3 March. There is nowhere in the new house to store wine, so an energetic young man called Colin comes round to explain how we could have a cellar dug out beneath our kitchen, accessed by a spiral staircase. I mention this to Mam the next time I phone. “That’s all well and good when it comes to getting it out of the cellar, Alan,” she says. “But how will you get the coal in?”
17 May. Looking through a merchant’s Wine List, I spy a bottle of Lafite ’83 at £599. “A real treat!” I can’t bring myself to buy it. It’s bad enough paying for a bottle of wine the price of a two-piece suit, or indeed a three-piece suite. But the whole experience has been tainted by that exclamation mark.
22 May. A wholly unsatisfactory visit to the little church of St Pilaf, in Trestle Potholder, its box pews and engraved tablature entirely spoilt after climbing to the lectern to see what I can only describe as an inappropriate copy of the Good News Bible.
R and I repair to the pub opposite, which fortunately has a garden, where we can hopefully get a glass of wine and discreetly eat the sandwiches we have brought from home. As children, Mam would surreptitiously pass us home-made sandwiches under a teashop’s table, to avoid paying the higher price of the establishment’s own. It’s no longer a question of cost, just that R and I prefer our brie and grape sandwiches to any jauntily-described “pub grub”. And actually, it would now be cheaper to buy those of the pub, given the price of artisan sourdough in Primrose Hill.
But we cannot get a glass of wine. “We’re a pub, not a wine bar,” grumbles the landlord. I point out that surely he’s not a gin palace either, but that he has a bottle of Gordon’s.
Nevertheless I have to admit defeat, and I succumb to a glass of his micro-brewed real ale. “It’s hand-crafted,” he says. It’s something I wished I hadn’t heard, given the state of his fingernails.
7 July. Overheard: “Yes, get some more of that Clos de Vougeot. We’re not exactly flush with Burgundies.”
19 August. My local branch of Oddbins, which introduced me to the wines of the New World, has closed. I can only assume that Tony Blair is in some way responsible.
27 August. Rereading Brideshead Revisited. I remember reading Brideshead for the first time just before I went up to Oxford, when I had never tasted wine. The Hon Sebastian Flyte opens a bottle of Chateau Peyraguey for Charles Ryder, “Which isn't a wine you've ever tasted, so don't pretend. It’s heaven with strawberries.” Well, never mind the wine; I wasn’t that well versed in strawberries.
It was a lesson I took to Oxford with me, that pretending to a knowledge of wine would be social climbing of the worst kind. Wine was clearly something for the Honourables of this world. I was in the pigeonhole marked ‘grammar school boy’, and did I drink Chateau Peyraguey I should still be a grammar school boy.
10 September. A visit to Jonathan M, who offers to “crack open” a bottle of white. I hate to hear a wine described in such a way. The clear implication is that it is closed with a screw-cap.
14 September. I still find it hard to believe people name their children after wines. Someone told me that there are now girls called Chardonnay; presumably if the fashion moves upmarket we will have boys called Petrus. I once encountered a somewhat hirsute young man whose friends called him Tâche, but I assumed, perhaps wrongly, that that was a nickname.
Years ago, Thora H and I were introduced to Margaux Hemingway at an awards dinner. “You know where she got her name from,” someone said, “Don’t you?” Thora replied, “Was it The Good Life?”
25 October. I can never order Champagne in a restaurant. It’s not so much the appalling mark-up; it’s the way everybody turns to look when they hear the pop of the cork. Not the kind of attention I enjoy in any circumstances. Presumably they’re all wondering what is being celebrated, which in many cases is simply that someone has the wealth to drink Champagne in a restaurant.
Thursday, 12 January 2017
Thursday, 22 December 2016
Thursday, 15 December 2016
So there were a few things I didn't write about, or couldn't be bothered to, for one reason or another, in 2016. Among them:
Great Wine Moments In Movie History VIII: Sideways (2004) Given that Sideways in précis resembles nothing so much as Sediment (two middle-aged losers drink wine while failing to learn very much about themselves) it would seem the most obvious of all films to take a look at. Too obvious, perhaps. Also, despite the excellence of the leads (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church) the movie as a whole left this reviewer just a tiny bit underwhelmed when he saw it a decade ago. The principal reason? Too much wine. And wine, as we all know, is the quintessentially boring consumable, more boring even than fast cars or cheese.
On the other hand, in a moment of great listlessness I did once Google Movies with wine in them, but that threw up some real oddities, so odd I just threw them straight back. Hands up if you've heard of, let alone seen, Bottle Shock (2008), This Earth Is Mine (1959, with Rock Hudson, Jean Simmons and Claude Rains, seriously), Merlove - A Documentary About Merlot Wine (2008, starring an animated bottle of Merlot), Barolo Boys (2014), A Heavenly Vintage (2009, New Zealand), The Secret Of Santa Vittoria (1969). None of which is to be confused with the profoundly yet satisfyingly insane The Duke Of Burgundy (2014) - a lesbian lepidoptery fetish movie starring the magnificent Sidse Babett Knudsen and a tremendous amount of ladies' underwear. But no wine, as I recall, although what I do recall of The Duke Of Burgundy I don't entirely believe.
Style Icons: I didn't get round to attempting puerile imitations of
The IKEA Catalogue
Sir John Gielgud
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Best Affordable Wine of 2016 - Waitrose Chilean Cabernet Shiraz, £5.99: Bold, fruit-driven, full of dark cherries and a still-youthful vigour. Surprisingly complex and intensely-structured for such a bargain wine. Will even take some ageing - another four or five years won't do it any harm. And what a price! Truly, a red for the impecunious drinker who doesn't want to let his standards slip. The reason I never mentioned this before? It doesn't exist, is why. And even if it did, Waitrose wouldn't stock it, they just wouldn't.
Dares Not Accepted: PK challenged me to polish off a bottle of wine which someone had given him at a dinner party. More than half its contents remained. 'This is so disgusting,' he said, 'I bet even you can't finish it.' He was quite right. It was so disgusting that I couldn't finish it or even make a dent in it. Sometimes you just don't know until you've been there. PK has also challenged me to go into Berry Bros. & Rudd's famous St. James's Street premises and act as if I might be interested in buying some wine from them. Just to see how long I last before I run screaming from the building. So far I have been in too much of a funk even to go in, let alone talk to one of the (I imagine) crushingly urbane staff. I know how pathetic this is; after all, what do I think they're going to do to me? In all honesty, this: expose my low birth and knavish ignorance within the first thirty seconds of the encounter, before crying Let's teach the little squit some manners and chasing me the length of Pall Mall.
Drinking Songs You'd Rather Forget:
Howlin' Wolf: I Asked Her For Water (But she gave me gasoline)
Louis Jordan: What's The Use Of Getting Sober (When you're gonna get drunk again)?
Bill Boyd & His Cowboy Ramblers: Drink The Barrel Dry
W Lee O'Daniel & Hillbilly Boys: Dirty Hangover Boys
Tampa Red: You Can't Get The Stuff No More
Johnny Tyler: It Ain't Far To The Bar (But it's such a long road back)
Muddy Waters: Sittin' Here Drinkin'
Luke Wills' Rhythm Busters: Shut Up And Drink Your Beer
Slim Gaillard: The Bartender's Just Like A Mother
On the assumption that 2017 can't be worse than 2016, I therefore resolve to: No - it's just not coming. Can I get back to you on that one?