Stet by Ria Bacon

Friday, February 04, 2005

Whine anyone?*

A student of mine from two years back was training to become a sommelier. His day job was at the help desk of Oracle Corporation here in Rome but he was sick of dealing with clients whining about poor customer support. How he longed to e-mail back, "RTFM before you waste my time!" How he yearned to leap from tree to tree as they float down the mighty rivers of British Columbia! ...

Er, wrong story. No, my student wanted to be Master of the Wine cellar and to this end had been studying for several years, attending master classes and spending way too much money on wine. He assured me that it was "impossible" to buy a drinkable bottle of wine in the supermarket and never for less than 30 or 40 Euros. Obviously he had passed "Intermediate Wine Snobbery" with distinction. For him, there was only one Italian wine one could drink with assurance, Barolo. We drank a bottle this week, and it was good ("I could drink it every day!" said Mr B. enthusiastically) but not ten times better than the Bardolino at a tenth of the price in our local supermarket.

baroloWine, like computing (you mean you don't use Firefox??), is a domain that thrives on snobbery and exclusivity (Gmail invite anyone?). Chauvinism is also rampant. It is hard, for example, to find many non-French wines in France - Sidi-Brahim is used as a token example of foreign wine. Similarly, here in Italy, it is hard to find anything but Italian wines (or Italian cheeses, for that matter). As for the oenological jargon, do you know anyone who says things like "good legs, meaty body" without trying to get a laugh?

I finish with my favourite wine story, in my Larousse "Les vins" encyclopaedia (ahem), about the Italian wine Est! Est! Est! di Montefiascone.

The story dates from 1111, when a German bishop and wine buff, Johannes Fuger, was on his way to Rome, preceded by a servant whose job it was to scout out the best wines on the route. The servant had been instructed to write the word Est on the wall of each inn that served good wine. The Latin word would indicate to his master that the wine is (est) good. Passing through Montefiascone, the servant was so impressed with the local wine that he wrote Est! Est! Est! On arrival, the poor bishop set about drinking himself to death. The epitaph on his tomb relates the story in Latin and has been "piously conserved".

*Yes it's the second time I've used this pun in this blog's short life, but if no one else is going to link to me then I might as well do it myself. *sniff*