Low cunning landed this one as part of a special-offer mixed case of six reds: something around £30 the lot, so I got two cases, and, unlike the Tesco Cava catastrophe at Christmas, they arrived on the nail, no fuss or confusion. Containing a couple of bottles of Skalli Corbières 2006: which averages out at a fiver for something with a vintage. I mean, it's five years old! We don't normally get anything this antique unless it's a birthday or a wedding.
So I unpack the Corbières and contemplate it. Clearly, special treatment is needed for this proud creature (it's even got a cork, a proper one, with the corporate logo printed on it) so, special like, I forgo the faithful Duralex and dust down the Paris goblets so despised by PK. I place the bottle in the centre of the kitchen table. I admire its very slightly tapering flanks and handsome proportions. I squint at the label as if it is a precision tool.
But I am nervous. Why? Because for this encounter, I feel I must nerve up and consider the grog I am drinking, rather than merely neck it. And in order to consider it, I must acquire a language in which to frame my thoughts. I won't go down the rocky road of Whereof I cannot speak thereof I must remain silent, but at the very least, reflective experience demands an inner articulation, and that means words.
Which glances back to PK's preceding entry. He was complaining in his high-handed manner about the tendency of wine writers to address their readers as if they were lusty stevedores, forever glugging and quaffing their wines; and he's got a point. Glugging and quaffing not only infantilise the reader, they suggest a terrible lack of nerve on the part of the writer. They are as unnecessary as they are self-defeating.
On the other hand, self-consciously accessible wine writers have got a job on their hands, given that most of the time wine writing attracts pretension at a rate only equalled by ballet and contemporary art. At random, from across the internet: 'It just doesn't have the spark, the informal elegance, or the mid-palate depth that I associate with Les Granges at this age'; 'A chiselled Sancerre'; 'On the palate, yes, it was rustic, but it had great purity of fruit'; 'I felt I needed to re-associate myself with some of the great white grapes'; 'As befits a lifestyle choice, this wine begins as a conversation piece'.
The last quote, incidentally, came from the normally level-headed PK himself in a recent love-letter to some rosé: there you go.
I've always admired the middle-class French, who, in my limited experience of these things, talk seriously and pragmatically about wine, but confine themselves to three narrowly functional headings: Is it nice to drink? Will it keep? What's good to eat with it? This makes sense. Anglo-Saxons, by way of contrast, seem unable to stop themselves from coming over all F. Scott Fitzgerald the moment they pull the cork. If I were less fingers and thumbs about my tannins and my acidity, about my floral notes and my minerality (whatever that is), perhaps I'd join in and try and make the rococo lexicon of wine appreciation my own. But for now I feel as if I'm trying to speak a made-up language whose usefulness has yet to be categorically identified: Esperanto, in fact.
So. The Corbières. With deep misgivings I pour a bit of the wine out and frown at it, before swirling it round and lowering my nose into the goblet for a deep inhalation. I then turn to what I hilariously refer to as my tasting notes and force myself to write down what I think I have just experienced.
In the smell department, I write Blackberry, pepper, caramel, rubber sheeting, cardboard?? and demerera sugar. I now have no idea what I meant by these attributes. They contained some kind of chimerical sense at the moment I commited them to paper, but what, really, do I mean by blackberry? Can I really summon up the remembered taste of a blackberry? Do I even know what a blackberry tastes like, without a garnish of crumble topping and custard? And how does it fit in with the cardboard? What sort of cardboard, anyway? Packing case or formal invitation? And sugar and rubber sheeting?
I know what I'm doing, of course. I'm aping that professional garrulity which infects wine critics, that compulsion to daisychain characteristics together to indicate a) the complexity of the drink b) the superspecific sophistication of the drinkers' response to it. And you know what? It is kind of fun, it is an indulgence, riddling yourself for ways to name the tastes that skip across your tongue like jaywalkers in traffic. But what does it mean?
I quaff some, or swig it. This is a test I can neither fail nor pass. It is as definitive as a burping competition. Nevertheless, I call it jammy with (insofar as I understand these terms) balanced acidity and tannins. Finish is protracted, which is a good sign. I look at the notes. I look at the drink. Do I feel that I've got to know it better? Was it worth the extra input? What would a middle-class Frenchman say?
It comes down to this. It was extremely tasty; it hung around in the mouth longer than the stuff I habitually drink; it now costs £10 a bottle if you buy it from Tesco outside of a mixed case, so I won't be getting any more for a bit, if ever.
Which is what I meant to say, all along.