The old saying has it that life is too short to drink bad wine. But no-one says anything about the so-so stuff.
Indeed, it’s rare to even read about so-so wine. No-one bothers to write about mediocrity. Oh, CJ may write about the truly awful; and I may, occasionally, have an opportunity to write about something really good. But what about the stuff in the middle?
Because surely that’s what most of us drink, most of the time. Wine that’s…okay. Wine they had in the shop around the corner when we stopped in on the way home from work. One of those days, a basic supper ahead, and a bottle of wine seems like a good idea, to enliven the meal and soften the edges of the evening…
(Or is that all just me…?)
We actually consume a lot of mediocrity in our lives. How many of us, for example, always buy really good, artisan-made bread? It’s not that much more expensive than the stuff in the supermarket, but it’s so much nicer; you just have to spend a little more, and make a bit of an effort to get it, and store it in a proper bin, and consume it at its best… so mostly we just get the good stuff when guests are coming, or for special occasions… sorry, are we still talking bread here, or wine?
And I do buy mediocre wine as I would buy a loaf of convenient, mediocre bread. Which is where I run into trouble; thanks to my possession of a modest cellar – or, as my good wife describes it, “a load of wine in the basement”.
Perhaps understandably, it confuses Mrs K’s notion of rational housekeeping that I return to the house bearing random and potentially rubbish bottles when I have “a load of wine in the basement”.
But the stuff down there is not mediocre. (If it is, I shall be having words with Mr Berry, and his Brothers to boot.) It would be absurd to start stashing cases of mediocre wine. Why would I do that? The cellar is for hopefully good, interesting wine, which is trying my patience as it waits to reach its peak. It follows the simple rule I established for those wanting to know how to start a wine collection: 1) Buy wine 2) Don’t drink it!
No, mediocre wine is for imminent consumption, and is bought casually, hidden beneath the toilet rolls in the wire basket, emerging guiltily at the till along with the chocolate ice-cream and the Pringles.
Perhaps what’s awkward about so-so wine is that some of the more serious aficionados will ask why one bothers to drink it at all. Is it simply in order to get drunk?
Well, no. Any drinkable wine will enhance a meal for me. It may not be a transcendent experience, but then, neither are my sausages.
And mediocre wine offers its own, unique pleasure; the gratification of bringing a single, random bottle back home and finding that you called it well. It’s not so bad you can’t drink it. (But neither is it so good that you feel annoyed there is no gathering to share it.)
Of course, if it turns out to be an unexpected bargain, that’s another matter. To find a drinkable wine for under £10 is a treat, and makes the consumption an event in itself, infused with that wonderful flavour enhancer, smugness.
But you run the risk of frustration, because you only bought one bottle and for whatever reason, you find you can’t get any more. The whole episode is then soured with frustration, because you’ve found a bargain but you’ve opened your only bottle (see my Lanciola chianti). So bizarrely, a mediocre wine can actually be more satisfying than a bargain.
Which is how I come to be writing about this San Silvestre Piemonte Barbera 2010. It came from the wine merchants on the High Road, who shall remain nameless (because the last time I named them Sediment was subjected to a barrage of ‘anonymous’ astroturf comments). I wanted something Italian, to go with some sausage pasta, and I had drunk my remaining solitary bottle of bargain chianti. And there was this bottle, with its reasonable price, acceptable provenance, and tolerable label. Mediocrity personified.
And it’s…okay. It has a light, yeasty bouquet, and on the palate a slightly fruity, slightly spicy flavour. It slips easily down and away, leaving just a hint of pepperiness in the throat. It’s okay on its own, and okay with food. At £7.50, it was neither an astonishing disappointment nor a cracking bargain. All round, it was…okay.
So look, don’t rush out and buy it – but if you’re stuck, don’t turn your nose up at it, either.
I shall not, of course, rest easy. Disraeli said, “It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us.” But in the meantime, hey-ho, and serve the sausages.