Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Wine and guilt

"When, after long years of discipline and fantasising about the transgressive pleasures of the outside world, the adolescent Amish are, unprepared, thrown into this world, they, of course, cannot but indulge in extreme transgressive behaviour and throw themselves into a life of sex, drugs and drinking. And since, for such a life, they lack any inherent limitation or regulation, this situation inexorably backlashes and generates unbearable anxiety."

Slavoj Zizek's examination of 'enjoyment as a political factor' has similar repercussions in wine. Why, for instance, are we becoming increasingly obsessed with low-alcohol wine and reducing our alcohol consumption? I believe it is because we have reached our very own situation of 'unbearable anxiety'.

Does this anxiety strike us when we have that 'one glass too many'? Does it stalk a well-lubricated dinner party like a Shakespearean ghost? Perhaps. I believe that, in an effort to at least appear progressive and understanding of today's issues, many of us are forcing ourselves to take seriously the 'problems' associated with our own enjoyment.

We are already concerned with de-caffeinated coffee, non-alcoholic beer, virtual sex, and so on. I have already addressed some of this in my wine and health blog.

Thus we get 'de-alcoholised wine', made in Spain and aimed at an Italian market.

This article touches on several major issues within this debate. The first is in the headline: 'Dealcoholised wine launched to combat alcohol abuse'. Again and again in the health lobbies, wine is equated with alcohol. This lumping together of the two is partly academic in the sense that wine is an alcohol, alcohol is dangerous, therefore wine is dangerous.

Even arguments that wine is a cultural beverage and therefore exempt from being lumped with all alcohols does not stand scrutiny, I'm afraid, for the simple fact that all alcoholic beverages are, or were, cultural. The major issue here - one that very few people want to address - is that commercialisation is the problem.

There is also the problem that while every article that bemoans the dangers of alcohol calls for tighter control of alcohol consumption, the articles that proclaim the benefits of alcohol do not push increased consumption. That, of course, would be irresponsible.

Another point is that, at a time when we are more and more concerned with the 'natural' aspect of wine, of trying to keep intervention to a minimum, this low-alcohol wine is 'vacuum distilled'. Even Torres' low-alcohol wine takes absurdity to a new level in this domain by calling itself 'Natureo'.

There is further absurdity here:
'We're not in competition with traditional wine. It's a new drink, equal to decaffeinated coffee or non-alcoholic beer,' Bertolini said.
To which the retort: why call it wine?

And part of the answer to that comes in looking at who this 'non-alcoholic wine' is marketed at: the under-aged - 'young people' as they are called in the article.

This is the most terrifying aspect of all. While the 'wine' ticks all the 'modern' boxes of making a trendy, healthy alternative to wine, it is essentially marketed at your children.

And once again, we face the issue of rampant commercialisation (this time taunting our children with 'wine') while we are unable to find a logical, coherent argument as to why this is bad.

We now live in a world where, as long as we can consume something called wine (although not necessarily real wine), drink it without anxiety and keep wine companies in business, everyone will be happy.

Or will they? As Zizek states, although 90% of Amish offspring come back to the fold, have they really been given a proper choice of freedoms? Thus are we giving ourselves the right parameters to judge what is healthy about our wine consumption?

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Thursday, 11 February 2010

The consumer must not become a wine critic

The title pretty much explains where I'm going. It follows Beverley Blanning MW's reappraisal of Tim Hanni MW's comments on her blog.

Now I will make a concrete case against the consumers becoming their own critics.

1 - I used to hate leeks as a kid, now I love them - I even grow them. This can be the same as wine. Let me illustrate: has anyone seen the film Big Night Out? No, well it's about two competing Italian restaurants in an American town. One gives the diners what they want: meatballs in tomato sauce, lasagne, etc. and is wildly popular and successful; the other cooks beautiful, traditional Italian cuisine with a hugely talented cook, but is failing because no one understands it. It feels like a terrible shame.

Now, I'm not saying that a wine bottle in the hand of shopper is like an iPhone in the hand of a chimp, I'm simply saying that critics can lead us to a better understanding of wine (like a bone in the hand of a chimp - with the 2001:A Space Odyssey music to boot).

Put simply, if we let the consumer decide what's what, the already fragile bottom of the Fino Sherry market will drop out comprehensively. Seriously, find me a wine lover who loved Fino at the first taste (I thought I was going to throw up, but now I love the stuff).

2 - As I've said before, who gains? Yes, we all love a bit of power to the people (not least me - but we wont get into my voting preferences here), but in this guise of returning wine to the people, who is going to influence the consumer if no wine writers can? I'll tell you: people like wine merchants (ask yourself who Hanni has developed his personal tasting gizmo with), wine marketeers, supermarkets and the writers of the back label.

Why are wine companies now offering so many win-a-week's-winemaking-and-blog-for-us competitions? Because it does just this: it takes the power away from the wine writer (the 'subject supposed to know' if you like Lacan) and more or less ensures a malleable voice that will promote the winery in an entirely positive light.

3 - THE MOST DANGEROUS ASPECT: the argument doesn't make sense. The fundamental mistake that we are making here is to equate personal enjoyment with personal choice.

Hanni is telling us to be our own critic, assuming this means we can choose our own wines. Herein lies the problem. Imagine a film critic saying: 'you be the judge, and then go and see the film'...how can you judge it without seeing it? You'd have watch every single film available (or made) - by which time, I'd probably rate you quite highly as a film critic.

The same is true of wine. Unless, of course, the consumer is allowed to try any wine before they buy it - something I am entirely in favour of. But you see the issue, right? It doesn't make sense. By the time you've bought it to assess it, the cash register has already sounded, and everyone (bar the wine writer and possibly the consumer) is happy.

So there you go. Sure, the consumer can become a wine critic, but let's do a test - let's allow him or her to taste any bottle on the shelf before they buy it...

Then they'd be a real critic. Until then, we must not allow the marketeers and wine merchants to take over the realm of recommending wines.

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Friday, 8 January 2010

French Kiwi labels, or how to debase what's in the bottle

It's as ironic as The Times says it is: a French Sauvignon Blanc called 'Kiwi Cuvée'. Imagine if a New Zealand winemaker tried to market 'Loire Cuvée'. The INAO (France's appellations body) would be all over it in the courts, just as they were with imitation Champagnes, imitation Chablis and so on. But no, New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc is fair game.

Let us put the irony (and the sheer cheek of it) to one side for a moment and look at it from another angle.

Who will buy this wine? Well, two kinds of people. The first will be fooled, believing they've bought a New Zealand wine, only to discover that it's French. The second will realise the brazen trick and be impelled to buy it out of curiousity.

In the first instance the label is an insult to consumers' intelligence and in the second it's a gimmick. I have no idea what the wine tastes like (it's probably pretty good), but if a wine's label is that cynical, you have to wonder how much more you can debase what's inside the bottle.

You could have the text in Comic Sans perhaps?

Have a good weekend.

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