So I'm sitting in this hotel in Liverpool, sharing a bottle of generic Chilean White over the dinner table, and fear seizes my heart as I start on the contents of the bottle, not because it's particularly terrible, or because it's a bit room temperature rather than subtly misted, or even because I'm in Liverpool, but because it's an inoffensive white wine and I only have to go near an inoffensive white wine these days to get a headache the size of a tractor tyre. And I have no idea why.
Convention has it that if you want to avoid a head, then lay off the red. Also, explicitly lay off Port (which, it must be said, is usually as much fun to drink as the contents of a storm drain filled with granulated sugar), don't mix your drinks, inhale a nice dry white in a ladylike fashion and all will be well. But I can drink quite a lot of really quite bad red and only feel slightly fuddled in the morning, whereas if I tackle something as presentable, even, as the Wine Society'sWhite Burgundy, a drink generally beyond the scope of my ambitions, my temples start to throb and I feel an existential foreboding combined with déjà vu and a mystical sense of loss.
What is this? Age-related degeneration? It started this year, and only affects still, not sparkling, whites. Ten minutes' dithering search on the internet leaves me no wiser.
Apparently you get a headache from drinking neither-here-nor-there white wine because
- It contains lots of sulfites. In this respect it is the same as red, of course
- It's served too cold, so you get an ice-cream headache
- It is sold unseasonably immature, and is therefore full of rough edges. Well, the last bottle of red I put away was a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from somewhere, which, while violent, did no lasting damage
- You're not eating anything with it because it's one of those tippling kind of drinks. You should always eat while drinking and serve you right if you don't
- Some people just don't like the congeners in white wine and that's all there is to it
- Ordinary white wine is so unremarkable you're drinking twice as much without noticing, you drunkard
- You're a cheapskate. Buy something more expensive, therefore less harmful
Depressed by the information revolution I conclude that maybe I am going to have to resign myself to this: still whites and me are not going to get along, nowadays, except with difficulty, until I experience some kind of metabolic revolution at the very least.
It could be worse. Nobody died. I haven't lost any money. Only now I have the gloomy apprehension that this is the first term in that process which I have observed in others: the gradual shrinkage of drinking possibilities.
My wife, for instance, started her drinking career happily consuming whites, reds, spirits, everything except lager. Then the still whites became unpalatable (made her teeth hurt), followed by the reds. A year ago she started to quail at Champagne, a moment of great hand-wringing and existential doubt. Gin & tonics, which she used to guzzle as enthusiastically as any provincial GP, are now off the menu. All she can look forward to is whisky, an occasional Bloody Mary and (God help us) a dry cider on warm days.
And she is not the only one. Someone over here can't drink beer any more; someone else can't cope with dessert wines or chocolate, either jointly or severally; another acquaintance reveals that they've never really liked wine at all, ever, and prefer coffee. The world is filling up with people who have drinking inhibitions and dietary restrictions (when the Americans came to stay, one couldn't eat complicated vegetables while the other had forsworn dairy products, so that was the asparagus in butter completely fucked) and the horizon is obscured by cloud.
If I am about to join them, then bang goes what's left of my lust for life. Instead it will be replaced by a valetudinarian's piffling fixations. I shall soon be like the ridiculous Mr. Woodhouse in Jane Austen's Emma, plucking at people's sleeves and saying 'You and I will have a nice basin of gruel together'. It's either that, or drinking what I like and having to eat Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Sunday breakfast every day of the week: six fried eggs, plus a glass of laudanum and seltzer, to take the pain away. Which actually doesn't sound like a bad idea, now I think of it.