it agrees with me.



Note: This is the blog of Rhône Wine Tours, packed to the rafters with wine and food related stuff. Take a look around. And if you click on the link – – you can have a look at the website itself, which is full of  information about our winemakers, things to do in the area and, yes, details of our tours and tastings. We also have a facebook page were plenty of shorter pieces and photos get posted. Go on, you know you want to.


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