Thursday, 5 December 2019

Ian Botham's Disappearing Smell

So in a fit of asininity, I buy a bottle of celebrity wine: Ian Botham's Cabernet Sauvignon ('The All-Rounder' it announces on the label) on account of its being on offer in the supermarket and anyway, don't we all need something to cheer ourselves up with in these dark times? Only 13%, which I would have thought maybe a tiny bit underpowered for a south-eastern Australian red, but what do I know? Also, I have no idea why Ian Botham should have started a side hustle in wines. Yes, 'It’s probably better than scoring a hundred at Lord’s getting this right', he might have said in an interview, but I'm not persuaded. Still. It gives us both something to do, I suppose, him putting his name on a drink, me drinking it, so I get the grog back home and try a glassful.

But here's the thing: it doesn't taste of anything. I mean, there's a kind of rasp of wine somewhere around the roof of my mouth, but nose? After-effects? Tannins? Acidity? The sense of having had a drink? I'm not getting anything, anything at all. All I'm getting is this:

At which point I start to panic. Clearly, Sir Ian can't have let a bottle of fine Australian Cabernet Sauvignon out of the warehouse without making sure it has some kind of flavour; so the clear inference is that I'm losing my sense of taste. Of course I am. I've been subjecting myself to a diet of cheap industrial wines for years and now my taste buds have burnt out. It had to happen. There is a moral here; actions have consequences; what else did I expect? I'm surprised they lasted as long as they did, now I think about it.

Either that or I'm experiencing one of those unpredictable changes which happen over time, in which a favourite taste or sensation simply loses its appeal - or worse, becomes completely unpalatable. People just announce, one day, that they used to love cheese but can't eat it now, or have had to give up coffee because it makes them sweat, or once adored the music of Peter Frampton but now have to leave the room if it ever comes on, not that it ever does, but you take the point. I've seen it happen. Such changes come unannounced and turn out to be permanent. I once used to like milkshakes, but it passed. I am now about to lose any capacity I once had to enjoy red wine. White wine next? Croissants? There it is. It's time to come to terms.

But - just to be sure - I crack open a bottle of affordable Monastrell I happen to have been thinking about for a few days and take a swig. It's not mind-expandingly good; on the other hand, it tastes of some kind of red wine, a taste I already greet with a twinge of nostalgia. I take another swig. Well. Yes. Red wine. I try the Botham again. Still nothing. I put the Botham away for a day, before taking it out again and running it concurrently with the Monastrell. This gets me nowhere. At the end of three days I have drunk most of two bottles of red wine, one of which tastes of something and the other of which doesn't.

I can draw no conclusions from this, because the test sample is too small. All I'm left with is a choice between two unacceptable realities: the prospect of having to give up wine; or the prospect of having to come to terms with the idea that England's greatest all-round cricketer might stick his name on a bottle of something as flavourful as the atmosphere in a lift. I am too old and weak and cranky for this kind of inner conflict.

Apart from that, things are fine. How's your Christmas coming along?


Thursday, 28 November 2019

Something not quite riot...

Ah, pinot noir. The wine described with adjectives such as “elegant”, “delicate” and “graceful”. The “thin-skinned, temperamental” grape loved by Miles in the movie Sideways. The grape of red Burgundy. And who was the pretentious fellow who once described a fine example of a Burgundy as tasting “like choral evensong”? Oh, that was me.

So where does “ugliness” fit into this? Here, I’m afraid; a Pinot Noir with an ugly name, an ugly label; and, if the Oxford definition of “ugly” as “unpleasing or repulsive to sight or hearing” can be extended to the other senses, then an ugly flavour too.

There are, I suppose, wines which might conceivably have some kind of association with a riot. A bruiser of a shiraz, perhaps, up for a fight. Something with a high enough alcohol content to suffice for comrade Molotov. Or one of those nasty acidic wines whose very fumes have the room-clearing potential of tear gas.

None of these qualities would seem particularly strong selling points. A Shiraz Cosh, anyone? Burnt-out Bordeaux? Cabernet Sauvignon ‘CS’ Gas? And… a Pinot Riot?

Well. There are rowdy, aggressive Pinot Noir drinkers – like the “roomful of buzzed alpha males” which Jay McInerney wrote about. But they bray and brag about the cost of the wines they drink, and are unlikely to trouble the supermarket shelves for this £7 trifle. And as McInerney also writes, “The new generation of Pinotphiles favour adjectives like “restraint” and “delicacy”.

So the very name, Pinot Riot, is something of an oxymoron. Pinot Noir is simply not a loud, boisterous wine.

And the label description contains a further contradiction in terms. This wine supposedly offers “an abundance of intense yet delicate flavours”. It makes you wonder about their understanding of the terms “intense” and “delicate”. Perhaps they like colours which are black yet white.

Nothing restrained or delicate about their label, either. A hideous melange, reminiscent only of a particularly ugly BBC2 ident. Are they dinosaurs? Monsters? Eyeballs in snot? Would anyone want this on their table? Would anyone want this in their house?

But Sediment took it in, and drank it, so that you wouldn’t have to. A rubbery bouquet heralds an astringent, bitter flavour – but thin, weedy, a shallow, diluted experience. Not, by any measure, a riot of flavours. And certainly not a soaring choral evensong; more a muted cough. By halfway through the first glass there is little but alcohol left; no bouquet, no fruit, no point. And, as they themselves state on their label, no future.

Of course the know-it-alls will say that you can’t possibly produce a good Pinot Noir for £7 a bottle. And they are probably right. But think, on the other hand, of the know-nothings. For they may buy and drink this, and believe that they have tasted Pinot Noir. Once, and probably never again.

If the apocalypse comes, and people are stripping the shops of essentials, I don’t think they’ll be too picky between cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. They certainly won’t be rioting to get their hands on this. Only, perhaps, to get their money back.


Thursday, 21 November 2019


So the wife and I (mostly the wife, to be honest) are having a bit of a party, scores of superannuated guests invited, and I have been put in charge of the wine. This is not as much fun as you might imagine.

First off, how much do we get in, sparkling and still combined? The estimates we're currently using give us something like one and a third bottles per head. Either this is not nearly enough, or way too much. If I drink a whole bottle of wine in the course of a few hours, I generally feel fairly lit up. Is everyone else going to want to feel the same way? Quite a few guests will be driving, so that cuts them down to a mere couple of glasses, I would have thought. A few more won't want to drink much anyway. This then bumps up the possible input, for the hardened boozers, to something like a bottle and a half, which sounds quite a lot. On the other hand, the last thing we want is to run out. Or perhaps we do, to act as a heavy-handed way of marking the end of the fun? Okay, so the numbers stand, for now.

Secondly, where to get it? As it happens, Sainsbury were doing a good price on some champagne a couple of weels ago, so I ordered three cases online, went to pick them up two days later, found that they only had one case and had made up the rest of the order with Prosecco and anything else lying about. So I took the champagne, left the filler, and where did I turn? Majestic. Yes, Majestic have been getting some mixed publicity recently and we've drivelled on about their apparent loss of mojo, but all I can think of now is that they do wine, wine is what they do, I want several cases of wine, the wine I actually want, not the wine left lying around in the stockroom and so, helplessly, guiltily, I gravitate to Majestic and immediately pick up some more cheapo champagne to make up the deficit.

While I'm there, the still white chooses itself (a basic Picpoul de Pinet, really rather delicious) but the red is more of a challenge. I grab a bottle of generic Spanish red for sampling purposes, mainly because it calls itself the guv'nor, which I think is kind of amusing; only it turns out the guv'nor tastes like the floor of a hardware shop, so back I go for more red samples, ending up with a Tempranillo, a Malbec and a Barbera D'Asti, all within the price range.

A couple of days of intensive sampling then pass, at the end of which I feel ill and slightly unhinged. I am so full of cheap drink that If I lean over, red wine starts to form a puddle in my ear. Also, I'm getting some bad interference from the copy on the backs of the bottles. I know this is the kind of thing PK is always ranting about, but the beastly guv'nor does itself no favours (not that it could, anyway) by announcing, just above the alcohol content, that the guv'nor rules his establishment with confident poise, yet his disarming politeness conveys a sense of wariness. He is not a man to be trifled with. The Malbec, on the other hand - Argentinian, who knew? - turns out to be called Las Maletas - the suitcases - complete with a Hanna-Barbera-themed cartoon on the front of a man holding a suitcase over his head and an injunction to Pack your suitcase, grab your coat and travel the length and breadth of Argentina via these flavourful wines, on the back, again just above the alcohol content. The wrongness of all this still haunts me.

In the end I go for the Tempranillo, not least because it comes in a bottle with a label and not much else; also because it stays down, not something I can otherwise guarantee. So I'm done! All I have to do now is put the order in and hope that it's delivered at the right time and to the right place by a business whose existence is predicated on the idea that it can deliver the correct wines to a given address on a given day.

And then I have to sort out the music. I'm thinking The Crystals, The Shangri-Las and Betty Everett. And possibly Bernard Hermann and the Northern Dance Orchestra, although this might change. I mean, there's still time, now that the booze is under control.