Doutrelant: Les bons vins

... et les autres. This is the title of the collected wine reports of the journalist Pierre-Marie Doutrelant published in 1975. The others, the bad wines must have been in the majority at that time, otherwise a lawyer from Baltimore would not have changed his job in the same year and reinvented wine criticism as consumer protection. Today, there are hardly any bad wines - perhaps that's why wine journalism is in such a sorry state. Frank J. Prial of the "New York Times" called Pierre-Marie Doutrelant "the best wine journalist of our time" on the occasion of his death 25 years ago. A look back reminds us what writing about wine once meant.

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Doutrelant's book as paperback edition
Paperback edition 1976

Doutrelant was more than just a wine journalist. From near Lille in northern France, he had started out at a local paper in Angers and then moved to Paris to “Le Monde,” where he dealt with politics and municipal issues. Then he devoted himself increasingly to the topics of wine and food. Like many of his generation, he was influenced by the events of 1968 and saw himself as a journalist following in the footsteps of the “Incorruptibles” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the revelators of the Watergate affair. Their method, the “hard reporting”, was completely uncommon in the areas of food and drink, especially in the “Grande Nation”. At least the French wine world was to be completely turned upside down by his reports.

Doutrelant had his political preferences and he loved wine, but that didn’t cloud his vision.  “When he wrote, he was tough and uncompromising, whether about the Médoc or Mitterrand,” Frank J. Prial recalled. His articles were called “The Multiplication of Muscadet” or “All of Bordeaux Weeps Crocodile Tears.” One on Chablis was subtitled, “Or how the authorities decided that the best way to fight fraud was to legalize it.”

Hard Reporting

Pierre-Marie Doutrelant in a talk show
Pierre-Marie Doutrelant

In Champagne, Doutrelant exposed the evil practice of “ventes des vins sur lattes,” meaning that when many Champagne houses did not have enough wine in stock, they bought bottled but unlabeled wine from third parties and then sold it as their own. He put his finger in the wound of illegal or semi-legal practices in many French wine regions that were so trendy at the time, such as Beaujolais, Sancerre and Côtes du Rhone. To be called a nest-destroyer was probably considered a point of honor for him. Doutrelant died a quarter of a century ago at the age of 46 while jogging in the park; in Germany, the names of wine journalists who still remember him can be counted on one hand. Need we add that someone like him is missing today?

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