There are people coming for lunch. I’ve got my wines ready. And my stories.
You may have come across the idea of “brand storytelling”, the notion that a brand can engage with us through tales about its origins, or values, or what makes it distinctive. Because we all prefer something which has a story behind it.
There is even a horrible American adjective, “storied”, which is applied to brands who have had lots said about them, although it just sounds to me as if they have a lot of floors. I can’t wait to hear the many tales from a multi-storied car park.
I’ve got used now to retailers telling stories about their wines. The vineyards which are “next door to” some great name. The winemaker who is “son of” a legendary figure. As if, whether through geography or genealogy, good wine is simply a product of proximity.
My favourite is always the story about the obscure wine from the well-known winery. Obscure not because it’s a lesser wine, oh no – but because this is the fabulous wine which is usually kept back for friends and family. The one which is so good, they usually keep it for themselves. Like the way Martin Scorcese keeps his best films for his home cinema, rather than releasing them to the public.
Then there are legends like that of Casillero del Diablo, the winery which, to dissuade burglars, spread the story that their cellars were guarded by the devil. Well. I’ve read my Danté and my Milton, and I think that the Satanic horde have got bigger things to do than act as night watchmen.
Or there’s the varying tale behind the wine Est! Est!! Est!!! It’s said that a Bishop in the twelfth century, or possibly the eleventh, travelling to meet the Pope, or perhaps to attend a Coronation, sent a prelate, or it may have been a clerk, on ahead of him. This scout was to chalk the word “Est”, Latin for “It is”, on the door, or the wall, of the establishments serving the best wine en route. And the wine he found in Montefiascone was so good that he chalked up “Est! Est!! Est!!!”.
This story may, of course, be apocryphal. It may also be misleading, in that the quality of that wine is not generally regarded as being in the category of the triple-exclamation mark. Jancis Robinson has described it as "usually the dullest white wine with the strangest name in the world." Although I suppose that doesn’t really matter; if you tell your guests the story, and then they disagree with the verdict, you’ve got a fascinating little tasting thing going on, and you can lay the blame for your dull wine on the twelfth-century clerk. Or prelate.
But then there are personal stories. Not those concocted by brands, but those which arise because you’ve chosen the wines yourself. Like the stories I had ready for our guests.
So I was going to start with “wine with bubbles” as they first described it, from the oldest established Champagne house. The brand’s own story involves a monk, yet again, and the development of glass bottles, yawn. But it was gifted to Mrs K as a leftover from a Famous Designer’s launch party, at a fabulously trendy location, and it’s the Champagne They Chose, which has got to be interesting. I mean, you’re interested in who, and where, and what was chosen, aren’t you?
And then we were to have the last bottle of a 2005 claret, now just at its peak, which I had brought back in December from a supermarket in Paris, encased in bubble wrap and socks. I found a 12-year-old claret for €16, while Mrs K was buying biscuits and chocolate and soup, which just shows why we both love French supermarkets.
No devils or monks or prelates, but stories about designers, and supermarkets, and travelling with wine, and socks… what more could you want?
Then CJ turns up. Usually, if he’s got a story, it’s one you don’t particularly want to hear, like “Do you know, this was the only bottle they had for less than £7?”
But this time, he appears waving a chilled bottle of something sparkling, and he says “Look, this is a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, from South Africa.” And if there’s one thing better than a host with a wine with a story, it’s a guest with one. It means they know what it is they’re bringing; it’s not something they just grabbed off a shelf in a blind panic. Not something you’ll have to look up when they’ve gone, to see whether you should drink it, cook with it or give to a tombola.
So against all the rules regarding gifts of wine, we drank it, and it got us talking. Bit bland, we felt, and whereas the blend seemed to have removed that biscuity quality of Champagne, it hadn’t added anything interesting enough back in return. But definitely more sophisticated than Prosecco. And it kicked things off very nicely indeed, thanks.
Sometimes, wine is there to fuel the story-telling. And sometimes, wine is the story.