Wednesday, April 25, 2018

From Tampopo to Sideways: Merlot at last.

After this post first came out in 2008 when I started blogging, The Cockroach Catcher has at last had a chance to taste a most amazing Merlot. 

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. Towards the end of the film, he was being comforted by a bottle of Cheval Blanc, 1961 no less and arguably best of the post war ones.

Ours is more recent, 2000 but what a wine. 

Many blogger thought it was a Hollywood goof. To me it is one of the smartest irony: for the Merlot hater to be raving about a Merlot (with Cabernet Franc) is deliberate as it was originally going to be the Petrus. Merlot sale unfortunately suffered, but only the Californian variety.
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 Blanc 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.

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