Wine / Surviving a pretentious homage to twaddle

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Wine columnist RICHARD CALVER finds his blood pressure rising as he makes his way through a book that, if it hadn’t been from the library, he would have tossed it on the fire (if he had a fire).

THE browsing of shelves in the Woden library, suitably socially distanced, saw me find a book intriguingly titled “I Drink Therefore I Am”: a cute take on Descartes’ famous “I think therefore I am”. 

Richard Calver.

The blurb on the back of the book had me hooked: “A good-humoured antidote to the pretentious clap-trap that is written about wine today and a profound apology for the drink on which civilisation was founded”.

Great, I thought, no pretension. But on reading this so-called “philosopher’s guide to wine” my blood pressure rose and, if it hadn’t been a library book, I would have tossed it on the fire (oh, yes, and if I had an open fire, too). Had the blurb writer read this mind-blowingly pretentious homage to twaddle? 

Roger Scruton is a firm believer in the notion that France is the centre of wine production and no other place can produce wine that is reflective of terroir because it is not imbued with the culture that has arisen from the cultivation of the soils of France. “Breeding” is the nomenclature that Scruton gives to this centrality of French wines, something he describes as “a quality which has only something to do with ancestry, and much more to do with culture, settlement and pietas. 

The latter, cloyingly pretentious term means a dutiful/loving attitude towards the gods and is derived from Roman culture. In Scruton’s construct, this “breeding” just cannot be found elsewhere than in the bosom of France’s wine-growing regions, which drip with sufficient culture so that there are wines that are transcendental. 

In dismissing all other cultures and their wines, Scruton is particularly harsh on Australia. He professes “suspicion” towards the wines of Australia and NZ because “the greatest wines grow in sacred places – the temples of Roman gods, the gardens of monasteries and the terraced hillsides where cavalries parcel out the land”. 

He contrasts this with the wines of Australia, glibly described as “beefy chardonnay and gay shiraz”, which go on a journey “to nowhere, from the nowhere they have been made”. 

The late Roger Scruton… Australian wines do not taste of places, “they have decided to taste of grapes”. Photo: Pete Helme

He says that Australian wines do not taste of places. Instead, he says, “they have decided to taste of grapes”. 

Oh dear, this tendency apparently is despicable with the wines of our beloved country becoming personified and therefore they “leap fully armed from the bottle, slashing you around the head with their stainless-steel aromas.” 

Stainless steel doesn’t have an aroma, for goodness sake. I looked it up and found that stainless steel is an iron alloy with a minimum of 10.5 per cent chromium by mass. This layer of chromium is what makes stainless steel less likely to rust, corrode or stain. Chromium forms an oxide when it is in contact with air and water, making it more durable. It’s possible that this oxide layer could help to remove unwanted smells, such as the smell of garlic, but the evidence is still shaky. If only Mr Scruton had tempered his metaphors with some facts.  

Then there is a quite startling change of direction. For no rational reason, Scruton isolates two Australian wineries whose wines he appears to approve of, without citing any rationale for choosing to favour Wirra Wirra and Brokenwood. 

The latter’s “rustic shiraz” is pointed to: “If I were to describe this wine, I would say that it tastes like the sound of cicadas, but that is just another illustration of how difficult it is, to describe the taste of things.” 

The sound of cicadas, seriously? And did this philosopher skip the part where they teach you about Aristotelian syllogism? What valid deductive argument could there possibly be from the maddening disconnected propositions made about Australian wine?

We should buy Mr Scruton a T-shirt I saw bearing the slogan: “I’m not rude, I’m educated”.

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Richard Calver
Richard Calver walks, talks, thinks, drinks and writes passionately about wine, especially the wines of the Canberra region.

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