Bottled wisdom

Forget the label - the proof is in the drinking

In my youth, when the god of wine first claimed sovereign authority over my life, it was unusual for good wine to be marketed. Official classifications existed, dating back to 1855 and beyond, which made it somehow disreputable to rely on a winemaker's self-opinion, or on the slogans concocted by his advertising agent. Wine had to stand the test of time, just as statues, sonnets and symphonies did. And nothing was more vulgar than a wine that jumped from its bottle crying "Drink Me", like the potions in Alice in Wonderland.

That dignified way of trading has now been swept away, and no one is more to blame than the Rothschilds, owners of the two greatest châteaux in Bordeaux - Mouton and Lafite - and who might have been expected to remain mute behind their wall of profitable reticence. Combining the name of their Mouton château with an allusion to their title, they stuck the brand on very ordinary Bordeaux, so doubling its price. Mouton Cadet is a wine to avoid, and ever since its appearance the word cadet has stuck in my throat, as an obstacle to anything asking to be swallowed in its name. So, confronted with a wine calling itself Château Cadet for the October wine club, I was half tempted to put it in the Women's Institute raffle, and opened the bottle only out of a sense of duty to our readers.

In fact, the castle has been called Château Cadet for many years; moreover, the wine it produces is an example of Côtes de Castillon at its most plump and plummy, a beautiful, Merlot-based elixir worth every penny of its price, and with plenty of backbone to support its further development.

Just as bad as brand names is the kitsch-seductiveness of the advertising trade, and I'm afraid that I was so put off by the vulgar drivel on the back of the Chamuyo bottle that I could not bring myself to pull the cork. True, it did not go to the Women's Institute - understandably, given the stuff about the "whisper of passion and desire" supposedly alluded to by its lunfardo name. Really, if winemakers are going to market their products with the same contempt for our sexual emotions as the tobacco industry, then they deserve the same fate: let's have an advertising ban, and a return to common decency.

The plain-labelled Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon mix from the Heywood estate was a relief, honest in its presentation, and big-hearted in its style. Exhibiting the usual Australian strength, this wine nevertheless shows real breeding, with a blackcurrant nose and a long stay on the palate. We drank it with greasy lamb and mushy peas, and it hastened their passage down the tube like a cheerful schoolmistress shovelling children into a bus.

Less refined, but with an unpretentious ordinariness that suited us on a picnic evening, is the Merlot from Chile: cheap enough to drink every day, but good enough to pretend that every day is special.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher and countryside campaigner as well as an author and broadcaster. Widely regarded as one of Britain’s leading right wing thinkers, his publications include the Meaning of Conservatism. He has also written on fox hunting.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2008 issue of the New Statesman, My year with Obama