April 2016 If you were thinking of throwing wine on a person’s face will the quality of the wine in your hand determine whether you would actually go ahead with the act? asks Raghu Bahadur in his column this month in Sommelier India magazine. There could be other factors, too, that may influence your decision, but let me explain what led to this question in the first place.
Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals (HPT), America’s oldest college theatre group, makes its annual “Woman of the Year” award to a recipient who has distinguished herself in some area of public endeavour. The winner for 2016 was the actress Kerry Washington, winner of several awards for her role in the TV serial, Scandal.
The award ceremony includes a ride through Boston’s streets in a Bentley convertible, with the winner surrounded by actors in multi-coloured drag. On the stage, after being subjected to a good-natured “roast”, Kerry did a lot of goofing around in keeping with the irreverent mood, not to say contemporary mood, ending up by throwing a glass of red wine squarely in the face of an actor dressed to look like Donald Trump.
To complete the actor’s travails, she then deposited the contents of a bowl of the hasty pudding – from which the theatrical group derives its name – plumb on his face, where it stayed for a while. That’s all well and good in HPT’s age-old tradition, but there is something amiss from the oenologist’s point of view. Shouldn’t the order in which the wine and the pudding are thrown be reversed? I know most of the wine just flows off the face, but with his mouth opened wide involuntarily as the wine comes flying at him, the actor surely gets a good gulp down his throat. On the other hand the pudding remains mostly stuck to the victim’s face, from which he surely takes a nibble or two to savour the ancient recipe. It is probably safe to assume that the victim got to enjoy a unique wine and food pairing experience.
And if he were an oenophile, his tasting notes on the pairing would have made a welcome addition to HPT’s archives. What kind of wine did Kerry use for the big examines the irreverent hasty pudding and other age-old traditions surrounding wine, adding not a few suggestions of his own A long-standing land dispute culminated in a massive battle in which the combatants used wine as their only weapon splash? It looks like a run-of-the-mill, anaemic red, so perhaps it was procured specially for the occasion – a case or two of Two Buck Chucks, perhaps? If so, it was just as well the recipient was only a lookalike of Donald Trump – had the cheap wine landed on the real DT’s face he would have taken deep umbrage that it had come from a bottle costing less than $ 10,000.
Another wine throwing occasion that is part of a regular wine festival, equally boisterous but on a much larger scale, takes place in La Rioja, Spain, over the last three days of June every year. Its origin dates back to the 13th century, when a long-standing land dispute culminated in a massive battle in which the combatants used wine as their only weapon. In the process the dispute ended, but the battle gave birth to a festival. During the 2016 celebration 130,000 litres of vino tinto (red wine), gifted by the local authority, was used as ammunition, and that’s not counting what was actually drunk during breaks from the battle. The question that naturally arises is this: was the wine used for the throwing different from the wine that was drunk? It would make a lot of sense if it were so.
There are also grape throwing events, in Spain, where participants are brought face-to-face with a huge pile of grapes that serve as projectiles for the looming battle. The leftovers from the battle are transferred to large vats and a stomping match ensues. Presumably the juice gets converted into some sort of vin (very) ordinaire, which should be ideally suited to wine throwing. It would be a pity if good Rioja wine were to end up dyeing peoples’ clothes crimson rather than cheering their palates.
This then is what we know about organised wine throwing: it takes place at centuries-old annual festivals of which it is a major feature; it attracts a large number of participants; it is not particular about the quality of the wine used; and it is replete with good cheer and merrymaking. Then there is the other, unorganised – or perhaps disorganised – type, of wine throwing which is the very antithesis
of the first: it takes place at social gatherings, involves only two people, and is a spontaneous act, although one or both may well have harboured a simmering grievance against the other. In short, an unpleasant wine throwing spat between two guests at a party. We have seen this happen in the movies, but when it occurs in real life, especially at a celebrity event, it makes it to page three. The two adversaries soon fade away from memory but where does it leave wine, a part from decorating the victim’s face?
Fortunately, there is no cause for doom and gloom as such occurrences are rare, and if the spluttering victim has the presence of mind to declare, “Ah, what perfect timing. The wine was just perfect for the cheese in my mouth”, wine could well emerge as a kind of fun drink, suitable not only for drinking but also for a bit of frolic.
In India the frolic part, ie, wine throwing as a joyful activity, needs to be developed, even if on a small scale. The obvious place to start would be the source of wine itself, the winery. Some producers already have well-established wine festivals, and that’s where wine throwing can make a start. Since wastage of a sought-after commodity like wine goes against the grain, the wineries can use wine that did not pass their quality control tests, for this purpose. A “Holi Special”, where revellers spatter one another with red wine instead of the traditional red gulal, will put visitors in the right mood around the time of that festival. If it catches on, wine throwing can be made more frequent and added on to the wineries’ other year-round activities like grape stomping, wine tasting, etc.
The list of activities that can be introduced to wine events does not stop here, thanks to the continuous work of researchers and others in the field of oenology. The unceasing flow of their cheering findings, listing the myriad benefits that wine confers on its users, should be put to practical use. Consider for example this caption in a newspaper: “Wine for Wow Skin”. Here’s how the components of wine help in achieving this, as enumerated in the news item – the tartaric acid promotes new cells in the skin; yeast helps protect teenagers’ skin from acne; the antioxidants keep the skin youthful and glowing. Wow indeed! And all this achieved by wine facials only, without the intake a single drop.
So, add a spa to the list of leisure pursuits visitors can enjoy at the wineries. As reinvigorated customers reach the checkout counter confront them with a banner reading, “Red Wine May Help Prevent Dental Cavities”. For those who are curious explain that this is the finding of a study done by the Spanish National Research Council, Madrid. It is not clear whether one has to drink the wine to get the benefit or if it is enough to just let it play around the teeth. Either way the amazing finding presents a win-win marketing opportunity for the winery. Place red wine bottles on a counter with the offer: “Buy One, Get A Toothbrush Free”.