Master of Reality

Friends and Countrymen,

The people at the Liverpool Food and Drink Festival have asked me to host a wine masterclass at their event in the Sefton Park Palm House on Wednesday, 26th March. This is right up my street! What do they want me to do? “Er, you just bring some wines, and, well, talk about them for half an hour…”

So far, so good. I can talk about wine for half an hour, if I leave some stuff out. But there remained a nagging question: when does a class become a masterclass? Is there a line of factual esoterica which separates the men from the boys? When does a piece become a masterpiece? Has a masterstroke ever been just a stroke? Conferring mastery upon oneself is inimical to your modest grape slave, and, I imagine, to many of you reading this. It’s all right if you’ve got a Master’s degree, or even if you’re a Master of Wine, because then the mastery has been foisted upon you by a third party. So in light of my somewhat lower wattage academic performance, should I be hosting a CSE-Class..?

Two of the “masterclasses” I’ve attended over the years spring readily to mind, equally distinguished by their absolute Mastery. The first concerned the wines of Italy, and the host opened with: “I’ve been in the wine trade for nearly twenty years now, and I still can’t get my head around Italian wine…” How could this go wrong? The second saw me looking after somebody from a leading Port house, who did the honours with increasing amiability as he neglected to spit even a drop of his bewitching ambrosia, and who soon found himself quite moonstruck. So moonstruck, in fact, that I had to help him on to a tram from Altrincham to central Manchester, (“get back on the tram, we’re only in Timperley…”) and then steer him into the lobby of his hotel. That moon, eh, it doesn’t half get people leathered!

The reality of the Palm House masterclasses will probably be a little less altered, however. The LFDF wants more than anything to give a platform to local independent wine merchants, who are as close to being masters of their own universe as we might reasonably expect, and who, in a competitive climate, prefer to put themselves forward as at least vaguely professional. Not one of them is likely to tell you that they still haven’t gotten their head around this wine lark, they don’t usually need any help getting home and they have in the main cultivated a reassuring degree of spittoon expertise, in spite of what their insistence upon wearing an apron might suggest. What makes them think that wine might offer any path to economic comfort is a subject for a separate blog post at the very least – maybe even a self help manual – but we must applaud their resistance to retailing homogeneity and their steadfast belief that people want and deserve something better. Would any of us read a book consisting of a sweetened approximation of literature? Would we listen to a glibly professional jazz solo bereft of squeaks, honks and blats? The indies know we wouldn’t, and they’re not about to let us do the same with our wine. So maybe my question’s answered itself, and it becomes a masterclass when it’s fuelled by such belief and delivered by people who don’t know how to stop informing us! I still might think twice about letting them run amok on the Timperley tram, though…

See you on Wednesday,

Mike Stoddart

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