Sophisticated, a pejorative…
Perusing wineblogs today I came across news of a raid in Italy on a producer who was passing off plonk as IGT Pinot Grigio from the Veneto, a popular product in the market for Italian exporters. The title of the officials carrying out the search and seizure ‘i Carabinieri del Nucleo Antisofisticazioni’ reminded me that ‘sophistication’ is a widely misunderstood term, having origins in practices that we today associate with adulteration. These police thus have no interest in arresting effete intellectuals or those with a weighty baggage of cultural capital, but hound the authors of food and drink scams. The OED has this as its’s first entry for the term:
1607 DEKKER Wh. Babylon Wks. 1873 II. 256 The drinke..they sweare Is wine sophisticated, that does runne Low on the lees of error.
The account also reminded me of an incident that many in the Italian wine industry would like to forget, and which makes the passing off of dross as vintage seem plain innocent. In March 1986, a series of people became ill and were admitted to hospital suffering from a mysterious complaint. It turned out they had all been drinking wine, specifically a cheap Barbera. Nineteen were to die, and another twenty three lost their sight, but this was no ordinary wine. Rather it had been supplemented with methanol, intended to increase its alcoholic strength, and this was the source of the poison.
Ironically the methanol scandalis today credited with transforming Italy’s wine industry, having made consumers more attentive and sparked a major investment in equipment and overhaul of techniquye on the part of producers who found themselves having to fight to recover export markets devestated by the infamy visitied on Italian wine by these events.
So the next time you encounter someone you really don’t like and can imagine as a venomous and amoral . mass-murderer, call them sophisticated to their face, confident that they will not understand your smile, a private joke, but a refined one 😉
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