Thursday 25 May 2017

Great Wine Moments In Movie History X: Noble Rot

First things first: Noble Rot was never actually made. Had it seen the light of day, it would have appeared some time around the end of 1983 and its principal star would have been John Belushi, of Saturday Night Live, Animal House and The Blues Brothers fame. Yes, the Noble Rot of the title does indeed refer to botrytis cinerea and, yes, wine is central to the premise of the film. Only two things in fact stood between Noble Rot and worldwide acclaim: the first was that Belushi died of a drug overdose in March, 1982; the second was the uncomfortable truth that Noble Rot was, according to Mike Ovitz, the Hollywood agent, 'Terrible'; adding, just to be clear, 'No-one will ever make this picture'.

This hasn't stopped it from acquring a curious, speculative life-in-death on the internet. There's more than one website dedicated to picking over the chimerical possibilities embodied in the script of Noble Rot - all that now remains of the project - and guessing how it might have provided Belushi with both a new career direction and a more impressive cultural legacy. Which, in turn, is a mystery in itself - the reverence which still haloes his name, twenty-five years after his death. After all, in this country at least, he was pretty good in Animal House, pretty tiresome in The Blues Brothers, and the bits of SNL that have floated up on YouTube are not without interest, but they don't make him look like a comic genius - more like someone whose edgy physical presence and gift for a certain kind of reckless deadpan made him the pet of his generation, but not much more than that, not after all this time.

At the start of the Eighties, though, he was so huge that plenty of people made it their business to find material that would enlarge the opportunities for his talents; and Noble Rot was the script in which he invested his last, best, most drug-addled hopes. The premise of the movie? Johnny Glorioso (played by Belushi), the undependable, gifted, scion of a tiny-but-perfect Sonoma winemaking family, has to take four bottles of the estate's finest produce (touched by botrytis, naturally) to a wine contest in New York, beat the pants off the opposition (which includes Blue Nun and Mateus, seriously) and thereby establish Glorioso Vineyards as a true contender. On the flight over, he falls into the hands of the duplicitous Christine (played by God knows who) at which point it turns into a diamonds-and-fraud caper, the sort that might once have starred Cary Grant or, at a pinch, William Powell.

Belushi himself - according to Bob Woodward's determinedly monotonous Wired: The Short Life And Fast Times Of John Belishi - had a hand in the script, and you can glimpse him and his co-writer Don Novello struggling to escape the burden of Animal House/Bluto Blutarsky ('Beneath that cold, beautiful exterior is a condescending person as vulnerable as any of us') without ever managing anything authentically clever ('The wine business isn't all popsicles and roses either.'). The idea canvassed at the time was that Belushi's genius for physical expression - plus the goodwill of his core audience - would be enough to bring the film to life. 'It needs a lot of work, John,' Belushi's manager told him; 'I'll make it work,' Belushi replied.

But the fact is that wherever you look, the storyline is so inert and the dialogue so pasteboard ('Somebody in your company must be in on it'; 'They may think he really is a vintner from California'; 'I'm glad I decided to fly commercially'), that no-one, not even Orson Welles (who gets his own freakish cameo in the second half) could have made much of it. Worse, no-one seems to have noticed that wine is, in itself, a quintessentially boring subject to base a movie on. Belushi must have assumed that wine would somehow lend classiness, sauvity, to his muddled character, something different from his usual screen persona. But wine is no more inherently interesting than potatoes; in fact its mere presence further deadens what is already straining to become a so-so jewellery heist romcom. Sideways (2004) at least addresses the boringness of wine and its devotees; Sideways is very slightly the film Noble Rot wanted to be. But even Sideways is a bit boring.

Anyway, Noble Rot didn't stay the course. It was in the process of being edged out by, of all things, a movie version of The Joy Of Sex when Belushi overdosed. But the script persists; and will go on persisting, a monument to a special kind of credulity. Until, possibly, they get Eddie Murphy to come out of retirement.


NB: I am indebted to David Secombe - cultural contrarian, cineaste and curator of The London Column - for the original tip-off about this doomed, depressing and truly futile project.

Thursday 18 May 2017

Bling, bling – it's luxury wine calling

Let us wander into the bling side of the wine market. The side which appears to be aimed at Stan Herbert, the Harry Enfield character who boasted of being “considerably richer than yow”.

Once upon a time, bling was effectively confined to champagne. Absurd brands like the gold-bottled, Jay Z-backed Ace of Spades, served in nightclubs accompanied with fireworks, giving new meaning to the term “sparkling wine”.

Then the attention of some nouveau riche turned to rosé wine. The award-winning Henry Jeffreys recently asked whether we should be drinking ‘yacht rosé’, a category in which producers seemingly compete to produce rosé wine with the least taste for the most money. These pale, “sippable” rosés are then sold in colossal, yacht-scale bottles, like 300cl. Sediment’s answer to Henry’s question is obviously no; partly because the wines are pointless exercises in anaemia, and partly because one cannot elegantly serve wine from a bottle the size of a fire extinguisher. In both senses, tasteless.

Presumably such yacht people buy their wine from Hedonism, the aptly-named Mayfair establishment. Not a wine merchant, you understand, but a wine boutique. Its most expensive item is just above the price of an average house in the UK. Although somehow I don’t think their customers live in average houses.

Hedonism has possibly the only wine website which not only allows you to choose red, white etc, but actually offers a pull-down for “100 points RP”   But they provide few notes – so for the novice with £5000 to spend, there is nothing to help him choose between the Petrus 2009  and the Petrus 1990. Except that one is £4,279.80, and the other £4,998.70. Per bottle.

Is it possible to have a more bling wine website? Well, try visiting Clos19,

This is a website that has just been launched by the luxury group LVMH, who own a number of wines like Cheval Blanc and d’Yquem, and want to market them through a package of luxury lifestyle and “experiences”.

I am lured in by the fact that they have an entire section dedicated to the Art of Hosting. However, their’s is a strange world, in which it seems that both dates and business dinners are conducted in black tie.  Where your soulmate serves you spaghetti bolognese, with white wine. And where, if you're entertaining high-flyers, you naturally choose a wine with "lofty altitude".

(That must be where I’ve been going wrong, serving those lowly wines from sea-level…)

Clos19 also provides the least instructive video I have ever seen on how to clean a glass, without employing any cleaning products, but incorporating a flamboyant little flourish to announce completion. I urge you to watch this video, which lasts less time than it would take me to break a glass let alone clean it.

And then they get down to the nitty-gritty of selling their wines.

On Clos19, Cheval Blanc 2009 is £1,105  But you can get Cheval Blanc 2009 for £750 – at Laithwaite’s. Yes, Laithwaite’s! That’s £355, or more than 30%, cheaper. And when you’re ordering online, no-one can see you save.

That Petrus 2009 at Hedonism? Go to Corney & Barrow, and you can pick it up for £3,202.59. Not exactly cheap, but it’s not £4,279.80, is it? Over £1000 cheaper. A 25% discount; and unlike Sainsbury’s, you don’t even have to buy six bottles to get it.

(And unlike Hedonism, Corney & Barrow actually sounds like a wine merchant, and not a moral failing.)

And for peasants like us, on Clos19, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is £24. Yes, LVMH own that ubiquitous Cloudy Bay, which they must be embarrassed to see being sold at Tesco and Sainsbury. And at only £21 – that’s 12.5% cheaper. Buy half a dozen and you’ll get another £1 off. And it can’t be long before they knock 25% off six bottles, and you’ll get it for 16 quid or thereabouts.

Of course I realise it would be difficult to go to a supermarket. You know, it’s one of those big buildings on the outskirts? Before the airport? You’d have to wear the gardener’s clothes and, unless you want to discover what the bodywork’s like underneath the paint, go in the nanny’s car rather than take the Ferrari.

But you would get more than 30% off! Don’t these kind of percentages mean anything to the wealthy, unless they’re linked to an equity report? What it must be to have more money than sense.

I wonder for how long, if they continue to shop like this, these customers can remain considerably richer than yow. Remind me; who is it again, who is soon parted from his money?


Thursday 11 May 2017

DIY Rosé: A Futile Distraction

So the idea of mixing my own rosé from pre-existing reds and whites has taken hold of my imagination to such an extent that nothing will stop me brooding on its possibilities but a serious trial by wine, a spell at the kitchen table with a notepad and a misleading sense of purposeful enquiry. As it happens, I have to hand a bottle of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc my Bro-in-Law brought back from France, plus a South African Shiraz/Mourvèdre/Viognier mix which I bought on offer, reckoning that it might give me that Rhône Valley sensation, only more reliably and a tiny bit cheaper. Which I suppose it does, and with a full neck-straining 14.5% alcoholic content, so that's good. 

I have also done ten minutes' research into the question of mixing red + white to generate a rosé and find, to my slight chagrin, that it's not necessarily the barbarous mish-mash I took it for but a recognised - not by everybody, naturally - technique for achieving a rosé, if macerating grape skins isn't your thing. The key to a satisfactory rosé blend being to pick the right, harmonious, ingredients before you start, rather than grabbing the nearest two bottles and hoping for the best. Chardonnay and Grenache are tipped as likely candidates, neither of which I currently have. Which then reminds me of some sagacious observations made by LondonPerson a few weeks back on the best way to secure drinkable wine for not much and that maybe I should take his advice before starting; only to reflect that LondonPerson sounds a good deal more organised than I shall ever be, with the result that in the space of three minutes I have come back to my original, uncoordinated white + red and there the matter rests.

So I start with a sip of the white, still holding up very nicely, just to remind myself of what I'm adulterating. Then a seductively transgressive moment in which I replace the white I've just sipped with a splash of red, not more than a ten-to-one ratio, and wait for the ghostly swirls of colour to settle down. Taste-wise? Not much different from the initial white - partly because I have the stuff down at a polar chill, partly because the white is such a fruity take on Sauvignon Blanc that nothing is really going to impact on it - but then, right at the end, maybe, there's a kind of persistent terminal rustiness that wasn't there before?

Only option is to up the red. The drink in the glass now looks like a really bad shaving cut, but on I go. Initially it tastes much as before, only after half a minute the tannins seem to run riot, with the result that at the end of a flavoursome swig my lips are stitched together and my cheeks are hollow enough to mix plaster in. This cannot be right.

It is then and only then that I stop to ask myself, Do I even like rosé enough to want to create an ersatz version? This is clearly a question I should have dealt with some days or even years ago, but it's out in the open now and there is, frankly, no clear answer. Of course I like a nice rosé from time to time, but nice is such an undependable quality in this context that I hesitate to use it, especially since my kind of rosés are, as often as not, not nice at all, but determinedly crappy. In other words, just because something seems like a good idea, doesn't make it a good idea. How many times?

So I take out an as-yet unopened bottle of the stuff to check what rosé is meant to taste like and to remind myself of why I might want to drink it in the first place. Actually, it's a chi-chi Cinsault/Syrah blend which I've been ogling for a week or so in the scurf and neglect of the wine rack and it's not bad in the slightly disappointing rosé way, some air freshener notes, quite well integrated, bit of acidity. Also, it bears no relationship to my DIY stuff, apart from the colour. It is a nice, underwhelming, drink, whereas the home-made stuff is now terrible, there's no getting away from it. It's lousy. In other words, I have just spent half an hour making a bad version of something I only half-like anyway. I also have three open, very slightly-consumed bottles of wine sitting on the kitchen table, which is an authentic waste of space.

Still. Someone's coming over to our place for a meal this evening. He might turn out to be a fan of bad fake upsetting rosé wine and there's my evening's entertainment in one.


Thursday 4 May 2017

Tesco Champagne v Mouthwash – Go Compare!

What?? Tesco has been selling a Champagne at a lower price than mouthwash, according to the calculations of The Drinks Business. What on earth are they suggesting? Surely Champagne and mouthwash can hardly be mentioned in the same breath, bad or otherwise?

There must be issues here which go beyond mere price alone. And so it falls to Sediment to properly compare the two: Tesco’s £9 a bottle (on offer) Louis Delaunay Champagne; and Listerine, the most famous of mouthwashes. Each with their history and tradition. Each similarly chilled and served.

(NB: if you try this yourself at home, and your wife is anything like Mrs K, you may have to explain why there is a bottle of mouthwash in the fridge. Or champagne in the bathroom.)

In terms of appearance, the Tesco Champagne wins hands down. Louis Delaunay presents all the classic elements of Champagne, from the green glass bottle, the foil and the wire cage, to the traditional typeface and parchment-coloured label. Although, the back label speaks in surprisingly modern colloquial language, of “a lemony fresh wine with white peach flavours and citrus zing”. “Zing”? A common Champenois term, is it, “zing”?

Shrewdly, perhaps, Listerine’s label says nothing of its flavour. But it does convey a lot of information and guidance which might be useful for first-time Champagne drinkers too, such as how much to put in one’s mouth. Indeed, for the £9 Champagne audience, perhaps Tesco might consider something similar to Listerine’s warning, not to “swig from the bottle”?

However convenient for guests, it is hard to imagine putting out a bottle of Listerine, without suggesting that your meal presented some kind of oral hygiene hazard. Whereas the bottle of Louis Delaunay Champagne would grace any dining table. Particularly given the judicious absence from its labels of the word “Tesco”.

The Listerine label carries very precise instructions about how to open the bottle; the Champagne, despite being much more difficult to open, does not. I wonder which closure is actually more child-proof?

The Listerine also conveys instructions about how to close the bottle again, an act I imagine unlikely to be troubling customers of £9 Champagne.

In the glass, it is easy to distinguish between the two. The one exhibiting a kind of cloudy malevolence is, I was relieved to see, the mouthwash. And the Listerine has no mousse. The only way to achieve mousse in the mouthwash would be to eat one before you swill.

The Champagne requires you to get your nose right into the glass to pick up its very light, citrussy bouquet. That is a bad idea when it comes to the Listerine. It launches a sinus-pursing assault, with an antiseptic aroma redolent of surgical procedures.

And flavour-wise, in a traditional sniff, sip and spit tasting, the Champagne definitely comes out on top. It’s a bit bland, with a slightly bitter aftertaste, but it’s genuinely dry, faintly appley and perfectly drinkable. Whereas the Listerine is like an immensely strong eucalyptus cough lozenge. I mean, my palate has suffered some pretty dreadful stuff while writing Sediment, but this Listerine has been the worst. No wonder it hasn’t got an IWSC medal.

But… the mouthwash has merits of its own. It has to be said that chilled Champagne is very unsuited to swilling. I tried it, with a dose of Champagne measured in the handy Listerine cap, its flavour only marginally tainted by the plastic. The chill and the effervescence combine in a kind of oral explosion, like setting off a fire extinguisher in your mouth. It makes the insides of your cheeks crackle. After a second or two it has become a mouthful of froth, threatening to exit via your nose  – and after the full Listerine-recommended 30 seconds it has all but evaporated, leaving a sort of residue coating your teeth and gums.

And have you ever tried gargling with Champagne? May I recommend that you don’t? It took a warm cup of tea before I could speak properly again. It’s like having a small spiny creature wriggling in your oesophagus, as the cold needles of effervescence stab into the lining of your throat.

So you spends your money, and you takes your choice. Yes, Louis Delaunay also comes in a rosé, but then Listerine also comes in attractive shades of blue, green and purple. Yes, there is more drama in opening a Champagne bottle, but the Listerine screwcap doubles as its own shot glass, a marketing trick which Champagne seems to have missed.

And yet it’s clear that even Tesco, despite selling the two at comparable prices, accords one a greater ostensible value than the other. Read into this what you will: the Champagne on their shelves carries a security tag. The mouthwash does not.