Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Wine and its metaphors

Whenever I attempt to make a point about something wine-related, I tend to roll out my favourite wine metaphor: books. It's easy to equate wine with books: we have our favourite authors and some of their books are better than others; sometimes we just feel like a straightforward thriller, sometimes we prefer something a little more intellectually stimulating. Although I won't go into literary deconstruction theory and its application to wine here (that's another blog post, coming shortly), it is a parallel that has served me well.

Other people like to use works of art as a parallel to wine. Some use other objects of desire or enjoyment or status including diamonds or designer bags.

But the massive problem with all these metaphors for wine is that they don't function unless you assume that you can only enjoy a book for an evening, a diamond for a day or a bag for an hour. Because essentially, wine self-destructs.

Other metaphors some (in fact there are more than 'some', I have met quite a lot) people like to use is that of a woman or a woman's body - you know: 'a woman is like a fine wine' or 'a New World wine is like a woman with fake breasts'. While I can understand the aesthetic rationale (wine/women as objects of desire and pleasure) behind this parallel, it often seems to me to say more about the person saying it than it does about the wine.

Think I'm being over-sensitive on this issue? Well, a woman last night told me a winemaker once said to her, 'a vine is like a woman: the more it suffers the better the outcome'.


As I was writing this I thought I might have hit on the perfect metaphor in applying the 'wine is a woman' metaphor globally, removing the implied desire and 'saying wine is a human being'. Indeed, we are the product of the vine (nature) and the winemaker (upbringing), we are geographically similar, and we age similar to fine wine.

But the aptitude of this depends on your vision of the human being. If, like so many people, you believe that human beings are essentially the same the world over, then the metaphor is holed below the water line.

You'd also have to say that you only get 12 chances (a case of wine) to see an old friend you met once when s/he was a child.

Yet again, it's a good metaphor but perfect it ain't.

I was going to end with one of those lovely and typical blog endings: 'do you have a perfect metaphor for wine?' but I don't want to be disingenuous. Unlike 'all the world's a stage', I don't think any metaphors for wine are capable of being extended.

Well that's a whole morning wasted.

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Monday, 7 December 2009

Wine and sexism

Earlier this year, a woman called Lucy Wadham wrote a book about marrying a Frenchman and moving to France, only to discover that she didn't like France and that her husband was having affairs with their friends. A Times review of the book concluded thus:

Along the way she’s fallen in and out of love with France several times, proving that nations and their inhabitants defy generalisations. I ended up concluding that Wadham hadn’t, after all, married into the wrong country, just into the wrong milieu with the wrong guy.

It was this ending that sprang to mind as, in horror, I read a Canadian piece on men and women and their differing approach to wine. At first I started out a little worried, and gradually grew more and more aghast as the piece went on. Halfway through I wondered if it was a very clever piece of satire. But I finished wishing we lived in a matriarchy. In fact, I haven't read anything quite so worrying for a long time.

The title of Jeff Heinrich's piece is What Women Want (wine wise). Here. Enjoy:

A lot of women live for the moment, for what can be consumed now, for what's good even if it's cheap, and that's the way I think it should be.

How many women can you insult in one sentence - and, at the same time, majestically pronounce yourself in favour of this?


I got ample proof of the male-female divide a week ago at Montréal Passion Vin. Not only do the two sexes appreciate wine differently, I learned, they also talk about it differently.

The men I met enjoy ranking wines on a scale of 100. One wanted to know how many bottles I've got in my cellar (for the record, it's 150). These guys call a merlot "feminine," a cabernet "masculine," and describe an imperfect vintage as like a woman's face: a few wrinkles add character.

Women, I found, aren't nearly so competitive or obsessed with naming what's in their glass. For them, it's all about the pleasure. They're full of questions that accentuate the positive. Is this wine good? Does that one taste like the part of the globe it's from? Can I meet the person who made this assemblage? Is there any food - please! - to go with this grand cru?

I can't work out whether or not Jeff is deriding the practice of comparing the number bottles in one's cellar, but he's just done it. One hundred and fifty, eh? I began to worry about Jeff's portrayal of men.

And 'a few wrinkles add character'? Ah, the male pontification on beauty... One presumes the best vintages are like a perfectly-formed, barely legal Czech model for Chanel? If I had a penny for every time I'd heard a French winemaker say somthing similar...

And the third paragraph? If that really is a snapshot of the people at the tasting, you can't begin to name the places I'd rather be than in that room. Sitting on a fondue heater while being forced to listen to the full production of Oliver! was as far as I got.

Then I read about Alexandre Kalos:

[He] brought a date a generation or two younger than him.

"Madame is coming here for the first time - it's an initiation for her," said Kalos, who entered the raffle for a case of Cheval Blanc, one of the world's most expensive Bordeaux wines. He visited the vineyard in the 1990s and has a photo of him riding the famous white horse.

"I'm an amateur of good wine and beautiful women," Kalos said. "I'm sharing my joy and my pleasure."

After several minutes' shuddering, there were some unpleasant facts to face. Firstly, this was obviously real life. Secondly, I'm sure there are people out there like that; I know, for a fact, that wine is compared, day in, day out, to a woman's wrinkles or her breasts or any part of her anatomy but her brain. I realised that hanging around in that kind of company had skewed Jeff's article.

I thought of the Times review. Women, of course, defy generalisations and Jeff hadn’t, after all, walked into the wrong debate, just into the wrong milieu with the wrong people. I do not seek to excuse the amazingly sexist article, it merely draws the wrong conclusions.

Lastly, it more than proves that (male) wine writers should stay well away from the gender debate. It's not doing 'us' any favours.

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