Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wine, Media and The Mind

It is amazing how easy it is to influence modern day consumers with nothing other than a well made film. As far as wine is concerned the film Sideways has more or less changed the wine landscape of California if not elsewhere. This is because of two simple lines from the film. The wine snob character Miles tells friend Jack before a double-date dinner:

“If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any……Merlot.”

All of a sudden, it is no longer cool to order Merlot, and Pinot Noir becomes the new Merlot.

The fact that the same snob Miles’ most treasured wine Cheval Blanc is 45% Merlot is lost to the vast majority. In fact if Petrus had not refused permission, Miles would have drunk Petrus in the film, and that, one of the most expensive wines in the world, is 95% Merlot.

In the animated hit Ratatouille, feared critic Anton Ego visits Gusteau's, the restaurant in which the movie is set, and orders a bottle of 1947 Château Cheval Blanc to go with his meal. The '47 Cheval is probably the most celebrated wine of the 20th century. However, there has been no rush to buy cases of this as you are unlikely to find them except in top merchants and private cellars.

I have my own suspicion about some lesser known films that may have influenced wine drinking habits in the Far East.

In 1985 the film Tampopo came out of Japan. This comedy features a truck driver who helps a young widow named Tampopo improve her noodle restaurant, and draws attention to the power of food.

There is a beautiful wine tasting scene, by a group of hobos following the lead of a professor. The professor realises that life as a hobo is much freer, with no one above him telling him what he should do, no targets to meet, and no paperwork.

The wine tasting is not at a winery or a restaurant. It is in a park by the back door of a restaurant. The wine is that little bit left at the bottom of a bottle. There is not enough to go round; so the hobos allow the professor to do the tasting and are content to just listen to his analysis. (In the Cockroach Catcher, I wrote that a blind case presentation at Queen Square was a bit like wine tasting.)

It is one of the most enjoyable scenes for wine lovers and if you are not a wine lover you will become one.

The wine?

Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande,” announced the professor in perfect French.

This wine has since become a favourite of the Far East.

Chateau Pichon Lalande is not as expensive as the First Growths but is fast catching up. Fortnum and Mason of London used to have a house Pauillac made by Chateau Pichon Lalande. I was tipped off to get the last few bottles some years ago. Now the supplier of their house Pauillac is Chateau Haut Bages Averous, a vineyard next to the new rising star of Bordeaux: Chateaux Lynch-Bages.

The best year in recent vintages has to be 1989, a great year for most of Bordeaux and rumour has it that it will become drinkable in 2009. Hurrah. The 2000 is superb too but recent vintages have all been great and if you can store them buy them now.

The biggest wine influence worldwide came from a documentary. In 1991, after the airing of 60 Minutes on CBS, wine sales went up 44% in the next four weeks in the U.S. It was about the French Paradox: the incidence of coronary heart disease in France being 40% percent lower than in the U.S.

Health sells.

Once upon a time in Hong Kong, when people made money they drank the most expensive Cognac and Scotch, with Hennesy XO and Dimple being the “Gold Standards”, partly because of their highly recognisable bottles. To have such a bottle on your dining table was a sure sign that you had arrived. Now, the status symbol is the most expensive red wine, and it is often taken with just about any dish that is served.

But then the French perhaps always knew; including its own most famous psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche (born 1924). His book The Language of Psychoanalysis was first published in 1967 and translated into English in 1973. All of us training at the Tavistock had a copy and it is to this day one of the best reference books on the subject. He has co-authored a number of other books in psychoanalysis.

What is not so widely known is that Laplanche was for many years the owner of Chateau de Pommard, a Burgundy vineyard, and actively involved with the wine-making processes. He sold the vineyard in 2003 but continues to live on the estate with his wife and to act in the capacity of a consultant to the new owners on wine making matters.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

You have done it again!! Wine is another area I want to know. I go to the pub quite a lot these days with my mates. They only order beer, I wonder if the British young kids aware of the goodness in wine. I am a red wine drinker. I do not know the history of wine but I enjoy a good glass of red wine.
What is next Dr. Zhang? You are such a good internetlecturer.

Zarathustra said...

Sideways - good film, but don't they have drink-driving laws in California? The characters seemed to be driving around permanently boozed up.

Am Ang Zhang said...

Of course there are DUI laws in California. Just look at the number of starlets arrested and charged. There are also laws against cocaine usage and a number of other things, but you and I know that does not stop people breaking them.

moira said...

I have read your book and couldnt put it down. really enjoyed it. In the book you mention a book by Rene Allendy called Journal of a Sick Physician, do you know where I could get a copy, I have looked on the internet but cannot find a copy to buy.
Many thanks
Moira Ruth
Hope this is not going to be your one and only book

Am Ang Zhang said...

Thank you for your comment. I am glad you liked The Cockroach Catcher. Personally I am convinced that these “stories” are worth sharing and can bring insights to some readers.




It is intriguing that you mention Rene Allendy, for whilst I know of him, I don’t remember writing about him in my book or any of my blogs. He was of course an important character in the French psychoanalytic world. The poor man suffered from ill health nearly all his life, starting with bronchial pneumonia at the age of three and a mixture of lucidity and blindness towards the end. A search on the Web seemed to indicate that no English translated edition of his journal is currently available. However, you can buy the original French edition (Journal d’un médecin malade) from a number of French online bookstores, e.g. from Chapitre.com.




Do revisit my blog and keep the comments coming.




The Cockroach Catcher

Am Ang Zhang said...

There is a full review of the book on Amazon.
It is posted on my blog: The Cockroach Catcher Blog
The Cockroach Catcher