Solutions for Status Anxiety

Tuesday, 20 July, 2004
Neil Pendock
With wine a vital lifestyle accoutrement, the problem of choosing fashionably well from a restaurant wine list, deciding whether the bottle is corked, vintage issues and matching wine choices with food orders is loaded with status anxiety.

No stranger to pseuds corner in the satirical magazine Private Eye, popular philosopher Alain de Botton is nevertheless a canny commentator on lifestyle trends. His latest cappuccino-table book for the thinking yuppie is called Status Anxiety (Hamish Hamilton, 2004) in which he addresses the up-market pandemic that has infected salons from Sydney to San Francisco and Cape Town to Camden Town. To whit, how to avoid being judged a loser in the eyes of colleagues/friends/the world.

With wine a vital lifestyle accoutrement, the problem of choosing fashionably well from a restaurant wine list, deciding whether the bottle is corked, vintage issues and matching wine choices with food orders is loaded with status anxiety. For starters, some varietals are classier than others. Viognier has claimed the local laurels for most fashionable white cultivar although aged Sémillon would probably be the insider's choice, the global campaign to promote Riesling by mega-wattage celebrity commentators like Jancis Robinson, notwithstanding.

The problem with Viognier is that it's hard to drink more than one glass of the stuff, with perfumed peaches a tricky match unless Thai or curry menu options are available. With varietal Viognier on sale in UK supermarket chain Tesco at GBP 3.99 a bottle, the cachet of rarity and expense is also fast disappearing.

The advantage of Sémillon is an ability to age and with time sometimes comes an expression of terroir. Editor of la Revue du Vin de France, Michel Bettane, was entranced by a five year old example on a recent tasting trip to the Cape and hailed it as 'the first step in determining a terroir' for the cultivar. Sémillon was once the workhorse of SA wine when it was called groendruif, a role now filled by Chenin. But with the Chenin campaign abandoning terroir considerations for a more cynical attempt to label brands as 'Super Chenins', perhaps there is an opportunity for a Sémillon substitution.

Status reds are a harder call with Shiraz the obvious candidate. But alas that grape is Australia's strong suit and being au fait with Brett (a spoilage yeast recently been flagged as a serious problem in Cape Shiraz by authorities such as Brian Croser) is another issue fraught with anxiety. Support for local hero Pinotage comes from some unlikely quarters (Bettane again and Observer wine pundit Tim Atkin) but Jan Boland Coetzee's observations that 'women don't like it' has unfortunately some foundation in fact and given that the fairer sex buy 'as much as 70% of the wine' drunk in the UK according to the 'website for women' iVillage.co.uk, is an issue.

Single varietal bottlings or red blends from Italian cultivars are an intriguing solution and some fascinating wines are starting to emerge from the windswept bush vines on the West Coast. Made from Italian classics like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Primitivo and Barbera, these wines are often exotic when young with delicate perfumes and subtle flavours. When balanced by acid, they make excellent food accompaniments and with la cucina Italia the nation's favourite dining out option, are obvious complements to a cuisine that celebrates olive oil, balsamic vinegar (in moderation), fresh mozzarella fior di latte and prosciutto.

The final dilemma is between screw cap and cork, with artificial cork a non-starter (too hard to remove from bottle for non-gym bunnies, lurid colour which may clash with apparel, impossible to reseal if take-aways are required). Cork causes TCA anxiety while screw caps have a cheap reputation inherited from the five-litre flagon brigade.

But calmer waters are forecast with the launch of the Vino-Lok glass stopper at Prowein in Germany. Essentially a marble under an aluminum cap, crystal ball options will no doubt be available for those wishing to advertise their status with a handy secondary use for predicting the future, if dinner conversation lags.

The Vino-Lok glass stopper - latest status announcing accessory at the dinner table?
The Vino-Lok glass stopper - latest status announcing accessory at the dinner table?

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