Thursday, 19 May 2011

Campbell's Rutherglen Muscat


So I had this half-bottle of Rutherglen Muscat left over, unopened, from Christmas, and PK was round, eating us out of house and home, and in a moment of rare cunning I suggested we both attack the Rutherglen while we ate what I genteelly refer to as the pudding course.

Pudding course turned out to be a bit of old cheesecake, not really appropriate for a sticky brown concoction such as Rutherglen Muscat, sitting in its bottle like floor varnish, no, cheesecake was much too foamy and indistinct, one should have been eating, say, panforte, or maybe a piece of fresh tarmac to make any impression against it. Nevertheless, out came the Rutherglen and we sipped it dubiously and said:

PK: I'll tell you what.
CJ: What?
PK: Rum'n'raisin ice cream. That's what it tastes like.
CJ: You're absolutely right.
PK: It's cheap and syrupy.
CJ: It can't be. I paid, I don't know, £11 for this crappy little bottle.
PK: But syrupy.
CJ: Yes, syrupy.
PK: So sweet.
CJ: It's meant to be. It's a pudding wine.
PK: Why don't you call it a dessert wine like everybody else?
CJ: Why don't you call it a pudding wine?
PK: It's a dessert wine.
CJ: It's like drinking a Christmas Pudding.
PK: You've never drunk a Christmas Pudding.
CJ: I was speaking figuratively.
PK: It's like Sticky Toffee Pudding.
CJ: As bad as that?
PK: It gets stuck in your saliva glands.
CJ: Talk about raisiny.
PK: It's just too sweet.
CJ: I don't think we can finish this, can we?
PK: I've already finished mine.
CJ: Not the cheesecake. The wine.
PK (biliously): I don't think we can.

You get the picture. At no point did we smack our lips and announce, over-loudly, how much we were enjoying ourselves.

The cheesecake was partly to blame, of course. A wine this, frankly, adhesive, is lost without something serious to wrestle with. The bottle we did drink with the Christmas Pudding, at Christmas, was a much better fit. (Is that the only time, now I think about it, we ever get in a pudding wine? At Christmas? In France I did once drink a Sauternes, served with foie gras in the classic manner, and it was kind of interesting, like brushing your teeth with sausage meat and caramel, but other than that?)

Still, even allowing for the fact that Rutherglen Muscat + Christmas Pudding = a sensation of lardy wellbeing, there was a sense of having been obscurely short-changed, and the person who had that sense was me, given that it was my change which had bought the drink in the first place. Immediately, I looked for someone to blame. And I blamed Oddbins.

At the time of writing, Oddbins is in administration. The branch round the corner (where I got the Rutherglen) has closed down. It doesn't look as if the chain is going to be resurrected, so it'll join the dead Threshers (round the other corner) as a monument to a failed model of wine retailing.

Will I miss it? Not much, if only because the complex and not really satisfactory Rutherglen was a symptom of Oddbins' slightly strange purchasing policy and its increasingly desperate habit of bouncing you into something you weren't sure you wanted in the first place. (While I'm playing the blame game, I might as well finger PK for his original insistence in his post of October, 2010, that one should befriend one's local wine shop, and the local wine shop he befriended was indeed Oddbins, but that's by the way)

What I really wanted, back in December of last year, was a nice, no-messing, Beaumes de Venise, preferably the sort that comes in a pleasingly lumpy bottle with drinking instructions on the back. Nice colour, goes with anything, you get a full bottleload (none of this pixie half stuff), I've had it before.

Oddbins, as it transpired, didn't have it. But I was there on a mission - to get the booze in for Christmas - so I bought what the guy behind the counter wanted me to buy, the Rutherglen, and the rest is history. With hindsight, what I should have done was walk out of Oddbins, go to the nearest supermarket and see if they had the Beaumes de Venise; but inertia and a desire to get the transaction over with and get back to the endless night of present-wrapping, held me at Oddbins, and, and, and.

Only now I will have to go to the supermarket, not least because they're still in business, while Oddbins has become irrelevant: neither top-end specialist, against whose windows PK likes to press his nose; nor pile-'em-high warehouse like Majestic.

In fact, there's something defining about all this. Time has moved on and the Brits are now just about confident enough of their wine to be able to face down a typical Waitrose selection without panicking; they don't need borderline encouragement from a mildly implausible shop assistant to help them pick a bottle costing £5, or even £11; and if they do want their hands held, they can go somewhere really chi-chi and buy a case for £250.

Has the world just become smaller and more impoverished as a consequence? I can't say it has. Indeed my only regret is that I still have a third of half a bottle of the wretched Rutherglen, looking at me with gummy reproach every time I open the fridge door.

I know! I'll add it to some yoghurt and call it crème brûlée!

CJ


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