The most-repeated Jeffreys family story concerns the time my grandfather tried to explain the joke “an oeuf is an oeuf” to a waiter in France. My father squirms with embarrassment when he recalls it, yet it never stopped him indulging in painful repartee with the locals on family holidays, and I have to admit when it comes to Franglais jokes I am a chip off the old block. Yet this great family tradition may be coming to an end. On a recent visit to Bordeaux, whenever I tried some of my schoolboy French on the locals, they would reply in perfect English.
It probably says something about me that I associate the forthcoming 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on Sunday 18 June with alcohol more than anything else. I don’t think I’m alone though; British children are no longer taught about the Napoleonic wars at school, but the great names from the conflict are familiar to us from the labels on bottles. For drink marketers, Napoleon is the gift that keeps on giving.
Admiral Nelson, apparently.
The Munchies part of the Vice media empire have made a short film about Steven Spurrier. If you’d told me that a few years ago that I’d see the words Vice and Spurrier in the same sentence, I would have said that’s about as likely as Kate Moss flying Easyjet. Truly we live in extraordinary times. The hyperbolic billing made me want to dislike this film:
“If it weren’t for him (Steven Spurrier), the industry would still be run by French aristocrats, and none of us would ever have heard of the Napa Valley.”
But I suppose they have a film to sell to people who have never heard of Steven Spurrier so one can forgive the rather breathless tone. The film itself is more understated and provides an interesting summary of Spurrier’s illustrious career. He comes across as a courteous man albeit someone with no sense of false modesty about his own influence or abilities as a taster. In short, he’s about as far away from the bumbling gentleman amateur that you might associate with a doyenne of the British wine trade. What was interesting was how mid-Atlantic his accent is, like an 80s Radio 1 DJ, thirties becomes thirdees.
The elephant in the room is of course Robert Parker (no offence, Bob) who is not mentioned in the film. You have to be very interested in wine to know who Spurrier is whereas Parker is a critic who has transcended his job. Parker, for better or worse, actually changed how wine tasted. Wine makers made wines that they thought he would like. He changed how people talked about wine too with his 100 point scale. I don’t think that Spurrier can or indeed would claim to exert anywhere near the same influence. Without his Judgement of Paris, there can be no doubt that Californian and other New World wines would still have become recognised as world-class. The Judgement was a symptom of, not the cause of, change in the wine world.
Spurrier’s timing, however, was impeccable and the contest has proved a talking point ever since spawning books, articles and films including Vice’s one which is well worth watching. Oh and this blogpost which is well worth reading too.
Tor the dedicated drinker, there’s no happier time than 6pm (or sometimes 5, if I’m on childcare duty). And there’s no better ode to this magical time than a very short book by American historian Bernard DeVoto, called The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto. For DeVoto, only one drink will do when the clock strikes 6: the Martini – and he has strict views on how to make them.
A Martini must be freshly made – “You can no more keep a Martini in the refrigerator than you can keep a kiss there.”