Everybody’s an expert now

by Gautam Raja

Okay, I have now officially been to one too many social occasions where somebody is really “into” something. It’s not so much the word, but the way in which it’s stressed that sets my teeth on edge. And in the last two years or so, I’ve met an alarming number of people who are “into” a beverage we’ll call fine juice. In India especially, there’s been a whole fine-juice revolution, and everybody’s full of it; figuratively that is.

Most annoying about fine-juice drinkers is how smug and evangelistical they are. I mean, I’m “into” a lot of things, but I wouldn’t dare stand around parties telling everybody they must get into them as well. But fine-juice drinkers seem to regard non-tipplers as philistines who must be converted at any cost. If somebody at a party said, “Oh I don’t like baked beans”, few people would leap up and say, “Oh I didn’t either, but then I started to eat a little bit now and then and taught myself to appreciate them. You really should try that.”

Substitute baked beans with fine juice and it’s a familiar conversation. If I had a bottle for everybody who, when I said I didn’t enjoy fine juice, assumed I hadn’t given it a chance or didn’t “get it”, I’d have a whole cellarful of the stuff.

However, I’ve noticed that the more somebody is truly “into” something, the less likely they are to talk about it. For instance, think about a museum dabbler who has learned about art from brochures, versus a passionate, erudite art lover. Who’s most likely to be waving a glass around in the corner telling people they’re really “into art”?

This is probably why fine-juice drinkers never do the basic research. You’d think that long before they can identify the differences among varietals, they’d learn something as fundamental as serving temperature. Perhaps the most misinterpreted rule of thumb ever is the one that goes “white should be served chilled, and red at room temperature”. “Room temperature” is assumed to be the temperature of a room, any room, whether in Iceland in January, or India in May.

Room temperature, the briefest of Google searches reveals, is around 20C; and to me—a son of the tropics—that is downright chilly. But it gets more interesting. Apparently, red fine juice must be served at a temperature between 12C and 18C, with the upper range reserved only for old French varieties. This means that the young red fine juice you’re about to serve on a summer evening in Bangalore must go in the fridge. Anything above 20C, they say, tastes sloppy and wrong. More importantly, fine juice that is allowed to go above 30C (again, a reasonable tropical temperature, even indoors) gets “cooked”: its flavour changes permanently for the worse.

However, just try standing up a social gathering and suggesting that the red fine juice be put in the fridge. The party explodes, with people shouting, jeering and getting downright mean. It’s almost as if you took dolphin sausages to a Greenpeace tea party.

This is why I find this whole “into” culture so puzzling. These Google days, there’s no excuse to not do your homework. But also, these Google days, anybody can get online for an hour and get “into” pretty much any subject they can think of. In fact, considering how much I know, relatively, about serving temperature, I should start referring to myself as a “fine-juice expert” at parties. Knowledge is no longer power, it’s merely the sign of a good internet connection.

Do I sound cynical? Well, I’m really “into” cynical these days…

(Media in the Gulf region have to be circumspect about references to alcohol.)
First published in Gulf News, April 5, 2011