October 19, 2004

Basil Fawlty On the Grape - A Llama Rant

Oh, yes. A Bordeaux IS a claret. But they wouldn't know that. - from "Fawlty Towers" Episode Whatever, "The Hotel Inspectors"

John Cleese to host a Wine for the Confused tee-vee special.

According to the news story, "[t]he purpose of "Wine for the Confused" is to give a sort of shorthand sophistication to novice wine lovers."

Allow me to rant for just a second. There is so much wrong with that sentence it makes my teeth ache just to read it. There is no such thing as "shorthand sophistication". Three quarters of the problems with modern culture are caused by people who believe otherwise. Sophistication - in any subject - takes years and years of exposure, practice and thought. I also take issue with the notion of a "novice wine lover". You can't truly love something you don't understand and a novice, by definition, does not understand.

Another guts ache-inducing quote: "How do you know what you like? In this case, there literally is no accounting for taste, Cleese said. Don't be afraid to say what you like, regardless of what wine experts say."

Look. If you take something like this show as a baseline from which to learn some of the initial questions that you should ask on the subject, then all well and good. But if you come away from it thinking yourself empowered with some kind of automatic right to have your tastes accepted as being just as legitimate as anyone else's, you are an idiot. Unfortunately, this seems to be at least in part what Cleese is trying to accomplish. I really detest the "whatever turns you on" theme that seems to pervade his remarks. If there are no objective standards of good taste - built up by generations of trial, error and collective opinion - then why on earth even bother with an educational effort of this sort? Of course, there are plenty of times when I feel the Academy has become too rigid or wrapped up in itself in matters of taste or standards. But in such instances, I'm content simply to slay the garrison. Cleese, being the twisted, dark soul that he is, seems bent on pulling down the tower itself. That ain't right.

For all that, it seems that at least part of Cleese's show actually could be moderately informative, as it appears he will talk about the various nuts and bolts factors that influence wine production. We'll see.

Having foamed at length about all this, I will say that I don't pretend to any expertice in the field myself. (That's my Dad's department.) But I can give you one Llama Iron Law: There is no such thing as good Virginia wine. Do not, repeat, do not let anyone try to convince you otherwise. It is vile and horribly overpriced. All of it.

UPDATE: An irate reader writes, "Keith, you're just a snob like the ones Cleese is taking down." No, I'm not. A snob is someone who thinks only a certain elect few can know the Truth in matters of taste. I think anyone with a reasonable amount of natural aptitude can, provided they understand a) that it is not simply a matter of their own personal preferences, b) that it will take a lot of hard work and c) that it won't come from watching tee-vee.

Posted by Robert at October 19, 2004 10:01 AM

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Posted by: business executive education at October 12, 2005 10:32 AM
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