René Langdahl is wine writer, podcaster and educator in Denmark. In this interview, he tells Amanda Barnes why he never got that promised taste of DRC from his confirmation party, and why writing about wine for cash-strapped students was the start of his wine writing career. He also shares an insight into the post-pandemic wine world of Denmark and comments on the trends that excite him, including the micro production of Danish wines.
What was your first memory in wine?
My first memory of a wine bottle was from my confirmation. My parents had bought Château Caronne-Ste-Gemme 1984 for the party, but I didn’t like the taste, not at all. I knew a little about wine at that time and went with my father to buy the present for my confirmation, and it had to be a great bottle that I could enjoy for my 30th birthday. It was a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Echezeaux 1981. The hype for the producer’s wines was not at all where it is at today – but I knew it was something special. A couple of years later, some happy guests at a party at my parent’s house took the liberty of choosing wine from the cellar… guess what… they took the Echezeaux, drank most of it, not knowing anything of its rarity and status. I read about wine during my teenage years and my first actual taste of wine was at high school, but it was probably some cheap Asti.
How did you become a wine writer?
I caught the bug during my teenage years and started reading about wine, I knew quite early on that I wanted to communicate about wine. The depth in cultural understanding, regional and national history and complexity in origin tempted me. I studied Modern European History at university as it was not possible to pursue wine-related education at that time (early 90s). During my time at university, I was inspired by Jancis Robinson and started a column about wine in the student magazine, focusing on affordable wines for cash-strapped students. I also started writing freelance for the only Danish wine magazine at that time.
Many years passed, I finished my Masters in History… but missed wine. During a year at the University of Firenze, I fell in love with Tuscany and just knew I had to write a book about the region. Five years in wine retail and two years in wine marketing and press relations later, I heard that a new Danish wine and food magazine had been born – I contacted the editor and became a wine writer immediately. Bang! That was in 2005. Since then, the book about Tuscany has been published and I write for several magazines and also teach and lecture on all things wine.
Tell us about the wine scene in Denmark at the moment? Have any trends changed due to the pandemic?
The wine scene in Denmark is exciting! It’s as simple as that. We can get all kinds of wine, and in Copenhagen and Aarhus the scene for natural wine is as huge as ever. Danish consumption of wine per capita exploded during the pandemic, it was high already at 33 litres per capita, but the statistics from all wine producing/exporting countries have shown an incredible, even frightening, increase in sales to Denmark. It seems that consumption has to some extent returned to the classics: Burgundy, Bordeaux and Alsace have a really prominent position among wine-interested consumers, but we also have to look at the broader picture and most of our consumption is of Italian, followed by French, Spanish, Chilean and South African wines.
There is a clear trend now for light-bodied, acid-driven wine; high-end German Riesling; Pinot Noir from all over; but the main consumption is still based on the high-alcohol South Italian Primitivo style. There’s a lot of focus on sustainability and ‘clean’ wine – I know I am not supposed to say so. Then, very importantly – the minuscule Danish wine production has never been better and it’s not only about Solaris-based wines. Now there are incredibly well-made sparkling wines based on Pinot Noir and even one small Frühburgunder-producer making great wine from a steep slope close to Copenhagen.
Are there any global trends you are particularly keeping your eye on?
Yes, indeed – small-scale growers in South America, who are starting to produce wine under their own labels. It’s part of a global trend of revival, whereby new generations in wine-producing areas everywhere are changing the style and quality, but without losing the sense-of-place. This can be seen in Germany, Burgundy, Itata, Barolo, Galicia, Santa Rita… even in Bordeaux. I am also very keen on the complexities in varieties – we have a huge range of grape varieties in the Old World – use them! The focus on sustainability is very important. Wine is not, I have to admit, a food product that’s vital for survival, so we at least have to take care of the soil, wildlife and so on. The rise of Pinot Noir is great! The trend with Pinot Noir I support – just look at my own cellar!
Do you have any wine regions that are particularly close to your heart?
I must say Tuscany. And even more precisely – Chianti Classico. That historical area has been through so many horrible happenings, trends and styles but it has ended up now being the home of Sangiovese and balanced wines. Living there did make that region very special. The other region is Burgundy. I grew up with burgundy in my glass and it is still the most wine-soaked region to visit. Everything is wine and everything is wine culture and wine history in Burgundy. I love California and in particular the coastal regions of Santa Rita Hills and the outer Sonoma Coast
What plans are in the pipeline for you in 2022?
Myself and a colleague run a successful Danish podcast about wine and we’re currently expanding that, by going live at events, increasing the audience, and we will publish a book (Wine for Beginners) in the autumn. I plan to change my blog into a wine site with much more in-depth-articles, as well as reports about producers and regions. The number of students attending the Danish Wine Academy has never been higher and now I’m teaching the New World, Bordeaux and Burgundy, so I expect to increase the teaching and also to do more masterclasses for the California Wine Institute.