There is a certain comfort in people acting to national stereotypes. It helps to ingrain prejudice, confirm deeply held beliefs and engenders self-congratulatory feelings of wisdom and intelligence.
I attended a wine show called, imaginatively enough, The Wine Show a wee while ago and it was one such occasion.
As this is London, conforming to stereotype one, everyone is here and everything happens here, one of the extras available at this show was billed as an hour with Oz Clarke. This was not a chance for Oz to expand a la A.L. Kennedy into the world of the stand up comic, but an opportunity for the great unwashed, including yours truly, to sit through a tasting of 6 Sainsbury’s wines guided by Mr Clarke.
Everyone knows that the UK is controlled by supermarkets and independent shops don’t get a look in, and that you can only get the great British public to pay extra for someone if they have seen them on the tele. So the big event is a supermarket sponsored wine tasting of their ‘Extra Special’ range of wines available only in their shop by a well known TV face. That’s about three stereotypes ticked before you have walked through the door.
Despite being struck down with swine-esque flu Oz pulled out all the stops. Steadied by a chair he put on a most admirable show explaining why Chilean merlot is so good – it isn’t pure merlot but also carmenere, the climate of the New Zealand the winds that come from Antarctica and why they can produce such good white wines; how far north Chablis is in Burgundy and why it’s the furthest place north for decent non sparkling wine.
He also knew his audience. He made a brilliant case for screw tops rather than corks with a few points regarding the untruths being told about the decline of the cork industry in Portugal and how certain types of wine are actually better off sealed with metal rather than cork. The clincher however, and one that his audience nearly stamping their feet in agreement, was the fact that screw tops are much quicker to open leading, over course of a decade, to a significant increase in drinking time. Indeed sitting at the back of the room, many people had availed themselves of the opportunity to gulp down all the wine placed on front of them to taste and then drink all the other glasses that were around them at empty places. The British do not disappoint when faced with available alcohol at no extra charge.
The actual show was no less rewarding. The British scurried round drinking as much as possible of their chosen colour of wine disregarding almost all available advice on grape type, soil, geographical description. The only food available that wasn’t the God awful design centre cafes was a badly attended stall with cheese and ham.
The section on Wines of Spain had no actual Spaniards at it – it being the weekend and the Spanish being. . . themselves. The English people in attendance had some really good wines though among them Raimat’s first albarinyo and Scala Dei from Priorat. They explained well, were professional and willing to come out to work on the weekend.
The wines from Portugal section showed that the Portuguese, as usual about 20 years behind the Spanish, have woken up to the fact that they have good quality wine that people will buy if you give them the chance. They even managed to get some real live Portuguese people to turn up, which shows just how serious they must be. They were polite, quiet and assumed, quite rightly in my case, that the public knew nothing about Portugal or its wines outside of the Douro.
Then there was the French.
It is a universally accepted fact that with two French people in a room at any given in time the % of gripes, moans and grumpiness in a conversation will quadruple. With individuals this can be kept under control – most people have a French person they like (hello Clarisse if you are reading) but more than two of them and the grumpiness becomes a geometric addition to the power of 10. After trying some very pleasant wine from Corsica that I had to persuade two young French gentlemen let me try and then even make an even bigger effort to get them to sell me, they proceeded to shrug their shoulders griping about how hard it was to place Corsican wines and create a demand for them and that they were very difficult to sell. I have no idea where to get Corsican wine as they wouldn’t tell me where I could get any, so I won’t be drinking anymore in the near future.
In fairness they were better than another pair of Gallic servers who were so busy muttering to each other about how long they’d been there that at least three people gave up waiting to taste their wine. They moved along to try and to buy from English people who owned vineyards in France and who were generous, polite and informative.
Lastly, and most entertainingly, I was faced with a fake Armani t-shirt, gold bracelet and hand gestures promising me the best price before I had even seen what was available, by a Sardinian. His female companions, who only communicated in glarespeak, wore leather jackets and make up 80s style without looking in anyway retro. All that were missing were some sheep, a baritone choir and a Milanese industrialist tied to chair awaiting the receipt of the ransom money. I bought two bottles at the non-negotiated best price, just to be safe.
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