Monday, October 18, 2004

John Cleese & wine…

The Food Network gets a big kudos for its program with John Cleese about demystifying wine. Sound levels seemed somewhat variable through the show, and the production didn't appear to be top-shelf, but a good effort to get the word out to the masses. (John Cleese's Wine for the Confused will re-air October 23, 2004 5:00 PM ET/PT, & October 24, 2004 4:00 PM ET/PT)

The program was suitably geared toward people with entry-level experience, and didn’t have a shred of pretension. Knowing the show was only 1 hour in length, it was difficult to anticipate exactly what information he’d present. Obviously there’s enough information on each topic within the category “wine” (growing grapes, fermentation, blending, bottling, etc) for many hours on each one, and the treatment (though just scratching the surface) was perfect for generating interest without fear.

The greatest points were made I think in the scenes which chronicled the tasting with wine-novice “everyday people” (meaning non-wine professionals or wine geeks), like:

  • many people couldn’t tell the difference between a white & a red wine when they couldn’t see the wine while drinking it
  • different descriptors were used for the same wine, each set somewhat unique to the person tasting the wine
  • only 2 people in ~18 could pick out the $200 bottle of wine in the flight of 6 wines, which ranged in price (are you listening winemaker Richard of Raphael?) from $5/btl to $200/btl - lower than just random guessing should’ve produced, which is a 1-in-6 result (3 people)

Other important points from the show? Several come to mind…

  • don’t let wine stewards cow you into buying what they want you to buy, get them to find out your tastes and pair a wine to your preference (and pocketbook)
  • drink what you like – regardless of the price tag
  • one man’s $200 bottle is another man’s $5 bottle (and vice-versa)
  • you don’t need 7 different styles & shapes of wine glasses, just some all-purpose stemware
  • some professional wine critic gives a wine a 97, you get the wine & totally dislike it (YOU give it a 37!)…it only proves that people have very different tastes & perceptions

Something that I’d take issue with (here we go again) is the statement that different wine glass shapes influence taste rather than aroma. Certainly the wine-guy who made the statement seemed to believe that, but my experience differs. It almost sounded like a shameless plug for the glassmakers (and we’re not sure, as viewers, if Spiegelau or Riedel “donated” glassware in trade for a plug at the end or not). For those who toe the party line that glassware makes all the difference- take the HJWOW challenge: Pour 4oz. of Chardonnay into 5 Reidel/Spiegelau "White Burgundy/Chardonnay" glasses and 1 "Red Burgundy/Pinot" glass. Have a friend mix up the glasses and blindfold you. If what you believe is true, then you should be able to pick out the Burgundy glass by taste every single time. Try it, you'll be surprised what your preconceived notions (marketing) can lead you to taste (or not taste). Its quite revealing....

And what was it with the somellier at the end who sidestepped the Brettanomyces issue by focusing on corked wines (TCA) when asked about defects? Is it truly too controversial a topic? And what of oxidized/aldehydic wines, or VA? Personally, I’d have loved to hear Mr. Cleese describe manure & horsey notes in his wine…
Perhaps they had to edit it out due to the short timeframe…

And did anybody else notice that at no time did they show anyone “swimming the grapes” in a vat? Nooo, they showed people punching down the cap in the proper fashion! (See the "traditional" way here...)


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