Written by Richard Harvey
I assure you that this will not be a year-end retrospective nor any shot at clairvoyance about the year ahead, no, really, I promise!
I just want to set you a task different than the English Sunday Times Holiday crossword (or the more easily obtained Globe & Mail version).
There's a wee book that was published nearly 15 years ago called Oberon Kant's Big Book of Wine. This very small tome is as rare as poultry dentures, and the god-like Amazon may well have to be invoked to obtain it.
What this BBW (no, this acronym is not THAT one) does is to lay the wine world on the bed of nails that is satire, playfully puncturing the posturing of all who have or profess to have "The Knowledge". In this case, not that of a London cabbie, but the endless pursuit of wine knowledge.
After 30 years, I've seen a regrettable return to wine as an elitist cudgel. I had hoped that this justifiably reviled attitude had been squelched during my lifetime, only to see it rear its ugly head again. Let's not go backwards folks!
Sure, the BBW is an insider's book of fun. There's a bit of Flaubert's Dictionary of Accepted ideas in there, mixed with a bit of Monty Python.
Yes- just like in both of these examples, there are references to things, people and philosophies that will send us all scurrying to our favourite source of reference for enlightenment.
And why the Hell not? Why read something where you know everything? Are you (here we get back to the aforementioned wine know-it-all) not fond of learning that there are many super smart people, with many years of experience under their cerebral belt who echo the brilliant philosopher Michel de Montaigne when he said (in his maturity): "What do I know?"?
This cry to lighten up has no intention of making a mockery of the beauty of someone's knowledge and deep understanding (and their ability to communicate their wisdom in a respectful, thoughtful and inspiring manner to their listeners).
I have always been a fan of the court jester or the buffoon in history and literature. These were the seemingly simple and dim fools of royalty that frequently displayed more understanding of the world than those whose buttocks were warming the gilded throne. Their words often made fun of their "superiors", but not without a full understanding of what they were mocking. And what's wrong having fun with wine? Be playful, irreverent with it, but make sure that you know the nature of that Meursault that you are drinking from a sippy-cup or like a cat from your cupped hands!
I am saddened that the cliché of " a little learning is a dangerous thing" has staying power. I leave my self open to criticism on this statement, but as my old mate Montaigne says: what do I know?
I know that a statement of opinion is different from a statement of a fact, and that while both facts and opinions can be slippery eels, it is particularly the latter that deserve debate.
Just when I despair that all the years that I have spent in wine education have created a tribe of self-aggrandizing and elitist wanna-be sommelier-types (or just people you want to avoid at parties), I meet people, young and old, neophytes and professionals who know when we all sound like a bunch of supercilious idiots. And we can laugh, have a glass of wine about which we simply comment "Damn, that's good!" and don't slip into a pissing match about who's drunk what, been where, knows who etc. We just do a mashup of W.C Fields and Montaigne and state: "What do I know..? I know I'm going to have another sip..."