Sozzl’d has gone a bit stale recently. Not my fault guv’nor…
a) my Mother-in-Law visited for three weeks meaning weekends away and hence no prospect of wine
b) work required me to go to Bangkok for 5 days and solo drinking didn’t appeal, and
c) a general detox requirement; Malaysia/expat life has started to take its toll on the waistline
As the UK has feaverishly and anxiously has waited for its first gold medal and won a flood of them I’ve struggled a bit to think of what to write. Maybe some ideas will arrive like a clutch of number 19 buses.
This last week, facing the sort of identity crisis as you do when you live as an expat, I mused upon the idea of labels.
Consciously or unconsciously and rightly or wrongly we use labels to help us to simplify masses of data and information and form simple conclusions. At best labels allow quick decision-making and the use of intuition, whilst religious or xenophobic fanaticism is a testament to the worst of labelling.
Take job titles – labels that many people aspire to having defined because they help to ground, and root us to what we do and who we are. Job titles can be symbols of status and power. They can also be symbols of status and lack of power. Such labels are tools of convenience, ignorance or laziness. They do not require you to scratch beneath the surface, to be inquisitive, to value merit or show empathy towards the subject. Doing my best Charles Darwin impression, I reckon that our need to label is a vestigial hard-wiring of our own primaeval animal behaviour. Labelling helps support the fight or flight response. The yellow and black of wasps or the Poisoned Arrow Tree Frog are warning signals. The gulping of a baby gull is a sign of hunger.
When it comes to wine packaging, labels are mysterious and far from indicative of the quality of the contents. I’m talking about the stuff that, as Jeremy in Peep Show would say, we ‘shit-munchers’ have access to, not the Uber-Chateaux. The wine label often attempts to convey the ethos of the winery, the story of the founder, or it can simply depict the jacked-up ego of a design house. At other times the label can act as an educational tool, for example, in this case food & wine pairing.
The whole ‘novel’ wine label phenomenon has been around for donkeys’ years, getting up the noses of the Old World establishment (i.e. the French). Novelty and humour can be embraced but when you look at these examples who can blame a bit of snobbery? I don’t think I would drink any of these because they don’t say quality to me (unless quality is said with John Terry’s accent on a night out in Romford – sorry Essex). But in the same way that insects have evolved millions of different colours, body shapes, each with their own niche, so too has wine and the labels that go with it, and we just have to embrace that diversity.
On a recent business trip back from Bangkok I was surrounded in the duty free by Opus 1-this and Mouton Rothschild-that (incidentally, the only heavy-weight producer that regularly messes around with it’s label) when I came across a wine by Molly Dooker called The Maitre D’. Ordinarily I would have got my barge pole before the Immigration desk – usually a wine like this with an Aussie ‘matsey’ marketing ploy is too ‘jazz hands‘ for me.
But for me, the label says “d’you fancy coming to a carney party on a barge? there’ll be midgets and a bearded-lady”. It’s quirky and a bit naff, yet somehow a bit edgy to boot. Intrigued, I parted with my Baht, hoping that the wine wasn’t a complete stinker.
On the nose it was big and powerful, but not giving up much more than an explosion of sun-baked fruit. My Wife said ‘slightly funky, even pooey, vegetal earth‘ I said ‘yes dear’ – but there was definitely something earthy about it. In the mouth it was HUGE and searingly alcoholic at 15.5%. Black fruits, raspberries, hints of clove and aniseed, vanilla and a bit of coffee……. it wasn’t massively my kind of wine, there was too much rowdiness (and American oak) about it despite how smooth it was. But with the right kind of BBQd meat, I could see how enjoyable this could be – and I probably didn’t do it justice with the steak I cooked.
A big, fun roller-coaster of a wine deserves funky packaging and on this occasion label and quality were perfectly matched.