As a member of a book club which would not demean itself, publicly at least, to read and discuss the current bestsellers, we would, even so, not consider ourselves to be particularly intellectual. We discuss our books over a glass or two of bubbly for a considerably shorter amount of time than we do our children, husbands, jobs, holidays, parties.
But Fifty Shades of Grey has been outrageously successful despite our stance and despite the fact that, as I understand it, it is pure drivel, badly written and utter tripe. For a moment, I thought I would have to read it so as to have an informed view, but I held back from pressing the BUY button on ibooks when I saw a tweet critique which suggested it was akin to (and for that read, as bad as) the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. Encouraged by my daughter to read the first of these, I frowned my way to the bitter end but could not stomach the next in the series. I have no desire to add to my well-defined wrinkles.
Blush Zinfandel or Lafite 1982?
To be fair, those wrinkles would have been even more pronounced had I been reading Twilight with a glass of blush zinfandel in my hand. This is a wine I am sure few, if any, wine professionals would admit to drinking let alone liking and yet, is it not the biggest selling wine in the US? Sweet, frothy, easy, certainly no intellectual challenge for our palates; much of it badly and cheaply made and yet it sells by the bucket load, somehow providing huge amounts of pleasure to those who drink it – Mummy porn in a glass. We love it too on this side of the Atlantic along with sometimes bland and often uninspiring, Pinot Grigio. Not even a wine equivalent of a page-turning bodice-ripper. Why do people want to drink either of these styles of wine rather than a wine full of aromas, nuances, flavours, texture?
But who I am to judge either what is on someone else’s Kindle or in their glass? I would prefer everyone, particularly my daughter, to read more interesting, well-written books and to drink more exciting, better made wines but if that is not what they want, why force the issue? Should I as a wine educator, in fact, even be trying to persuade people that the world offers something more interesting, more thought-provoking, more challenging and more thrilling? Isn’t this just a point of view? Don’t we just sometimes want instant gratification and pleasure without any effort. I would love to read Proust or D.H Lawrence, but at the end of a long day I am much more likely to pick up a Joanna, rather than an Anthony, Trollope. I am more likely to grab a Sauvignon Blanc than a Château Lafite 1982.
(Actually, scrub that – if anyone were to give me a glass of Lafite 82, at anytime, ever, it would be the perfect time. Don’t hold back. Please try and convince me that this is exactly what I want to drink at the end of a long day, while I read nothing more taxing than the label!)
Blind tasting reveals what we really like
Recently, BYWine ran a tasting of sparkling wines which everyone tasted blind and graded by how much they liked each one – not necessarily by how good it was. The outcome threw up some interesting results. There was a Cava, Champagne, Cap Classique and sparkling wines from all the usual suspects. The wine which won, albeit by a whisper, was Casillero del Diablo Brut Reserva, beating Ridgeview Fitzrovia 2008 into second place. The reason the results were interesting was that the group was made up of wine-interested consumers, a well-respected wine-writer of many years and several non-professional wine connoisseurs and even they scored the Chilean sparkler very highly. Two of us knew what the wines were as we tasted them and can confirm that each wine was a perfect example of its type. So how did such an everyday bottle of fizz, notwithstanding that it is a wholly acceptable one, beat a decent bottle of Champagne and an excellent bottle of English sparkling wine? Is it that the majority of us do not want complex wines? Do we really just prefer quaffing wines as well as uncomplicated books? Wines which deliver pleasure and alcohol, books which entertain and titillate?
Well, the wonderful thing about a book club is that you find yourself reading things you otherwise would never have picked up and very often loving it, too. Then you have the opportunity to air your views and to suggest books others might try. Wine tastings do a similar thing – they encourage people to venture into vinous territory they may not know or decided years ago they didn’t like only to find that that Australian Chardonnay, or whatever it may be, was the best thing ever to pass their lips. It is not my job to decry people for reading Fifty Shades of Grey, or for enjoying a glass of what we might describe as plonk; what I hope I can do is to encourage people to open their minds (and probably also their wallets just a bit) to try something different, arguably better and hope that they enjoy the experience.