Thursday 31 January 2013

Have a heart…

Do I ♥ merlot? It’s not a question I often ask myself in the supermarket, where I am usually fully occupied playing What’s the discount, Hunt the longer sell-by date and Hide the indulgent purchase.

And until we've worked out how to pronounce "♥", it's not even a question, is it?

But I can perhaps understand the desperation to show a little affection for merlot. The wine has suffered ever since that infamous moment in the movie Sideways, in which wine buff Miles declares that if anyone orders merlot, he’s leaving. And he yells, in an incident which is supposed to have severely dented sales of the variety, “I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!”

It’s obviously a problem when the most famous quotable remark about your product is so entertainingly negative. It makes it so much more fun to say no to it than to say yes. And I can’t help wondering whether a wine called “I ♥ merlot” can significantly redress the balance.

Removed from that original, Milton Glaser I ♥ NY graphic, to me there’s a soppiness about using a  in that way. It's like adding it to one's signature as the dot on an i. It's surely inappropriate for any wine or indeed any one wanting to be taken seriously.

(Do you think Christine Lagarde puts a ♥ in her signature? Does one ♥ white burgundy? I think not. But did Bridget Jones ♥ her i and her chardonnay? Possibly. I rest my case of Chassagne Montrachet)

The use of this graphic on this particular label is only made worse by its transliteration at the bottom: “i heart merlot”. This upsets me, not only with its lower-case I, but also by turning “heart” into a verb. I had quite enough during the Olympics, thank you, with people turning “medal” into a verb. You do not “medal”, and you do not “heart”. Not unless you “idiot”.

There is plenty more to read on this label, albeit little or none of any informative value. Both front and back are covered with twaddle about loving wines. We love wine, they say. They don't, you notice, heart it. That idiocy is left to you and I.  

These people (and who are they, by the way?) “love everything about wine”, which must be the first time anyone declared a passion for screwcaps and sediment.

They “love that there is always something new to try”, a premise which, when you think about it, relies entirely upon ignorance.

And somewhere within all that copy they proclaim that “We’ve sourced our wines from some of the most famous, top quality wine-producing regions in the world” – so I must confess to a little disappointment when I found this was Romanian.

There is, indeed, wine of magnificence and character which is made entirely of merlot grapes, and comes from at least one of “the most famous, top quality wine-producing regions in the world” – France.  I’m thinking here of Chateau Petrus, the famous Pomerol which sells for thousands of pounds a bottle. Sadly, however, Petrus was not on offer at 3 for £12 in Sainsbury’s, so this is the wine I’m going to have to deal with.

And from the first, I remembered why I have always regarded merlot as the Formula One of wine. It has a bouquet of burnt rubber, and the texture of oil.

There are some drinks which are simply meant to be drunk in combination with others. You don’t drink Cassis, or blue Curacao, on their own. (And no, that is not a wager.) Grain whisky is better blended with malt. And on the whole, merlot, and especially cheap merlot, works best in a blend with other, more stringent varietals.

But I kept going with it – “I’ve bought it so I’ll drink it”, and I had a steak pie to get through. And actually – do you know what? – it got…worse. Blander, smoother, more slippery. Like drinking blackcurrant-flavoured paraffin.

Does anyone, apart from those involved in its production, ♥ merlot? Can people actually get up any kind of emotion, let alone love, for something so smooth and undemanding? It’s like loving lift music.

In future, I know how I am going to respond to merlot. And whether you are a barman, a wine waiter or an innocent in the supermarket aisle, be warned; it is not by placing my hand upon my breast and saying, fondly, “I heart merlot…”

No. I shall stand up and I shall yell.

“I am NOT…”


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