Devil’s Advocate: Wine-Swigging Marathon Runners vs Tasting Groups

Robert Joseph is far more impressed by a British wine merchant with 4m views on TikTok than a call for more tasting groups.

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Robert Joseph - with horns and marathon runner, Tom Gilbey
Robert Joseph - with horns and marathon runner, Tom Gilbey

What we need, apparently, is more wine-tasting groups. That, if continuing social media conversations between some apparently serious wine professionals are to be believed, will solve the problem of young people turning away from wine. Get ‘em all in for a session with a few Assyrtikos and Albariños, it’s implied, and they’ll be turned on to wine for life.

Quite how this is going to work for tens of millions of disaffected drinkers, and how they’re going to be recruited for these events, I’m not sure, but if anyone really does have this simple a way to change people’s behaviour, maybe they could use it to get more 18-29 year olds to do something really important - like voting. In the 2020 US elections, 45% did not trouble to do so.

But, when it comes to promoting wine, I can see far more potential in efforts like the recent one by British, 52-year wine event presenter and online wine influencer, Tom Gilbey.

Audience of millions

As many of the well over a million readers of the Times Newspaper, listeners to BBC Radio’s popular Today programme (average audience: 6m per week) and viewers of BBC TV Breakfast show (1.2m), discovered, Gilbey combined a blind tasting of 26 wines with taking part in the 2024 London marathon. He paused after every mile of the race to sample an anonymous red or white chosen by his son - and to attempt to guess its origin. After completing the race – in around four hours, forty– he posted a clip on TikTok revealing the wines he identified correctly – seven – the ones he got ‘completely wrong’ – four – and the remainder where he “got something right.”

(The wines, for anyone interested, included Casillero del Diablo, Jam Shed, a 2020 Chablis, 2015 Barolo, 2021 Gruner Veltliner, a ‘disgusting’ Australian Shiraz and a can of French Sauvignon Blanc.)

Importantly, given his reasons for taking part in the race, Gilbey raised lots of money: nearly 10 times the £2,000 he was originally hoping to get for the hospice that had cared for his mother.


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TikTok tasting

But, in terms of promoting wine to a younger audience, he arguably achieved far, far more. He already had a sizeable TikTok following for his ebullient tasting clips but he now has a potential regular audience of more than 100,000; his marathon clip got him over 4m views and 450,000 likes. Some 2,500 took the trouble to write a few words on the platform.

At this point, a wine professional will almost inevitably chip in with a comment about the famously wine-fuelled Marathon du Médoc, but everything about that far smaller event – tasting Bordeaux in the vineyards where it was produced - is self-evidently for those who are already into wine. Gilbey was doing something very different; he was inserting the beverage into an unexpected context and creating a video clip that amply deserves its viral success.

And that’s what we need more of: ways to take wine out of its ghetto and to find reasons for general media, and people communicating on social media platforms, to include it in their discourse.

And the celebrities

It’s why I so passionately support the celebrity wines that get so much pursed-lip criticism from the vinous establishment. To be honest, I don’t really care if those wines are poorer value than their neighbours on the supermarket shelf, or even if they are of a style that doesn’t suit my tastebuds. If Snoop, Kylie or Post Malone are encouraging people to drink fermented grape juice rather than an RTD, we should be celebrating the fact. And if an eccentric, wild-haired Brit in running gear, who's arguably now a minor celeb in his own right, can make them pay attention to wine tasting, all the better.

Who knows? Maybe a few of them will even sign up for one of those organised events the wine chatterati are so keen on.


It has been pointed out to me that TikTok has an official policy that theoretically prevents the promotion of alcohol, and that even if efforts like Gilbey's and those of many wine influencers on the platform are currently allowed, that could change at any time. Of course, this is true, just as other countries in the EU might follow France's lead with its Loi Evin restrictions on the way alcohol is presented in the media. Or go still further in that direction. If or when this happens, wine professionals will simply have to use their imagination to find innovative but legal ways to talk about their products - without falling back on tasting groups.


The notion of wine-fuelled marathons is less novel than some might suppose, as my Australian friend, Brian Miller revealed with this link to Atlas Obscura, apparently in 1908, runners used to drink alcohol and strychnine cocktails, brandy and wine. "Champagne was a favorite thanks to its supposedly rejuvenating effervescence."

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