Monday 10 May 2021

Plonkety plonk

 "Il meglio è l'inimico del bene" an old Italian proverb quoted by Voltaire means Perfection is the enemy of the good enough. Which resonates for me, as an evolutionary biologist: successful species are a kludge of attributes that work better than those of competitors despite being a long way from perfect. Think the recurrent pharyngeal nerve, or male nipples, the phalanges of your pinkie toe . . .

The Western World has a contemptible obsession with stardom: there is only one [Zatopek] winner of the 10,000m; only one Harry Potter; very few millionaire golfers, soccer players or film actors. In horse racing it's ever and always "Eclipse first, the rest nowhere". The difference between first and second in many fields is not statistically significant or reproducible. Run the race or exam next week and the order will be different: the consequence should be that everyone over a certain threshold is deemed to be good enough . . . and a lot better than slobby old me sitting on the sofa swigging tinnies.

I'm not a black&white bloke, indeed my last true name means 'grey'. My sister briefly shared a flat in London in the 80s with a woman who went on to become one of the top wine-tasters in The World. So I'm inclined to believe that there are people out there who practice enough, and are sensitive enough, to discern subtle differences among wines. Me, I'll trust someone who makes a living visiting hundreds of co-ops and vineyards for LIDL. If the company is going to order 1000s of cases at €100/case then that product is not going to be drain-cleaner . . . it will be good enough for €5.75. In the range €5.95 to €15.95 it's all going to be a matter of taste. I am told by my brother, who's been there, that €50/bottle wines are something else entirely but I'm on the pension now, so I'm not going there.

I wrote a few years ago [whoop, whoop, numbers alert] that competitive wine-tasting is largely flim-flam, boondoggle and blackguardry. IF the label is soaked off or the wine is decanted THEN most people can't identify a wine to grape-variety, let alone terroir. I was delirah therefore to discover the 2018 Master Sommelier Exam Cheating Scandal. It is a tale of hubris [overweening arrogance inviting disaster] and huckster. Who knew that there was a Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas (CMSA)? Who cared enough to let it be known that there were fewer Master Sommeliers than astronauts? Whose sense of self is so tied up in the business that they actually append "MS" to their business cards?
Answer: people whose interest in wine is conflated with their interest in money.

In 2018, and not for the first time, there were shenanigans and insider dealings in the process of accepting new members into The Inner Circle. The examination is in three parts, each section of which costs €1,000 to take . . . with no guarantee of success. Indeed only 1 candidate in 12 passes through the ordeal. It reads like the "servitor" section of the exam is licenced hazing by the judges AND is regressively snobbish in its 19thC ideals about what a Sommelier is. For reasons beyond comprehension, in 2018 one of the judges send out a txt to candidates hinting at which six wines would be on that year's tasting panel: Subject: Heads up // "PG, CndP". Which being interpreted was pinot gris / grigio & Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 

tl;dr The Court of Master Buffoons decided to cancel the certs of all the successful candidates that year on the assumption that any and all of them could have been given the Heads-Up. Like a typically patriarchal, smug, self-aggrandizing coterie of bluffers they refused to have a proper investigation or an external audit to their arbitrary and capricious decision. The Optics are terrible and the lawyers are rubbing the hands.

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