IT MIGHT have been the climax of a polemic against world poverty or political oppression: this scandalous state of affairs must end, we must speak out whenever and wherever we see wrongdoing. But this only goes to demonstrate how seriously the wine trade takes itself; for the injustices being revealed in The Wine Detectives (Radio 4, Monday of last week) entailed forged bottles and their circulation on the international wine market.
Sympathy may be in short supply for those who pay $10,000 for 75 centilitres of fermented grape juice and discover that it is from Carrefour rather than Cahors; but, the presenter, Susie Barrie, says, wine forgery is a business that involves “organised crime”.
You certainly have to be organised to pull off what Rudy Kurniawan managed, especially since all his fraudulent wines came from his own kitchen. Kurniawan was sentenced to ten years when, after a sale worth $26 million, one of the featured wine producers revealed that he had never made the wine attributed to him.
The anxiety within the trade is that there are many cases in circulation which nobody wishes to admit are fake. Either they hold their nose and drink, or they sell it on to some other poor, unsuspecting schmuck.
If you cannot abide such hypocrisy — and it helps, in this instance, that you have more money than you know what to do with — then you can employ a nuclear physicist to test your wine for Caesium-137. Since the atomic-bomb tests of the 1950s, the levels of radioactivity in wine have risen and fallen in such a way that they can provide an accurate dating of any sample.
And so to a mental challenge. Can you continue to read this column while counting up to ten? If you succeed, then you have a special talent: either for visualising numbers, or, more likely, for skim-reading mediocre prose. Since reading and counting are both verbal tasks, they compete for the same cognitive space; it is much easier to count and draw, or — as many an adolescent will happily demonstrate — do homework while watching the television.
These insights were provided by Crowd Science (Friday, World Service), an unassuming offering in which the burning questions are provided by listeners. In this instance, the question was: How do we think — verbally or visually? And, listening to Choral Evensong (Radio 3, Wednesday of last week) — the much publicised evensong from St Peter’s, Rome, recorded back in March — I was conscious of the competing processes of verbal and visual thinking.
We read that it was St Peter’s, we were told that it was St Peter’s, but, from the sound of the choir —distant, muffled, bathetic — it was difficult to conjure any sense of the grandeur of place or occasion. The producers of Choral Evensong are expert in dealing with the most dysfunctional acoustics, and Merton College Choir are among the best there is; so one can only imagine that constraints were imposed from on high.