It seems that wine has become something of a soap-opera staple. Yet it's a shift which seems to have gone unnoticed by our esteemed wine writers.
Given their daily presence on our TV screens, even the most sophisticated viewers can't help but catch a few scenes of the soaps as they switch on, before they can log in to Curzon Home Cinema. And the presence of wine, in EastEnders and Coronation Street, is quite extraordinary. It appears that the ubiquitous “cup of tea” or “pint of best” has been largely replaced, by an increasingly ubiquitous “glass of wine”.
There was a time when hardly anyone in Britain drank wine, and certainly not the kind of people who drank in pubs. Accurately reflected in soap operas like Coronation Street, in pubs, even the women drank beer:
For the TV audience, wine was used primarily as a way to mock characters’ pretensions. Long before it became fashionable to chill light reds, a guest brought a bottle of wine to Abigail’s Party. “Fantastic,” says Beverly, “It's Beaujolais. Lovely. Won't be a sec. I'll just pop it in the fridge.”
And of course, there was Basil Fawlty famously complaining that “I'm afraid most of the people we get in here don't know a Bordeaux from a claret.”
But see how three Coronation Street women out for a drink has changed…:
Yes, it's now wine all round. Virtually every night, a character will be drinking wine in the Rovers Return or the Queen Vic. And others will be having a bottle at home:
Whether commiserating or celebrating, wine is drunk by characters right across the Street and Square:
It's readily available, from the corner shop. And if you can't afford it…:
And even if it's not actually being drunk, wine has a role to play:
Wine is now a part of the everyday lifestyle reflected in the soap-operas. And their audiences not only accept that, but even understand its codes and its connotations. There’s a fabulous scene from Corrie in which one character mocks another by sending a bottle of wine over to his restaurant table while he’s dining. The scene ends with a growled reassertion of Northern masculinity to the waitress who brought it: “Sorry, love… I don’t drink rosé”
It’s now commonplace for a bottle of white wine to be in any character’s fridge. Its primary role is to lubricate conversations. When two soap-opera women sit down so one can discuss her woes, they just have to have wine on the table between them:
The other use for wine is seduction; and if it was really as successful as it's portrayed, its sales would soar. As a soap-opera character, it’s only a matter of time until you’re side by side with someone, invariably with a bottle of wine and two glasses. Why bother pouring it? You’ll only have a couple of sips, then there’s a meaningful glance and, before you know it, you’re in bed. Bob’s your uncle:
(In fact, given most soap operas today, you’re possibly in bed with Bob, your uncle.)
With such levels of wine consumption going on, we might assume the characters have learnt something about it by now. You can rarely see what actual wine they’re drinking; I managed to read the label of a Merlot in Coronation Street – but like the Newton & Ridley beer on tap at the Rovers Return, Lassiter de Champ doesn’t seem to exist beyond Weatherfield. Still, the characters’ growing connoisseurship could be used more as a plot device:
“D’you mind taking this in for them next door?”
“Aye, aye, Barolo, eh? Someone’s come into some money…”
Wine could be used as a point of reference when, as often seems to happen, a character's being led away by the police. “By the time you get out, yer ‘15s will be ready to drink!”
And male characters could bolster their aggressive credentials by drinking heavy, high-alcohol reds. Can’t you hear Danny Dyer snarling, “Don’t give me yer Beaujolais. You muggin’ me off? Gissa proper glass a’ Shiraz.”
Is this the image that wine really wants? Wine portrayed as the everyday drink of psychopaths, villains, troubled couples and two-timers? The extreme violence and absurd shenanigans of today’s soap operas never occurred in the days when their characters were drinking stout or tea; but perhaps these really are the circumstances in which bottles of Blossom Hill and Echo Falls are consumed nowadays?
Still, now the characters have become accustomed to drinking wine, it can surely only be a matter of time before their palates improve, their connoisseurship develops, and the Berry Bros delivery van becomes a constant presence in Walford and Weatherfield.
“Wassat? An ‘09 Pauillac? Oh, you muppet, let it breeve, let it breeve…”