Thursday 24 September 2015

Anglo-French name-calling – Les Rosbifs

We English are used to the idea of nicknames related to diet. After all, Americans called us “Limeys” because our sailors ate limes to ward off scurvy. The French called us “Rosbifs” because we roast our beef. It is perhaps only a matter of time until we are known by the world as Twizzlers.

And we, of course, similarly refer to the French as “Frogs”. My understanding is that they do not particularly like this term, although they probably prefer it to “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”.

However, there is a French winemaker who labels his wines Arrogant Frog. And there is clearly a belief that the way to make French wine appealing to a broader English market, and compete with the frank, in your face approach of some of the New World brands, is to have a jolly good laugh around clichés about the French, and the old Anglo-French entente cordiale. Or lack thereof.

So we have a whole string of wines which parade faux Frenchness, a case of the oafs meeting the oeufs. They play upon what might pass as French to the residents of Walford. You get wines like Les Dauphins, all tricked out with mock belle epoque designs. There was one at M&S called Chez Pierre which looked like the house wine of a French restaurant on Coronation Street. Clearly taking the St Michael.

Then we have French wines which play upon what is believed to be English tradition. Nonsense like 58 Guineas Claret,  ignoring the fact that the French would never use the word ‘claret’ themselves.

And we have wines which take the mickey out of the French language, like  Longue-dog, Goats Do Roam  and Chat-en-oeuf. Which play upon Languedoc, Cotes du Rhone and Chateauneuf, respectively if not respectfully.

So perhaps it was only a matter of time before these absurd convolutions resulted in a French wine sold to the English by playing upon the way that the English are described by the French. And here it is, a Pays D’Oc red, Les Rosbifs.

Now personally, I don’t have a problem with us being described as “rosbifs”. It’s a hearty, red-blooded kind of a nickname. Better rosbifs than, say, coqs.

But of course, it doesn’t stop there. The label of Les Rosbifs is illustrated with what are presumably meant to to be English motifs. A knife and fork, for example, but crossed sideways, despite the fact that English children are taught not to do that. Some people say a crossed knife and fork indicates an argument to come, a superstition I seem to be proving correct.

There’s a hat on the label, which looks a bit like Tudor headgear and a bit like a crown. And there's what appears to be a bovine with a football, which might I suppose be a reference to Wayne Rooney.

What really rankles is the fact that this preposterous marketing construct has clearly not been created by the French themselves. On the back label, there is an explanation of the “good-natured” (sic) nickname “rosbifs”. It is said to be “an 18th Century gastronomic term describing our  (my italics) distinctive style of cooking meats.” That’s “our” distinctive style, fellow Englishmen. Not “their” distinctive style – as it should be if written by a French winemaker.

Plus of course, there’s a further real giveaway. Obviously it is inauthentic for a French wine to put a stonking great varietal on its label. But worse than that; if this wine had an iota of French authenticity, they wouldn’t have called it Shiraz. It would be Syrah. Only, that word’s not as well-known in Walford…

In the end, what you’ve got underneath all of the flim-flam is a straightforward seven-quid Syrah. (I refuse to call a French wine Shiraz.) That rubbery smell like an old eraser…that initial clatter around your palate like a mouthful of marbles…that thick, velvety soupiness, settling down after the initial burn-off into a puddle of bitter cherries. Certainly not Bordeaux, the French wine which surely a traditional Englishman would choose.

Who on earth will buy this stuff? Do people really chuckle when they see it on a shelf, or laugh as they place it on their dining table, and point out the label to their guests?
Is it cashing in on some kind of UKIP jingoism?
According to the official website, the classification Pays d’Oc IGP is “a unifying label, signifying quality, authenticity and imagination.” Far be it from me etc, but aren’t all three of those in question here?