Thursday, 12 July 2018

These Vocalisations I Make On First Sampling A Beverage*

- Mm, yeah, yeah, not bad

- No, I like a bit of a head on it

- ...I'm getting loose boxes...spent matches...guacamole...

- You could use it for cooking

- Woah! That's got a nose on it!

- Ah, death and Château D'Yquem. Yes, I know it is Château D'Yquem

- Of course, when we leave the EU this'll cost a fortune

- Is it meant to be this colour?

- ....Mmm...mmm...nnn...

- Woof!

- Shit, sorry, I'll get a cloth

- Oh yeah, yeah, oh God, yeah, that's the one

- Of course, this was Winston Churchill's/Adlai Stevenson's/Sonny Bono's favourite drink

- Oh, for fuck's sake

- This is the last one, then I'm out of here

- Can I see the label again?

- So like I said, at one point the whole of Bob Dylan's backing band was in the CIA

- Wowsers!

- Did you make this yourself?

- I'm going to say a Sainsbury's Rioja. A 2009 Pauillac? Well, you had me there

- How do you spell terroir, exactly?

- ...Eewww...

- The last time I had this was in 1982/Cousin Clive's funeral/the London Olympics

- I dunno, I think I prefer it at room temperature

- Is it meant to be slightly pétillant?

- Seriously, this is it, or I'm going to miss my train

- I dunno, I think I prefer it a bit colder

- And it's been in your family for four generations?

- No, don't worry, I'll get it out with a spoon

- I did have this once in Italy, but it didn't taste like this

- Ah, that's it right there

- Minerality, my arse

- Well if Jancis Robinson likes it, that's good enough for me

-'s pee...

- God, I hate Argentian Malbec. Actually, this is quite nice

- This is a very small glass

- Bang on!

- I think this bus may have already left the depot

- 14.5%? Why didn't you tell me?

- I went to the place where they make this, once. It's absolutely tiny. Or is it quite large? No, wait a minute, it's really huge

- I'm glad to see you've moved on to a screw top

- I dunno, what do you think?

- I can see why they drink so much of it

- Aaarrrp...

- Yeah, Spain. Bit of a mystery

- Lovely colour

- ...Stone know, that thing that comes in a kind of round leathern receptacle...

- Who was that bloke who used to advertise this on the telly?

- Hang on, I've only just started

- I'm only going to drink beer and spirits after this

- Ah, the old Red Infuriator

- Shit, this shirt was clean this morning

- Good stuff. The next one's definitely on me

- I met this guy who told me you could make it out of lettuce leaves and sodium bicarbonate

- There's only one thing you can say about this

- Nope. I'm just getting cat's pee

- You've got to hand it to the French. They can really knock this stuff out

- It's Greek?


*Contains adult language/themes

Thursday, 5 July 2018

White rabbit

I’m so sick of white wine. I’ve had three weeks of hot weather, three weeks of fish, and shellfish, and salads, across London and Cornwall. Which has meant three weeks of white wine. Oh, I’ve put away so much of the damn stuff. And I’m thoroughly fed up with it.

Of course we’re going to choose white wine during a heatwave. Everyone keeps telling us it’s “crisp”, and “zesty”, and “fresh”, descriptions which would sell anything during a spell of hot weather. It’s served cold, the condensation calling alluringly from the glass. And we’re eating all those lightweight dishes, which a proper red wine would smother like a duvet.

But honestly? It’s a glass of nayce whayte wayne.  It’s what you have at those canapé and conversation events where talking is more important than drinking. Where you’re never sure of the quality of the wine, and so you pick up a glass of white, because bad white is never as bad as bad red.

White wine is for lunch. As Keith Waterhouse wrote in his magnificent The Theory and Practice of Lunch – a theory and practice sadly forsworn by today’s teetotal lunchers – “the wine that travels best with the lunchtime banter and gossip is not served at room temperature.” (Although of course when that was published two decades ago, few restaurants had their own rooms chilled.)

It’s been the mainstay of lunch at a gentleman’s club, the steely Chablis with the smoked salmon and the Dover Sole. But when the weather’s like this, you have the same kind of supper in the evening at home. You’re not cooking stews, or roasts, or anything else which requires having the oven on for an hour. No, it’s fish and salads and cold collations, which just scream out for white wine.

So you have to accept you’ll have another cold white wine – but then it doesn’t stay cold. Those coolers, whether plastic or terracotta, never really work, and the absence of a home ice bucket means I am faced with constant trips back to the fridge. Even so, the wine simply warms up in the glass, becoming rapidly tepid. Great; I’ve eschewed something which on a hot summer’s day has the look and temperature of blood, for something which has the similar characteristics of urine.

And let’s not talk about the flavour. It’s “steely”, it’s “flinty”, it’s “chalky”. Have you noticed how many of the adjectives used to describe white wine apply to things you would never put in your mouth?

OK yes, I am modern enough to drink chilled reds, and have now purposefully bought a Brouilly for the cellar and a Chinon for the fridge. But I am not going to ask for a chilled red in a restaurant in Cornwall, where I would risk looking like some utter bassoon, coming down here with his trendy Shoreditch ways.

(And don’t get me started on rosé, with its “here comes the sun, here comes the rosé” seasonal marketing, as if the mere presence of sunshine demands that you drink it. Quick boys, the clouds are parting, wheel out the rosé. Well thank you waiter but no, there are people passing my table and I don’t wish to look like a gullible dilbert.)

After three weeks, I’ve had enough. Enough crispy freshness and fresh crispness and perky zesty steely minerality and what have you – and never the deep, resonant weight of a red which sends you off genuinely satisfied.

Eventually, this weather has to break. Spit, fire, spout, rain and all that. We’ll all go back indoors and there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the alfresco set and the barbeque boys. But over here will be a happy man, retreating to his dining room with a proper supper and a glass of good claret. At last.


Thursday, 28 June 2018


So there we are on the boat, in the blazing sunshine, and my resolve to drink only boat-related beverages goes overboard when I discover that some previous boat guests have left a small stash of wines - undrunk by them, nor by my wife who doesn't drink wine anyway - in a locker under one of the seats in the saloon. Feigning indifference while in reality trembling with curiosity, I dig the things out from among a mass of time-expired UHT milk cartons and emergency water containers and find:

A bottle of Morgon
A bottle of white Côtes de Gascogne which is a complete novelty to me, I mean I suppose I must have drunk a Côtes de Gascogne at least once in my life, but when?
A white Burgundy from Tesco

My wife claims in passing that someone also left a Crozes-Hermitage knocking around but then revises this theory, deciding that perhaps this person brought the bottle with him and then drank the contents himself. Certainly, there's no sign of it - but still, I have three bottles of drink which in value alone clearly beats the horrible Porcupine Ridge Syrah I've brought down with me (because after all you never know when you might need some undrinkable red), plus a hideous Waitrose own label cheap Australian red which promises all manner of easy drinking now and deep existential regret the day after. My course is clear.

Results? The Morgon is pretty nice, but I'm not sure au fond how much I like Morgon, or indeed any kind of Beaujolais. Still. The Côtes de Gascogne, on the other hand, is delicious, really eye-wideningly so. I can't remember now who made it or what went into it, other than that I didn't recognise a single grape listed on the back, but it was delicious then and delicious in hindsight. I mean, delicious. Tesco Burgundy? Yeah, it was fine, too. But not delicious like the Côtes de Gascogne was delicious.

At the end of all this, I feel pretty lucky to have found a microcellar of neglected wines, rolling around in the bottom of an elderly sailboat, and knocked it off before it got any more corrupted; and we're sitting on a mooring just outside Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight feeling borderline smug (see pic of outrageous sunset) instead of merely exhausted and terrified, when it becomes apparent that what we think of as the Good Life is too small even to be lived, on account of the superyacht Amaryllis, which we suddenly discern at anchor, not far away.

Amaryllis is more than seven times the length of our boat and six stories high. Apparently it cost around £100 million to build, is the thick end of £700,000 a week to charter, takes fourteen passengers and nineteen crew, has a floodlit swimming pool, a gym and a steamroom and boasts 4,000 horsepower of engine to get it around. The interior is Art Nouveau-themed. There are leopardskin bedspreads in the staterooms. We cannot imagine what it is doing outside Yarmouth, which is delightful but not bigtime. Is it the Isle of Wight Festival, celebrating its Fiftieth Anniversary just a couple of miles away and boasting Liam Gallagher and Depeche Mode as top acts? Is Liam using it as a floating hotel, a rock star ultraglamping? Doesn't seem to be much action on board, so perhaps not, maybe just the crew.

But: what are they stashing away on Amaryllis to drink? Five'll get you ten that whoever is or isn't on board, they'll be demanding those Methuselahs of easy-drinking rosé that don't taste of anything, but which dull the pain of life on a huge faux Nouveau boat. Litres and litres of bland pink - whereas I, on the other hand, have had a brief and deeply satisfying excursion into French goodness for way less than £700,000 a week, merely by parasitising someone else's generosity. Does this tell us anything about the operation of the moral universe? I suspect it does; but I also suspect I don't come out of it terribly well.