Thursday 5 September 2013

A pichet of wine – does a little go a long way?

This is my pichet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. For the uninitiated – and those who haven't looked at the photo – it is like a carafe, but smaller. Much smaller.

I recently enjoyed a restaurant pre-theatre supper with my own pichet of red wine – pouring when I liked, pacing my consumption, and remaining awake throughout the performance it preceded. (That’s the theatre, not the dessert.) So I thought I might try using one at home, to see if it had a similarly civilising effect upon drinking alone.

For the pichet is a selfish device. It is clearly designed for solo drinking. It contains just 250ml of wine, a third of a bottle, a quantity described by Mrs K as “quite sufficient” and by me as “Thanks, that sample was fine, can I have the rest now, please?”

Whether 250ml is a suitable amount of wine to drink with one’s meal is clearly a matter for debate. Some see food and drink working in a kind of quantitative harmony; others view the food as essentially providing ballast for some serious drinking.

Some bars and restaurants provide a glass of wine which is just 175ml; and one Italian in Covent Garden says on its list that “A 125ml glass of wine is available on request,” an absurdly small amount which might just accompany one of those Toytown minimalist starters, but would be absorbed by two mouthfuls of toad in the hole. I particularly like the way it’s “available on request”, confirming that, like an inflatable cushion, it’s something which you’re slightly embarrassed to ask for in public. 125ml is not drinking, it’s salivating. 

I have always been a great fan myself of the half-bottle (375ml) for a meal. The problem is that half bottles are usually relatively expensive. Take The Wine Society’s claret, for example; £6.25 a bottle, £4.25 a half bottle. Completely understandable, given packaging, transport and all the other factors which remain the same, but you don’t have to be Einstein to work out that you’re better off at home buying a full bottle and drinking it in two halves.

(Which is exactly what I do when Chelsea are on TV – buy a full bottle and drink it in two halves…) 

Unfortunately you do have to be Einstein to work out when you’re halfway down a full bottle. Somehow, what you were convinced was half a bottle, that you sadly put aside over the closing credits of the News at Ten, always turns out to be rather less than half a bottle at dinner time the next night. I assume it’s something to do with quantum physics and measurement. The second half of a bottle never quite is.

If it was just a matter of measurement, you could get a stonking great glass, slosh in 375ml of wine, and get stuck in. But not a glass filled to the top; or else what Keats described as “beaded bubbles winking at the brim” will inevitably be winking their way past that brim and down over the tablecloth. There must be a happy relationship between the wine and the air within a glass, which not only allows for swirling and aeration, but also accommodates the clumsy amongst us, and acknowledges that the greater the quantity of wine in one’s stomach, the greater the quantity of ham in one’s fist.

And the best way of maintaining that ideal quantity of wine in a glass is by topping it up, the act of pouring, which punctuates civilised eating and drinking like chapter headings in a novel. I somehow feel that the more often you pour, the more you feel you’ve drunk, as if the experience has been refreshed along with your glass. It’s pouring from my pichet which I really enjoy; assessing, measuring, pacing each pour, the amount remaining clearly visible (unlike a bottle), and its solo character allowing you complete control, without intervention by waiter or wife. Pouring is one of those things which lifts supper alone above a simple act of refuelling. Better by far the glass modestly filled and frequently topped up, than the large one set before you like both a challenge and a constraint.

But while we’re on the matter of constraint… It’s a depressing fact that my pichet’s 250ml of wine, or 3.3 units, is precisely the daily NHS alcohol limit for menNow, I have been deeply suspicious of these alcohol limits, ever since it was revealed that their original calculation, rather like a WMD dossier, was based on nothing more than “a sort of intelligent guess”. However, I put it out there for what it’s worth; if you use a pichet, you can fill it, look at it and think, well, according to the NHS, that’s my lot. Look on, ye mighty, and despair.

Finally, the answers to some key questions:

No; thanks to the shape of this pichet, if you use it for white wine, it does not look too much like a urine sample.

No; even if I may look like one, when I’m sitting here alone, pouring out my own wine in this manner, I do not feel like a tosser.

Yes; it does create more washing-up.


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