Thursday 20 June 2013

Shall I compare thee...?

I am not buying any more wine at the moment. Honestly. So you can halt the veritable rainforest of Summer lists, flyers and special offers, which have been coming in through the door but doing a rapid u-turn out into the recycling bin.

I am touched by the faith of wine merchants in both my consumption and my affluence, neither of which appear to be echoed by my wife. Only this weekend, Mrs K commented upon the quantity of wine in our cellar, and asked pointedly if I would be buying any more. 

I explained that most of the wine downstairs could not be drunk for some years yet. In fact, I had had a phone call from one merchant, trying to persuade me into buying some 2012 en primeur. Frankly I had better not, given that the 2005, and the 2009, are still sitting in the cellar and attracting baleful glares from my beloved. 

And nor can I currently risk topping up supplies of everyday drinking, since the notion of “drinking every day” also seems to be under marital scrutiny.

So it is purely for entertainment value that I have been reading these mailings. On which they score significantly more highly, I suspect, than the wines they contain.

I realised a long time ago that many of these wines are only available from their particular merchant. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does mean that there are unlikely to be any comparative tasting notes online. So in order to “explain” these little-known wines to punters, the merchants resort to their own comparisons. The method goes like this: “You know that wine you’ve heard of? Well, this one is just like it!”

This is what happens in the books market, of course. You get a bestseller like 50 Shades of Grey, or The Da Vinci Code, and suddenly there are dozens of books emulating the design and the title. In these cases you certainly can judge a book by its cover – it’ll be a bit like the well-known one, only not as good.

Is that what these wine merchants are trying to tell us?

I was driven to this thought when I got a flyer for Clefs du Pontif, a Grenache Syrah Pays d’Oc which, the offer told me, was a “Chateauneuf Look-a-like”.

Now, I don’t want to be pedantic about this. Oh alright, I do. How can a wine be a “look-a-like” of another? It’s red, and it’s liquid, ergo it looks astonishingly like another red, liquid wine?

Or is it because it has a label carefully constructed with an Olde-Worlde typeface, and an ancient-looking image incorporating a sword and a key, which might if you squinted and offered “A glass of C du P, old chap?”, pass for Chateauneuf du Pape?

(In much the same way, no doubt, that The Rembrandt Secret is a “look-a-like” of The Da Vinci Code)

A lot of effort is being expended in order to produce comparisons which will flatter unknown wines, and pander to a customer’s assumed experience and aspirations. Either that, or most customers are trying to fool their guests.

“This is as close as you’ll get to Champagne without paying for the real thing,” one merchant says. 

Or, “Made from 100% Chardonnay it’s a ringer for white Burgundy.” 

Or, most crudely, “A Rioja in all but name”.

Well then it’s not, is it? The Rolex company sell a cheaper line of watches with the brand name Tudor; they look like a Rolex, they were created by Rolex, they are “a Rolex in all but name” – but they’re not a bloody Rolex, are they?

The more I read this particular offer of “Star Buys” etc, the more risible seemed their comparisons. “The red bears more than a passing resemblance to a young Chateauneuf du Pape.” I like to think I bear more than a passing resemblance to a young Alan Bates, but I’m not sure that description would identify me at Passport Control.

And what about a “Sancerre-style favourite”, a Sauvignon Blanc “reminiscent of Sancerre at twice the price”. It’s called… Sincérité. No doubt it’s even more “reminiscent” of Sancerre if you offer it slightly drunk, badly pronounced, with a cough at the end – “Do have a glass of Sincér(cough)”  

Away with all these ringers, reminiscences and resemblers. Comparisons, the Bard said, are odorous. And perhaps that explains why this week’s recycling is a little more pungent than usual. 



  1. Spot on PK. The worst at this is the Sunday Times Wine Club which gushes stuff like, 'Made just over the other side of the hill from Chablis but we can't believe it isn't Chablis at a price you would never find Chablis available for from a gold medal winning maker who has been a friend of ours for years.'

    Hardly surprising he has been a friend for years when this type of old guff is served up on a regular basis. For Chablis insert wine of choice by the way.

    1. Spot on yourself!

      You're not their copywriter, by any chance...?


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