Comment - Wine - The Olympics and their Wine Equivalents
Chris Losh has clearly spent the bulk of July and August glued firmly to his television. Charged with writing his monthly column for just-drinks, then, and he'd be forgiven for giving it an Olympic slant.
So, that’s the end of the Olympics, then. And all our fears proved unfounded. The competition was spectacular; London’s antediluvian transport system didn’t grind to a halt, the weather behaved itself and thousands of smiling volunteers proved that Brits are only happy when they’re working for free.
Hell, they didn’t even need to use the ground-to-air missiles that the CIA insisted on installing on every available rooftop in east London to down wannabe terrorists.
As anyone who has been following the news will tell you, barring Bashar al-Assad’s attempt to go for the genocide gold medal in Syria, nothing else has happened at all anywhere on the planet over the last month. And that’s official.
But, a lack of news doesn’t deter this columnist. Oh no. Instead, I’ve taken a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the big Olympics stories and their equivalent in the wine world.
And if you don’t like it, write to Jacques Rogge…
Olympic Story: Usain Bolt celebrates his first gold (in the 100 metres) not with an early night and a good book, but by partying the night away with three pulchritudinous members of the Swedish women’s handball team.
Wine equivalent: Lovers of symmetry in nature can’t help but be heartened by the way in which beauty is attracted to power. Much like a Russian oligarch’s wallet, or a Chinese industrialist’s investment account is magnetically drawn to en primeur claret. Pass me a tissue, I may cry.
The lesson: Success attracts beauty, kudos attracts wealth, and stuff everybody else.
Olympics story: Sarah Attar becomes the first Saudi woman to compete in a track-and-field event, running in the 800 metres. She receives a standing ovation from the crowd, despite finishing almost a lap behind everyone else in her (two-lap) heat.
Wine equivalent: The appearance of wines from ever more exotic locations, such as India, Thailand and China, is laudable and inherently interesting. The wine world approves of their efforts and applauds their against-the-odds doggedness. It’s just that nobody wants to drink them.
The lesson: Goodwill and success are very different things.
Olympics story: Sixteen-year-old Chinese swimming sensation Ye Shiwen astounds everyone by winning golds for the 200m and 400m medley – both in world record times. A top American coach suggests drugs, not pure talent might be the key to her sudden improvement.
Wine equivalent: The 1976 ‘Judgment of Paris’, where New World wines narrowly upstage (or at least match) famous French equivalents. Questions have been raised ever since about the judges, the scoring system and the vintages chosen – despite repeated rematches having similar results.
The lesson: Favourites dislike being beaten by unknown outsiders, and will attempt to preserve their reputation by accusing the latter of cheating.
Olympic story: Forty-seven-year-old Italian kayaker Josefa Idem becomes the first woman to take part in eight Olympic games. She picked up a gold in Sydney 12 years ago, but finishes fifth in London.
Wine equivalent: Signora Idem’s haul of one gold in eight outings is roughly the same hit rate of good vintages to bad in Italy’s blue ribbon regions of Barolo and Chianti.
The lesson: Sure, there’s a lot of residual affection for the plucky Italians, but do the maths.
Olympic story: Jamaica – an island with a population of less than 3m - dominates the sprinting, picking up a plethora of medals across the men’s and women’s events, and setting a world record in the men’s 4x100m relay. The US (population equivalent to 110 Jamaicas) is not amused.
The wine equivalent: Burgundy, a small area with no big vineyards generates significant interest, affection and column inches. No-one has ever paid US$500 or queued around the block for a bottle of Riverland Chardonnay.
The lesson: Talent (quality) can beat size (volume).
Olympic Story: Four badminton teams, from China, South Korea and Indonesia are disqualified, after deliberate attempts to lose a group match, in order to avoid a strong pair in the first round of the knockout stages.
The wine equivalent: Far Eastern and Latin American countries’ are the world experts at manipulating the market to gain home advantage by penalising non-domestic booze. But, the EU’s attempt to ban ice wine from Canada and New Zealand less than ten years ago was a more subtle attempt at the same thing.
The lesson: You can move the goalposts if you like, but fairness will win out in the end.
Olympic story: The Brits blitz the velodrome, winning 14 gold medals. A fact which, coming on top of Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France a fortnight earlier, goes down like a ballon de plomb across the Channel. The French director of cycling believes dark forces are at work, muttering gnomically about the Brits having ‘magic wheels’.
Wine equivalent: French winemakers, wine critics and sommeliers lining up to dismiss any wines that they see as threatening the natural order of France at the top and everyone else down below. For ‘magic wheels’ read ‘Lack of terroir’.
The lesson: It’s easier, at the coming of a new world order, to put your fingers in your ears and whistle loudly than go away and work harder.
Olympic Story: Usain Bolt’s famous pose, variously known as the ‘Lightning bolt’ and ‘To di World’ is all over the papers – and not just performed by him. Celebs (and even other athletes) get in on the act too. Double-gold Olympian Mo Farah responds with his own ‘Mo-bot’, which appears to have been half-inched from Village People's disco classic YMCA.
Wine Equivalent: Mouton Rothschild’s smart decision to have a different artist design its label every year. Or, more prosaically, the cutesy critter-labels of wines like Yellow Tail.
The lesson: Good branding is about more than what’s on the track or in the bottle; giving the public something to remember makes a difference.
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