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Wednesday, 15 July 2015
Fine wine vs an apt metaphor
Storms, natural phenomena, death, sex? How best to describe the blossoming of interest in certain fine wine vintages?
Late last year, the fine wine market began to get very excited at
Robert Parker’s retrospective of the 2005 Bordeaux vintage –
particularly as he had just rated the ’05 Mouton Rothschild 99+ – would
it make it to a full 100-points in June?
As the reckoning approached the speculation mounted and so did
prices. On 29 June the storm broke, though not quite the way many
expected. The scores were heavily slanted towards the Right Bank, 10 of the 12 100-pointers being from Pomerol or Saint-Emilion and the other two being from Pessac-Léognan.
None from the Médoc, Mouton slipped back to 97, Margaux stayed on 98+ and other scores were, said Wine Asset Managers, “fairly ordinary”.
No matter, Parker’s scores drove a flurry of fresh trading in those
wines that had been rated “perfect” – and even some that hadn’t been –
and for a week the 2005s basked in the attention, holding a 37% share of
all the wines traded by value on the entire Liv-ex marketplace for the
week of 26 June-2 July.
And then, just as abruptly, the interest was over. The following week from 3-9 July the 2005’s share of trade was just 2%.
There was no especially earth-shattering reason for this, nothing
sinister or cataclysmic. As Liv-ex director Justin Gibbs explained, the
release of re-scores and upgrades from Parker always creates a very
intense but also very brief period of activity and then – like an ocean
after a storm – all is calm once more as if it never happened.
There were a number of metaphors that struck me as pertinent to this
situation – storms and their various derivatives
(tempests/typhoons/cyclones etc), as used above are obvious but a little
Sex is another; one could either describe the build up to the Parker
retrospective as a particularly delicious bout of lovemaking with the
release of the scores the inevitable conclusion. Or, if you prefer, all
that waiting was a frustrating dry spell and the short trading period
synonymous with premature ejaculation and disappointing for all
But wine and sex is equally riddled with cliché (foaming Champagne
eruptions) and it makes people embarrassed or outraged or both and
they’ll say you’re only doing it for the shock factor. Then again,
there’s always the chance you’ll end up in the Literary Reviews “Bad Sex” awards which is a treasure trove of toe-curling writing (the bad sort).
Perhaps reference to one of those natural events is where billions of
mayfly or cicadas are born and live for a day and then die en masse
might work? There’s a particular type of frog that lives,
asleep underground in the Australian Outback for up to 30 years at a
time until it rains when it emerges to mate and then goes back
underground again – or perhaps dies. And/or is probably eaten by some
monstrous Aussie snake/spider/killer bird/dingo. Monumentally pointless
either way and wine is not, so that is not a good metaphor.
The one that is perhaps the best, and certainly the most suitably
poetic, is the symbolism tied up in that prettiest of flowers, fruit
blossom – and cherry in particular.
In Japan cherry blossoms, with their brilliant but short existence,
symbolise the transience of life – a central theme in Buddhism .
The samurai – whose warrior code bushido was a blend of
Buddhism, Shintoism and neo-Confucianism – also adopted the cherry
blossom as an aesthetic and powerful symbol of a beautiful life cut
Falling cherry blossoms represented fallen samurai who died in
battle, an allegory that reached perhaps its apogee during the bloody Sengoku jidai
of the sixteenth century when the average life expectancy of most
samurai was less than 27 years old. Their life was geared to one purpose
and, strange as it may seem to us, a “beautiful” death was the ultimate
fulfilment of that creed. To live and die in battle was to blossom and
fall from the tree of life at the most perfect of moments.
This, it is clear, is more appropriate. Without getting too bogged
down in vacuous cant it’s easy to see that a wine, like the samurai or
indeed a Spartan, has but one purpose and one fate*. It exists to be
drunk as the warrior does to die and its desired end will, it is hoped,
be beautiful. One precious moment and then gone forever.
And whether collecting or drinking it, the goal with wine is to catch it at just the right moment – like cherry blossom.