Thursday 1 June 2017

No value in novelty

Last week, CJ and I were foolish enough to taste some wine from Azerbaijan. As you do. It was absolutely, extraordinarily horrible, with a strange, nasty flavour followed by a huge clout of alcohol. But it had to be tasted – if only for the novelty.

What is this thing about novelty in wine? When a product works, you generally don’t muck about with it. You only get one or two varieties of petrol. We know pretty much what to expect when we buy something called butter. There are a few places in the world which grow superb lemons, and from which we buy them. And in each case, we look no further.

But we suddenly get offered wines from countries like Azerbaijan, and Armenia, and China and for all I know Bangla Desh and Alaska. If each of us try a bottle once, maybe they’ve got a short-lived business. And out of sheer curiosity, we do try it, on the Dr Johnson principle of a dog walking on his hind legs; it is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.

Surely novelty goes hand-in-hand with restless dissatisfaction? We’re wary of people who seek novelty in things which are perfectly good as they are, like omelettes, or masonry nails, or indeed wine. And yet in the name of novelty, we’re presented with aberrations like blue wine, fruit wine and chocolate wine, none of which is remotely as enjoyable as wine wine.

There’s novelty packaging; wine in boxes, and bags, and tins, and individual sealed plastic goblets. Can’t we be content, like the traditional spade or the traditional saucepan, with the traditional wine bottle? No, it seems. Here’s the latest alternative; it’s “a deconstructed bottle”, the very definition to my mind of a heap of broken glass.

Novelty glassware itself extends, of course, into various ridiculous wine glasses, with novelty
sizes, shapes, fatuous slogans and jokey measures. I was given one which flashes. In seven colours! We seem to do without such amusement in our steak knives.  Oh, and here’s a decanter which fills with red wine and resembles a diagram of the aorta.

And then there are the novelty names, the Fat Bastard, the Arrogant Frog, the Chat en oeuf, the Bored Doe claret and Aldi’s Men Are From Mars Minervois. No-one seems to feel a need to give, say, vegetables a punning novelty name, do they? Couch Potatoes, anyone? Full Of Beans? Or, from Aldi probably, Cor, Jets!

When someone does come up with a product, and calls it Utterly Butterly, something within me thinks that it may well have lots of other Utterly wonderful attributes, but it’s just not going to be as nice as… butter.

(And perhaps the Azerbaijan producers should call their product, I Can’t Believe It’s Called Wine.)

There’s a difference between variety and novelty. Variety is the spice of life. Novelty is not a spice; it’s a hot sauce, called Professor Phartpounders Colon Cleaner.

It’s as if we’re all sitting in judgment on a wine-related episode of Dragon’s Den, in which no-one pitches a wine which is actually better than what’s already out there. Instead, there’s an endless parade of novelties, doomed to failure. Green wine! Wine from the Tundra! Wine in a bucket!

I’m sorry, but I’m out.


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