Wine junkies get wily and vicious when the latest limited-edition vintage hits the shelf
THE BRITISH WINE writer Hugh Johnson wrote that wine has “the power to banish care.” But did you know it also has the power to bring grown men to fisticuffs over the last case of a limited-edition Bordeaux? (I know the guy who broke it up.)
Traditionally, we think of wine appreciation as a gentlemen’s hobby, not unlike pheasant hunting or lawn tennis. But the more I’ve seen of contemporary wine culture, the more I’ve come to think of it as a competitive sport—complete with scoring systems, personal rivalries, patriotic affinities and even the odd goon.
Of course, it’s the age-old class implications of wine that make our relationship with the beverage so fraught with anxiety. “You’ve got to remember, historically, fine wine has been a rich person’s thing,” says Stewart Bailey, of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s flagship Toronto location. “Since the beginning of wine, there was the plonk and then there were the good wines put aside for royalty.” As such, modern wine enthusiasts will do very odd things to at least appear to know what they’re doing—and to avoid being lumped in with the dreaded “Baby Duck crowd” (so named for a label considered to be particularly déclassé).
At Ontario’s liquor stores, Saturday is game day—otherwise known as vintage-release day, when limited-edition wines are made available to the public.
Often, when a small number of a particularly glamorous product is on offer (which invariably means that it earned a high score from the Sun King of the wine universe,
Robert Parker), you’ll find oenophiles lining up as early as 8 a.m., comparing notes on recent acquisitions, recounting tales of taste sensations past, and clutching dog-eared copies of the Wine Spectator for cross-referencing. (The truth is, there’s nothing less relaxing than drinking wine with a wine geek. To me, it’s akin to going to a concert where the person next to you is expounding on each note as it’s played.)
Shoving matches have been known to ensue over coveted vintages, and, from time to time, collectors have even been caught stealing prized merchandise from other people’s shopping carts. One LCBO customer regularly purchases large quantities of expensive wines to display for guests on Saturday night, only to bring them back for a refund on Monday. “We actually had an employee injured recently when two people too impatient to wait reached over his shoulder and ripped open a wooden box,” says Bailey. “They sliced the edge of his face.” On another recent occasion, a Toronto contractor devised an ingenious plan to thwart the LCBO’s one-bottle-per-person policy on limited-supply vintages. At 5 a.m. that Saturday, he parked his construction trailer in the wine-store parking lot and paid his crew to line up in one-hour shifts. (They’d return to the trailer for coffee, doughnuts and bathroom breaks.) By the end of the morning, they’d bought up every bottle in the store.
Wine may banish care. But so it should, since it causes so much in the first place.
I If only we had a say
Canadians have a lot invested in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Whoever wins will influence our foreign policy and economy (not to mention the quality of the political satire we watch on The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live). It seems only right that we should have a say. Two new websites are providing a pre-election forum for concerned global citizens to make their hopes and apprehensions known to the American people. Theworldvotes.org is a non-partisan site based in The Hague that invites non-U.S. citizens to cast their ballots in a symbolic online election. At www.voices04.org, activists are posting “Dear America” letters from around the world to help U.S. voters gauge international opinion on the Bush-Kerry showdown. As if they actual ly cared. LG.
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