So PK and I are at a vertical tasting of some high-end Bordeaux (2013 through to 2010) and, all right, it's too early to tell in most cases whether what I'm drinking is going to be an absolute steal at £50 a bottle + six years of waiting; or whether it's going to start off hysterically assertive and stay hysterically assertive; or whether it's going to fizzle into nonentity. That said, all four years of the Château le Crock (one of PK's personal favourites, you know) are pretty finesse-rich, the 2010 already tasting - by a discernible margin - better than nearly all the stuff I normally buy for myself.
Which passes the time very pleasantly; also because we get a free portion-controlled lunch in handsome surroundings (Somerset House). And yet the question persists: what, in all honesty, am I doing here? I am as likely to buy a Bordeaux Grand Cru as I am to buy a gyrocopter, and, more to the point, I am not alone. This piece has been echoing in my head for weeks, with its primary assertion that most Brits will not pay more than £6 for a bottle of wine - while only seven per cent of British wine buyers are willing to go over £10 a bottle. And that nearly a third of male British wine drinkers are unable to name a single grape variety.
There's more. It chimes with this news, that, despite our national obsession with TV food shows and celebrity chefs and best-selling cookery books, we now spend half as much time actually preparing real food as we did twenty years ago; eating an increasing volume of ready-made and fast foods instead. The behaviour of an entire media industry is predicated on the idea that we love to get involved with flavourful, challenging meals (in one of yesterday's free sheets on the train there were detailed instructions as to how to make the perfect Bolognaise sauce, fully-engaged preparation time something over three hours), an idea which is persistently and rigorously contradicted by what we actually do.
Well, we sort of know this, don't we? We're just made that way in the UK - food slobs who happily and paradoxically live with a food fixation but have no desire to do the hard work in the kitchen. Which is every bit as true of wine. Thousands upon thousands of words are written every week about wines, scores of recommendations are made - just about all them, however sincerely-intentioned, coming in above the magic £6 a bottle mark - quite often at twice that price; fairly often, more than twice. But what do we do? Stick to our overpriced £6-and-less crap wine, heat up a moussaka in a foil tray and carry on reading. Or, in my case, go to the occasional smartyboots wine tasting before returning home to the domestic fodder of potatoes and grog.
Where does the locus of perversity lie? In us, for persistently indulging fantasies which we could, just about, turn into reality, but won't? Or in the fantasy-peddlers, who could, if they wanted, give us authentic real-life information about how to get the best out of our packet sandwiches and Aldi Shiraz, but set their faces ever towards Fairyland, apparently unconcerned as the gap widens between what we fill our culture with, and what we fill ourselves with?
I try an analogy on PK: it's as if car writers only ever discussed Bentleys and Mercs, leaving the Kias and Fords that people actually bought, ignored, or spoken of merely to make a dismissive point of comparison. PK says, no, it's not like that because the nature of the transaction is so different. I carry on anyway, claiming that I would like nothing more than a blow-by-blow account of when best to decant my £2.99 Baron St Jean, and how to breathe life into a salad-in-a-bag that's going black, but I am not making progress. I am even close to announcing that our culture is fundamentally dysfunctional, but I can see PK's eyes glazing with boredom, so I give up.
We return to our out-on-day-release fantasy wine tasting. I feel a bit dysfunctional myself by now, not least because these high-end Bordeaux are so off my radar - however provocatively they price themselves, a buyer will, ultimately and always, it seems, be found - and wonder what my kids will make of it all.
'I need a Sauternes to clear my palate,' PK says, daring to be different.
We have some. It's pretty nice. And what? Fifty quid a bottle? Thirty-three ready-made sandwiches' worth of Sauternes?
'Not bad,' I say, as if I really do this kind of thing.