Thursday, 27 July 2017

Clutter

So I'm picking through the factor 15 and the inappropriate shorts and the lengthy novels in translation, all the crap one has to take on holiday, and I think to myself, well, this is a time of departures and interventions, as good a time as any to check the bookmarks in my browser and throw out the stuff that I meant to find a use for but never, for whatever reason, did. 

I want that fresh, unencumbered Glade feeling, free trom things like Drip-Free Wine Bottle Makes Us More Grateful For Science Than Ever Before, one of those headlines which draws you up short at the same time as it leaves you with no inclination to find out more (a physicist at Brandeis University, as it happens, who's inserted a two-millimetre anti-drip groove in the neck of the bottle, who'd have thought?) while reminding you at the same time that this story fits somewhere into the larger pantheon of non-spill, non-drip, non-spatter, non-stain, non-marking, non-smear, non-streak products whose existence makes up at least a third of the internet. 'As yet,' concludes the HuffPo, one of several sites to cover the story, 'there's no news on whether the product will be adopted by wine makers'.

Similarly, How Women Are Changing Champagne sounds appealing, but adds pretty much nothing to the compendium of women-changing-the-face-of-wine stories which have been floating around for, what? A decade? A century? 'The rise of women winemakers will certainly change champagne,' apparently, 'though exactly how is yet to be seen.' Why did I think there was something worthwhile in this? I mean it's always good to celebrate the increasing importance that women play in industries traditionally dominated by men, but I can't help thinking that I allowed myself to be suckered in by some kind of human interest story that wasn't really there. Or worse, that I let myself be beguiled by the idea that something might be remarkable simply because it's done by a woman.

Rather as I allowed myself to be slurped into a micro-story involving some very rich guy called T. J. Rodgers (who also cropped up here, as well as lots of other places), the main eye-catcher being, in all honesty, the word billionaire, rather than the fancy tech he's using to make an impossibly perfect Pinot Noir. What do I really care that he has a mathematical formula to deal with every element of production, including 'root density, siphon run-offs, wine press effectiveness'? I don't even know what these terms mean. Out it goes, along with an Andrew Jefford threnody concerning the impossibility of wine writing ever positing a true equivalent to literary writing ('supportive intimacy' is a great phrase, though) and this chestnut - from the Evening Standard - about how drinking wine may be good for your brain. What's the ratio of wine-is-good-for-you stories to wine-is-bad? About two to one in favour of wine-is-bad? Someone, perhaps at Brandeis University, will know.

And so it goes on, until only two bookmarks remain; but these I keep. Both are cognate, in that they fool around with the idea of artificially-generated word formation - a little niche of AI which will eventually put all writers and journalists and, indeed, Sediment, out of business. The first is the legendary Brooklyn Bar Menu Generator, randomly creating on-trend menus for imaginary hipster eateries (Pan-seared water as a starter from your local Gerritson and Stockon, for instance). The second is this excellent blog from a young California scientist, who uses some rather deeper coding to create names from scratch. Paint colours is a particularly fruitful area (Sandbork, Flumfy Gray, Nungle, Shy Bather, Parp Green, Breedly Burf, to name but six) but she's also done action figures, heavy metal bands, bad recipe ideas and terrible Broadway musicals (my pick of the last? The Wither Bean, followed by The Burking Ding of 190 Bour Dadige, a comedy).

You can see where this is going. Let the neural network loose on wines; let AI come up with some really Twenty-First Century drinks. Dr Janelle Shane, the person responsible for the latter website, actually invites suggestions for her next spree - the only problem being (for me, at any rate) that she needs a plaintext dataset of 1000+ existing names for the AI to use as self-training material. But wine! It demands to be done! Does anyone happen to have a plaintext dataset of 1000+ existing names? How hard can it be to get one? Will it be waiting for me when I get back? 

CJ









Thursday, 20 July 2017

It's here! The Sediment book in paperback!

http://amzn.to/2tlJ9dy

“It’s the funniest wine-book I’ve read in a long time. Not just laugh-aloud funny but snortingly, choke-on-your-cornflakes funny – up there with Kingsley Amis and Jay McInerney.”  
Julian Barnes



“A very funny book to dip in and out of and would make the perfect present for the wine bore in your life”  
The Independent, Drinks Books of the Year



"Read this book, but not on public transport. Achingly funny."  
Joanna Simon 


– | –

CJ: So the rumours were true, then? 

PK: Yes! A paperback edition of our AndrĂ© Simon award-winning book – and it’s out now!

CJ: Paperback, eh? So it’s cheaper than the hardback?

PK: Well, as I’m always saying, price isn’t everything. But yes, it is cheaper. The cover price is just £8.99. It’s selling for less than a decent bottle of wine!

CJ: I wouldn’t say that personally, but…

PK: What would you say personally?

CJ: All the goodness of the original Sediment hardback, refashioned into a handy yet glamorous paperback.

PK: I think you’ve said that already, in the new introduction.

CJ: Oh yes, it’s got a new introduction. And, bringing our motto to the fore, a new title.

PK: A bit like renaming Chateau Bahans Haut-Brion as Le Clarence de Haut-Brion?

CJ: You tell me.

PK: But it’s what’s inside that’s important. It’s had the time to mature, like a good claret. I knew it would benefit from laying down for a bit. Like its authors. It’s clearly one of my kind of things.

CJ: Well, I’d say it was one of mine, actually. It’s more mass-market, it’s easier to handle, and it’s cheaper. You can afford to enjoy it all by yourself.

PK: Or give it as a gift! It’s a much better gift than the bottle of wine you could get at that price!

CJ: If you say so…


– | –



AVAILABLE HERE AND NOW!* I've Bought It, So I'll Drink It: The joys (or not) of drinking wine, by CJ and PK, £8.99 (Metro)

*Ignore what Amazon are currently saying about August, it really is available from them now. Or from Waterstones.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Berry Bros. & Rudd: My Secret Pride

As readers will recall, CJ finally visited the historic premises of wine merchants Berry Bros & Rudd, at No 3 St James’s Street – and was too daunted to enter.

I understand. There are places I’m daunted by – like fishmongers’. 


But what CJ deemed inaccessible, I had always seen as an aspiration, the epitome of wine merchants with ampersands whose respect I wanted to earn. I always felt significant when I stepped through their doors.

So if anything, their announcement of a new shop, just around the corner at 63 Pall Mall, had filled me with trepidation. Especially when their CEO, a former Tesco executive, was quoted as saying that the new store would be “much more finely attuned to modern retail.” What, like Tesco?

Of course, CJ was completely unaware of this new shop when he visited the old. The original premises carried no indication of the nearby new shop; not even, CJ told me, a suitably historic maniculum to guide the way.


So despite my misgivings, as CJ had visited the old premises, I felt I must visit the new. The first issue was what to wear.

Cue snort of incredulity from CJ. But look, even he wouldn’t go to church in a singlet. I always feel that, like any appointment with a professional, one should show a modicum of respect for knowledge and experience. So I would have worn to the old premises what good restaurants now describe as “smart attire”; I hoped that would be appropriate for the new. Although I might be overdressed for Tesco.

Well, the new shop is certainly smartly attired itself. It has stone floors and beautiful wooden shelving, with each bottle displayed in an individual section. It’s tastefully modern, luxurious but thankfully without any trace of objectionable bling – it’s Heals, not Harrods. 


And it is a browser’s paradise, something which could never have been said of the old premises, where you literally had to ask in order to see a bottle. There are the best and longest descriptions and tasting notes I have seen anywhere, beside every single bottle, no matter what its price. In that sense, it’s the most egalitarian of wine shops, treating all its bottles (and, therefore, its customers) equally. The only betrayals of status are the occasional security tags.

(Tags? In St James’s? Really?? Yes. I understand some bankers are wearing them nowadays, too…)

There are wines you can taste from an Enomatic, and chairs to sit in while you do. There are shelves of accessories, and tools, and wine books. And the (welcoming but not intrusive) staff wear rather fetching aprons, giving them an artisanal air. Having said that, the chap who actually served me was wearing a suit; when I asked why, he said “I don’t always work here, I’m based in No 3.” Which says it all, really; aprons in the new shop, suits in the old.

And of course I succumbed, and bought a bottle of claret, as one does at Berry Bros. It was a “Staff Recommendation”. Which at one time, of course, every bottle was.

The one niggle is… this thing about earnt access. Earnt not through an accident of birth or wealth, but through learning. I feel that over the years I earnt my access, to Parisian restaurants, to Savile Row tailors, to book dealers and shirtmakers and, yes, St James’s wine merchants, by learning to speak their language – what to know, what to wear, what to say, how to behave. And I can’t help feeling sorry that something to which I felt I had earnt access, somewhere I finally felt confident enough to enter but CJ did not dare to tread, has now been thrown open to all and sundry. That’s all.

I walked back along Pall Mall, past the club to which I have the right to belong, the club to which I used to belong, and the club to which my father-in-law would like to propose me to belong. Perhaps as daunting to some as the original Berry Bros premises. But while the doormen of St James's would turn up their noses at CJ’s shorts and sockless sandals, I reckon he could comfortably enter 63 Pall Mall. This new shop is egalitarian not only in the wines it sells, but in the way it has opened doors – of Berry Bros, of St James’s and of wine itself.



PK