The last five years of economic turmoil have been hard. Life has changed so much that now, before I imbibe, I have to ask at every reception or press launch if the champagne in my flute is actually prosecco. Yes, I know. There are perfectly fine examples of prosecco.
“It’s just Italian champagne!”. Partly true, just as there are equally quaffable examples of kava, espumante, asti, sekt, cremant, Australian shiraz, Sovetskoye shampanskoye, Methode cap classique and even sparkling sake, which was big in 2008. (Where the heck was I in 2008 that I missed that? Oh yeah, I was in a Tammy Wynette song.) The problem with prosecco is not with it, it is with me. For some unknown reason, every time I drink ‘the cheap stuff’, I feel like Alien is going to burst through my sternum. Even excellent prosecco produces the same effect. This has given me the status of ‘an expensive date’. Thanks, sparkling wine from Italy. Thanks a bunch.
Some ‘friends’ believe this is all psychological. “You’re just a big snob,” they say as they guzzle their Dutch beer, black t-shirts of their favourite band stretched over their bellies. My real friends – the ones who understand such things – know I’m not snobby – or rather I am, but in a good way. Who wouldn’t want to be the discoverer of ‘a find’? All the people I know who understand how to use their wealth know the great fun of a real bargain. I remember Lady H-M. She drove a Norton 500 during the war. Anyway, she is a great dame. Her scent? The cheapest lemon cologne from Spain. It suits her. She doesn’t need to spend a lot, although she can and does, on other things. She knows what she likes but she also knows good stuff.
What disturbs me is not the risk of being sick all over the prosecco-proffering host, it is the fact that we’re expected not to notice the switcheroo. I would be incredibly happy if I could ignore it: the fact that prosecco is rife this season has led to more water drinking at parties than the proverbial undiagnosed diabetic. I love going to parties, launches and gallery openings. I love to drink champagne. And I understand if the budget doesn’t stretch the way it used to but… prosecco ain’t champagne. It’s just like risotto isn’t right unless you stand there and stir it, hopefully with a wooden spoon. I apologise for the following non-sequitur – Americans, it is not pronounced, ‘ris-oh-toe’. It is ‘ris-ah-toe’. It’s really not that difficult. Now to get the Brits to say Whitney Hyoostun not Hoostun.
Even in the days when we have our eyes on the bottom line (was there ever a day when we didn’t?) it isn’t necessary to pretend that something is what it is not. For example, a friend of mine is recently engaged. Her boyfriend isn’t a huge earner, no harm, but the ring he bought her looks like it’s straight from Planet Zirconia. Manchild, buy her a plain band, a cigar band, a rubber band. Get her anything as long as it is real. I’m not saying she needs a big old unblemished rock, but she certainly doesn’t need something that looks, well I’m sorry, like a nasty valentine prank.
The prosecco argument is not really about money. It is about pearls before swine. I’m talking discernible difference. For example, there is a move afoot for people to buy things that last rather than the cheap, disposable items of, say, 20 years ago. Who came up with the idea of disposable anything in a finite world? Whoever it is, I’d like to slap them. The world is a different place. Luxury has a whole new meaning. It is no longer about waste. If you want to be snobby about it, it’s about what you’ll have that your great-grandchildren will see and say, “Shit, great-granddad was a swinger!” in whatever weird hybrid Sino-Russian-Scouse language they’ll be speaking. You know. The one from Blade Runner.
Prosecco posing as champagne is exemplar, proving that luxury is wasted in the wrong company. There are those who really won’t taste the difference. There are others who can tell and don’t mind. There are still others who crave the cold splash, the vague acidity and the challenge of a vintage champagne and don’t want to be surprised by what’s in that flute. Like good coffee, fine whisky and wine, you may appreciate it right off the bat but most people have to learn why it’s good. It’s like art: you can become ‘emotionally erect’ as Steve Martin says in L.A. Story, but you also may want to know more – like, why? Get some phenomenological language into your vocabulary, buddy. Learn to talk about those sensations. You’ll win friends and influence people.
Maybe it’s genetic. My 90-year-old mother never really liked champagne. Two years ago, she tasted her very first glass of vintage Dom. “This is great!” she said, “Why didn’t I know about this before?” Trying to please her, I bought her another bottle of champagne – this time, a lesser but reputable brand. She sipped it politely, looked at me and said, “It’s not as nice as the other one, is it?”. Out of the mouths of babes…
Karen Krizanovich began her career as a Sex Agony Aunt for Sky Magazine and writes for The Sunday Times, GQ and others. When not being admired, she is much sought after.