Wine - Roger Scruton compares Americans to their wines

Americans are rich, carefree and successful. Their wines are much the same

It is a human weakness to believe that you are poor because others are rich, and that you are suffering because they are not. This attitude - called ressentiment by Nietzsche - explains many peculiarities of the modern world, not least the habit of blaming America. The Americans are rich, carefree and successful; they have the best of everything and plenty to spare. It is self-evident, therefore, that if there is poverty, disorder, genocide and chaos in the world, America is the cause of it.

Needless to say, I don't go along with that, any more than I believe society to be a zero-sum game, in which every person's gain is another person's loss. Still, I accept that American politicians are from time to time guilty of hubris, and that their optimism in the face of human nature is at best of the kind that Schopenhauer called unscrupulous.

However, the real test of a civilisation lies not in its politics but in

its wine, which captures the soil, the climate, the religion and the social order, all glistening at the rim of the glass. The awfulness of modern Arabia is reflected in its inability to produce a single drop of the stuff. The beauty of Provence and the rootedness of its people can be glimpsed in its wines. And if anything warns against the Franco-German alliance, it is the absurdity of growing Riesling in France or Chardonnay in the Rhineland.

So what does American wine tell us about that country? Does it confirm the researches of Chomsky and Pilger, offering final proof that the US is bent on world conquest, mass oppression and the worldwide abuse of human rights, and that Bush, Reagan and Hitler are still in charge? I think not. Take a visit to Majestic Wine Warehouse - always a good place to begin - and try the low-priced Montgomery Creek Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. These are the wines of Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat, rough, cheerful, earthy potions that wash away the spins of the world and show it like it is. They taste of the free economy, of gross pleasures and of a society that does not like to bear a grudge. There may be no peasants in America, but this wine tells you that peasant attitudes flourish there more vitally than in most places round the world.

Now try the Beringer wines, from an old Napa Valley winery which achieves a refinement that accomplished European wine-growers would envy. The velvety Cabernet Sauvignon from 1997 and the intensely perfumed Fume Blanc show American craftsmanship at its best, and the weakness of the dollar means that they are sold at highly competitive prices.

The message of such wines is that pioneers are also settlers, that the democratic spirit is capable, just as De Tocqueville argued, of a nobility all its own, and that now is the right time to invest in America.

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 09 August 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Why terrorists love Britain