1) So Asda holds a little tasting/wine discourse event for a group of wine bloggers, and PK and myself turn up, and it's all very civilised, except for when we sit round a table to experiment with different food taste/wine combinations, the experiment being led by Asda's charming Master of Wine. The problem being that whenever she says What happens when your pair off the sushi with the Riesling, or the hard cheese with the Cabernet Sauvignon, what happens to the acidity? What happens to the tannins?, all the other bloggers, who clearly know wine, start murmuring about softness and acidity and suppleness and sugars and other wines, using all the arcana of wine appreciation, while I sit there experiencing precisely the same feeling I used to get during Additional Maths O-level when the maths master scrawled his way across the board before coming to an entirely unexpected halt and asking, What then, is the final term? And the rest of the class murmuring with lazy irony that it was, of course, (4 - y6) as I sat bathed in mute and baffled dread, not having the remotest idea what was expected of me. I am finding these events increasingly stressful, to be honest.
4 - Now reduced to 2!) Elsewhere, there was a fine selection of mainstream wines, mostly generic types made in the prodigious quantities that satisfy Asda's demands, and none the worse for that. The big question, though, was less about the qualities of the booze on offer, and more about the price policy. Both PK (who can start a fight in an empty room, bless him) and I tried to raise this with the Master of Wine herself and another Asda wine executive, only to be politely stonewalled. But this is the question about everyday wine, more than ever now that the big supermarkets have made themselves almost entirely responsible for our mainstream wine habits. There was (for instance) a nice Zilzie ShirazViognier from Australia, retail price £7.48, and as long as I wasn't paying for it I pronounced it good, but wait: £7.48? For 75cl of okay red wine? For that money I could buy, from Asda themselves, two entire chickens, just as tasty as a battery-farmed Shiraz, but capable of feeding a family of four twice over, instead of providing moderate drinking pleasure for two people once over. Or I could get a pack of 52 dishwasher tablets, far more functional and longer-lasting than almost any red wine. Or 10 kilograms of potatoes, more than I can eat in a month. Or, if I leave Asda altogether and go to Wickes next door, a 2.5 litre tin of Bituminous Roofing Felt Adhesive, and that stuff's really useful. To be frank, not a single wine on sale at Asda - or Tesco, or Sainsbury's, or Morrisons - is worth, in the great scheme of things, more than, what? £4, and most of that's paying for the glass bottle. The only reason we even contemplate £7 or £8, to say nothing of £15, is because, as Anglo-Saxons, we are on chronically bad terms with drink, thirsting persistently after it while at the same time feeling shame at our desire, being rendered stupid and vulnerable as a consequence. Governments have always exploited this guilty inner conflict, using it as a justification for the huge levy they raise on wine, currently standing at well over £2 a bottle, including the VAT on the duty. We are also curiously prone to welcome the promptings of wine conoisseurship, which extends its diseased nimbus all the way from farcically overpriced investment-level wines down to supermarket grog, endowing it with a fake specialness, an air of occasion which it doesn't justify, allowing it to become something nearer to a premium product even though it's no more premium than tea or flour. We should be paying 99p a bottle for our everyday red, and if we were filling up our cubi in provincial France, or hauling the stuff out from a cash'n'carry in Spain, that's what we would be paying. Only we're idiots. Sorry if this is something Sediment tends to bore on about, but there it is.
Figure to be Announced) How much has this posting set Asda back? The bloggers' thing was at the end of an all-day event, for which they had to hire a venue, pay for the catering, and so on. So what was the cost to Asda of inviting me and PK? 50p a head? £10? I've mentioned their name nine times already, and reproduced their corporate logo, which should be a result so far as they're concerned. Then again, they've only bought themselve exposure in a microniche blog, and without knowing the figures, it's hard to tell whether this is value for money or not. The cost to them is also affected by whether or not the other bloggers mention Asda in their posts, bringing down the effective cost-per-head with every mention. Sediment could turn out to be cheap as chips, or painfully overpriced. I trust someone at Wal-Mart's HQ in Arkansas is trying to work it out right now.