CJ is currently heading somewhere in the West Country; his consumption may not falter, but his contribution will, so I am stepping in with this further tale of my own.
My local Mace (slogan: Whenever, whatever) is a typical convenience store, run by personnel whose mobile telephone calls occupy them far more than any notions of customer service. On the railings outside is a badly handwritten sign, advertising a “specious airey basemet” to let (sic, sic and, I’m afraid, sic again). This “basemet” would be “suitable for many uses”, although Younger Son, peering over the railings, seems to think that its suitability would mostly involve either Josef Fritzl or the producers of Saw.
They say life is too short to drink cheap wine; not on the Sediment blog. Tonight it is convenience, rather than curiosity, poverty or perversity, which has driven me to the Mace for wine. I am cooking Nigel Slater’s excellent recipe for chicken with basil and lemon. And it requires white wine – which on a Sunday evening means a visit to Mace. And whatever else the “basemet” is being used for, it is clearly not a wine cellar.
CJ and I refuse to succumb to the likes of Echo Falls, Turning Leaf, Jacob’s Creek et al, the cheap brands which clutter the shelves of wine at Mace and elsewhere with their dependable blandness, like episodes of some New World soap opera where no-one is ever either rich or poor.
But if not excitement, Mace does at least provide a degree of comedy on its shelves. Which self-respecting French chateau makes a wine which actually says “claret” on the label? In case of confusion, that’s “Claret from Bordeaux”, no less?
Another day, perhaps; for amongst the more predictable offerings I spot my purchase – Hazy View, a Chenin Blanc from South Africa. At £6.49 a bottle, there will be some (CJ) who think that a little steep for a bottle of South African white from a convenience store. But needs must, there’s a chicken dish waiting, and Messrs Gallo are not getting my hard-earned, thank you very much.
I think it’s always important to taste wine before you cook with it. This has nothing to do with the taste of the wine – it just numbs the fear of cooking.
So I open up the Hazy View, and pour myself a cook’s glass. And I realise that this is actually a very, very enjoyable chenin blanc – peachy, crisp, utterly drinkable. It’s fragrant, light but flavoursome. What is going on here?
I quickly check it out online, just to reassure myself that my tastebuds have not been cauterised by too much Sediment fodder. And I find that I am not alone in my regard for Hazy View Chenin Blanc. It is on the wine list of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, no less – at £21 a bottle.
Now, I know you cannot compare restaurant prices with other prices. But still, a wine for which the connoisseurs of the ROH will pay £21 – and I’ve just picked it up for £6.49 round at the Mace. Well spotted or what? Self-congratulation all round, eh? Except…
Except that I am now faced with an awful dilemma. The recipe, for four people, requires two glasses of wine. If I had brought up from my extensive cellar (hem, hem) a bottle of white wine worth £21, there is no way I would put two glasses of it into Nigel Slater’s recipe. Let alone “watch it bubble for a minute”.
But I have no choice. I remind myself that this is a bottle from Mace, and that two glasses have cost me about £2.50. (The fact they would have been £11 at the ROH is neither here nor there. Stop it.) I pour it in. And, while I “watch it bubble for a minute” (sob), I wonder – have I found a £21 bottle of wine for a third of the price, and cooked one of the most expensive chicken dishes ever? Or cooked with wine that cost £6.49 from the convenience store, and enjoyed drinking a bargain?
In the end, only one thing really matters; I get to drink the rest of this completely delicious wine myself. Because I am “just finishing off that cheap bottle I got to cook with from the Mace…”