Ch'ng Poh Tiong March '10 column: There's a Tiger in my wine

  • Monday 22 February 2010

The ability of Tiger Woods to chat up waitresses and then talk them into bed is really none of our business. Hostesses, though, are another consideration. There’s no unusual skill in hitting on them since, if anything, the nature of their job means that hostesses are more likely to plant wild ideas into our yielding minds. That differentiation aside, if you believe everything you read in the papaers, whether it came to either waiting or hosting staff, Tiger seems to have been even more consistently champion on the mattress than on the green.

Now, although I began by arguing that we should all mind our own business, the truth is that privacy is all well and good until what you say solidly on the one hand, you casually stray away from with the other.

Most of us don’t really mind (or at least, don’t care) when people who lie to us know that we know they are lying. But we get really riled when people go out of their way to deceive us, letting us imagine they are a goody-two-shoes when they are really expert practitioners of the Karma Sutra. Or preaching the word of God but then preying on small boys who go to receive God’s words.

The wine world, to be sure, also has its fair share of Tiger Woodses. You may not think so, because you only drink the stuff. But us journalists who speak to these winemakers or proprietors are constantly assaulted by their ‘passion’ (as shameless as the 30 utterances I once encountered in a 30-minute interview).

Let’s face it, how much raw passion does a corporate multi-millionaire or billionaire really possess who buys a château and doesn’t even bother to have a go at pruning the vines. I am not suggesting working an entire 20ha (hectare) block, but perhaps a row or two after a hearty breakfast would help boost the heartbeat and the staff’s overall morale. Or an owner who doesn’t even bother to follow (let alone take part in) the tastings for the blending of the final wine following the vintage?

If the deep-pocketed proprietor had merely confessed ‘I bought this estate as a pure business investment, but heck, wine is certainly more fun and enjoyable than trading in shares,’ then most of us, I think, would admire that kind of old-fashioned, vintage honesty.

‘Strive for elegance’ is another empty expression from the recesses of a brainless head when what you are offered to taste is as black as soot and has enough green, monstrous tannins to take out your recently installed denture work. I refer to such beverages (‘wine’ is an inappropriate descriptor) as ‘God-have-mercy-on-us’ or ‘vacuum-cleaner’ wines in my tasting notes because, quite literally, they suck.

Quite apart from the huge extraction these wines undergo, they are also baptised twice in brand new oak, the first time for the malolactic fermentation, the second for the ageing of the wine. I may have serially failed maths at school but even Dumbo here knows that when you do something twice over – like two clicks on the alarm-clock switch – the double action brings you back to zero.

‘Ready to drink now’, when spoken by the proprietor or sales director really means: ‘We need you to pay for the bottles now, even though the wine is nowhere near ready for at least another five to 10 years, because we need help with our cashflow.’

We mustn’t be too harsh here, because the proprietor has little choice in the matter. Wine production, like any other business, requires financing. And any other leeway he or she may have is not helped when legislation taxes a winery as soon as grapes become wine, rather than when the bottles are actually sold.

Wealthy new converts to wine often also let out that the wine is ‘ready to drink now’ after they have uncorked a Bordeaux first growth just four or five years young. There’s no point telling them that the wine is not ready and that it’s better (and cheaper) to drink a cru bourgeois for the timebeing, because someone with new money is even more stupid than someone who doesn’t want to have money in the first place.

When you think about it, why should someone who has just splurged several thousand dollars’ or pounds’ worth of wine on others have to feel guilty, or wish to be told they have done something foolish? They should, instead, be praised to their chandeliered rafters and be worshipped as fat new Bacchuses (if only to ensure future invitations).

Let’s, therefore, go one up on Tiger, and just reward deception with more deception by appearing to enjoy committing wine infanticide.

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