Am I a fool to want wine drinking to be something of a sophisticated activity? Was I naive to aspire, for all of those years, to a cellar, a carafe, a smidgen of knowledge and an appreciative sip? I only ask, because it seems that, even in relatively upmarket UK publications, drinking wine is now frequently described using two verbs – “quaff” and “glug” – which are redolent of frankly oafish consumption.
The Telegraph recommend “a glug of vino”. In the Independent, you can “glug” some natural wine, while a Cape blend is described as “an affordable glugger”. The FT called respected winemaker Michel Chapoutier “quaffable and quotable”. The Spectator, usually a bastion of tradition, refers to a Chardonnay as “a real glugger”. And the Guardian says that “Sometimes all you want is something light, crisp and quaffable” – well, speak for yourself.
(There is even an ugly misspelling of a wine site called Kwoff, edited by the Kwoff Boys. But they are Australian.)
There are other equally distasteful terms around; Sediment had to take the saintly Victoria Moore to task, for “swilling” and “sluicing” her summer wines in the Telegraph, which hardly makes them sound desirable. But “quaff” and “glug” are particularly widespread.
And now Waitrose, perhaps England’s most upmarket supermarket chain, have trumped the lot. In the May issue of their Waitrose Kitchen print magazine, Olly Smith manages both. In a single issue, he directs us to “glug” one wine, and to “quaff” another.
What would be the food writing equivalent? “Wolf this down for lunch”? “Scoff this one for supper”? One really can't see The Blessed Nigel ending a recipe with “Great to guzzle with friends”. But are the guests eating food any less oafish than the guests drinking wine?
Presumably these writers want to convey some kind of Falstaffian, Merrie Men bonhomie, with everyone waving goblets and tankards – but this is not the raucous scenario I believe Mrs K (as My Affianced has now become) has in her mind’s eye when we invite people round for dinner. Would you welcome a guest, and ask, “Are you quaffing tonight?” Or pour a glass and say, “Fancy a glug?” Our guests neither quaff nor glug; they sip and savour their wine, as they discuss high-minded matters and exchange witty repartee. (Although sometimes CJ does visit…)
Perhaps “glugging” is also supposed to echo the sound of carefree pouring, like an arsonist waving a bottle of petrol about a room? Not in our house, I’m afraid, where guests tend to prefer their wine in their glass rather than their lap.
Easy drinking, that’s what these writers want to suggest – and I’m afraid that’s another of my bêtes noires. When is drinking not easy, for goodness sake? It’s a reflex action! If you’re finding that a wine is “difficult” drinking, frankly you don’t need a wine critic, you need a doctor.
“Quaffing” often has a critical tone; celebrities or rich bastards always “quaff” champagne, while proles like us simply drink it. Deconstruct that, Mr Waitrose. But I thought, in the interests of research, I should at least try to “glug” a wine.
I therefore took a large mouthful of air in with my wine, and swallowed the lot with a kind of reverse belch. It certainly made an unattractive noise which could be described as “glug”, rather like the final emptying of a sink.
However, the result was also that a painful bolus of air descended my oesophagus with agonising slowness. This is what I imagine it must be like to swallow a golf ball. If any wine critic seriously thinks such “glugging” is to be encouraged, I suggest they try this painful activity for themselves, and then think again.
So what happens when, instead of quaffing or glugging, you simply drink one of these wines? In a civilised manner, slowly and considerately, without sonic accompaniment from either bottle or digestive system.
One of Waitrose’s vulgarly described offerings is the Tsantali Cabernet Sauvignon. This comes from the Greek region of Halkidiki, which I can’t help thinking sounds like something R2D2 would say. A Greek Cabernet Sauvignon – when CJ heard what I was drinking, he said “I admire your moxie, kid.”
Whereas Olly Smith said, “Quaff it with steak, chops and top-quality bangers,”. Not sausages, you note, or even loukaniki; but “bangers”...
Well, it’s a competent, straightforward Cabernet Sauvignon; that slightly burnt aroma, but a bit flat in the mouth; a little brief resonance on the palate… but then gone. No richness, no complexity, no grip. Perfectly OK, and with a hefty 14.5% alcohol, which will assist the goblet-waving; but for £9, I’m afraid I expect something a little more memorable.
But perhaps this is what it’s really all about? Wine for people who don’t want a stimulated palate getting in the way, slowing down the process of swallowing in large draughts (as Dr Johnson defined the verb “to quaff”)? In which case, why not go the whole hog, and provide alcohol via an intravenous drip?
I shall not, in the foreseeable, be filling my guests’ glasses with a hearty “There you go, quaff that!” Nor inviting Olly Smith to demonstrate his glugging technique over our sink. Nor, indeed, purchasing another bottle of the unmemorable...what was it called?