Friday, 26 October 2012

US Presidential Election 2012 - and the winner is...

This is not a prediction of the outcome of the election, but the result of an entirely unscientific wine-based version of it, conducted by me here in Surrey with an electorate of just 80 people.

The “candidates” were all bottles of wine, their identities concealed; our electoral college, all members of wine groups belonging to the Fetcham University of the Third Age (U3A).  The voters were equipped with a wine glass, a ballot paper, their noses and tastebuds.

The tasters warmed up with a glass of something cold, pink and sparkling, then the first of the four wine “candidates” was poured.  At this stage of the campaign, all the voters had to do was to choose their favourite two wines and to vote for them, via the usual one person one vote method in a secret(ish) vote.  We were keen to uphold democratic principles.

Instead of the battle buses, debates and TV adverts, the candidates could use only what was in the bottle to get their message across.  We tasted each wine in turn and assessed their relative merits in terms of body, backbone, intensity, character, persistence and so on.  Good qualities for wines, but also, perhaps for those bidding for high office in one of the most powerful nations on earth.

Once all four wines had been tasted, our electorate cast their votes on their ballot papers which were collected in.  While the voters then tucked into a buffet supper, the tellers counted the votes and determined the result of our own version of the US Presidential Election.

When all the votes had been counted, one candidate emerged as a clear winner, thereby taking the President slot.  Second place was closer, with just a single vote separating the two wines competing for Vice President.  The final candidate was adrift by some distance.

Once the two winning wines had been announced, voters were given the kind of information you would expect at a wine-tasting – that is, what wines had they actually been tasting?  I think it’s fair to say that there was something of a surprise amongst the electorate that the cheapest two wines in the line-up had received the most votes.

This speaks volumes for the value for money and drinkability of the wines in question.  Out in front was The Winery of Good Hope Shiraz 2011, from South Africa and £7.25 from The Wine Society.  Voters responded to its lively spice-tinged fruit, depth of flavour and balance.

In second place came a white wine from the Abruzzo region of Italy.  The Contesa Pecorino 2011 (£8.95, also The Wine Society) had appealing pear fruit and juicy acidity.

These two wines managed to trump their much more expensive rivals.  

Château Mont-Redon Châteaneuf-du-Pape 2010 (£18.50, The Wine Society) was undoubtedly a well-made and good quality white (yes white Châteauneuf exists), but its relatively subtle fruit and understated charms failed to woo voters.  Fighting hard for second place, but ultimately falling short was Château Picque Caillou 2005, from Pessac-Léognan in Bordeaux (£18, The Wine Society).  Many loved its rich aromas of spiced red fruit and chocolate, but were less charmed by its angular body and dry finish.

What does this, perhaps shock, result show us?  Blind tasting puts wines on an equal footing and each one has to stand or fall on how it comes across to the taster – or voter – on the night.  If the wines had not been tasted blind, would the results have been any different?  I certainly think so.  We can’t help but be swayed by knowing what’s in the bottle, for good or bad.  A look at the label is worth a thousand sniffs, goes the saying.

So much for the wine tasting results.  I have promised you a wine election to mirror the US Presidential one.  Each of the wines tasted equated to a Presidential or Vice Presidential candidate in my mind – any guesses as to who is which?  Some lateral thinking is required!

The most straightforward one was, I think, the winner – the Winery of Good Hope Shiraz equated to Barack Obama.  It references the African origins of his Kenyan father, as well as Obama’s political tome The Audacity of Hope.

The formidable white Châteauneuf-du-Pape was intended to represent Vice President Joe Biden.  The wine’s name translates as the new palace of the Pope and Mr Biden is a notable Catholic.  Told you lateral thinking was required.

The third placed red Bordeaux represented Mitt Romney.  How so?  Romney’s Mormon faith is well documented and adherents often serve as missionaries in locations around the world for two years in their youth.  Romney’s mission took place in 1968 in Bordeaux – et voilà.

If you’ve been paying attention then you’ll know that Paul Ryan, Republican nominee for Vice President, must somehow be symbolised by an Italian white wine made from the Pecorino grape.  As well as being the name of a grape variety, Pecorino is also a type of cheese.  Paul Ryan is a native of, and still lives in, the state of Wisconsin, which makes so much cheese that its residents are colloquially known as cheeseheads.  Easy when you know I suppose.

So, in our entirely spurious election, Barack Obama was convincingly re-elected as President.  If this does come to pass then I will be the first to take the credit.

Rather more problematic is the election as Vice President of Paul Ryan to serve alongside him.  I’m not an expert on the American electoral system but, as far as I know, this would be unlikely, not to say impossible.  But if they can elect Ronald Reagan as President (twice), then never say never.

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