Thursday 4 June 2020

A change of art

What could this label be saying about its wine? Modern, calm, understated, and quietly sophisticated, perhaps. It suggests the wine’s so good they named it more than twice. "It's Bandol on a budget’, with softer edges.” Pair it with Conran Shop tableware, David Mellor cutlery and Zalto wine glasses.


By way of contrast, what does this label say? It’s bright, it’s colourful, it’s lively, all positive attributes of certain kinds of wine. Perhaps pair it with colourful Tuscan crockery and maybe drink it from tumblers in a relaxed kind of way. Because “It’s ‘Bandol on a budget’, with softer edges.”


You’ve worked out where this is going, haven’t you? Of course; it’s the same wine. From the 2017 to the 2018 vintage, they’ve changed the label.

I got terribly exercised about this. I was upset, because I prefer the first label, which sits more comfortably on my table. Because I respect cool, austere design. Because that label looks sophisticated, which is how I like to see my wine, and now it looks loud, which is not. Because it’s now got yet another bloody animal on it.

(What is it about animals on wine labels? From birds and cats right down to frogs and penguins, you name them, you see them. There can only be a few genuinely unpleasant creatures left, which never appear on wine labels, because no-one has a good word to say about them. Like jellyfish. Oh.)

Anyway, I got even more exercised because, on a simple sales level, I could no longer see the bottle I wanted on the wine merchant’s shelf. I like to just pick up – or, in these awkward times, point at – the wine I want, in a knowledgeable, had-it-before manner. Instead of which I had to ask plaintively, “Oh, are you not stocking Talento any more?”, and then to feel ignorant because how was I to know they had changed the label?

I just wanted the same wine I had had before. And quite fundamentally, I don’t like change.. They say that a change is as good as a rest. Well, give it a rest.

But then, next morning, I thought about the way in which individual vintages change. The way in which, regardless of the (usually) consistent graphics of a wine’s label, the thing which really tells you about the character of a particular bottle may be the four little digits stating its year. That annual variation is celebrated by some wineries, as an aspect of their nature, a variation they proudly describe each year. (The only surprise being that it always seems to vary in a positive, purchase-encouraging way…)

So perhaps, if each year’s wine is genuinely different, the labels themselves should actually change each year? This is, after all, a new vintage (even if, to my palate, more like a boar than a bird). Perhaps the latest vintage deserves a new presentation, like the latest novel by an author, to show at a glance that it’s the same but different? Perhaps the misleading labels are the ones which don’t change, and suggest that the wine is essentially the same?

And then I got really philosophical, and wondered, can we ever drink the same wine twice? After all, a wine is constantly changing, not just from year to year, but even in the bottle. Even if the label is exactly the same, the bottle I opened last week is not the bottle I will drink tonight. Tomorrow’s wine must always be a little older, with a slightly different past. Like, indeed, ourselves. If Heraclitus had been having a picnic on the bank, before he considered whether he could ever step into the same river again, would he have stated instead that you can never drink the same wine twice?

Ah well. That’s what happens in lockdown, when you wake up early, and read Four Quartets outdoors, in a London profoundly quiet and still as you could never have imagined, while “Dawn points, and another day/Prepares for heat and silence.”

These days, eh?


1 comment:

  1. Lovely piece, thank you. After the initial surprise and disappointment (we liked the old label too) we are now looking forward to seeing what they come up with next year.


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