Foolishly, stupidly, I let CJ buy a bottle of wine for the two of us. I feel I should allow others to benefit from this sorry experience.
We are working on Sediment’s first ever stage appearance, at the Chiswick Book Festival. A day of editing and reading requires a light lunch of sandwiches etc – and whether to get us in the zone, or to mete out some kind of punishment, CJ insists that we need a bottle of wine to go with it. He’s buying, he says, brandishing a fiver as if it is a golden ticket, and not a printed guarantee of disappointment.
And I agree, partly because, out of some ethnographic curiosity, I want to see what happens when someone like CJ buys a bottle of wine. Someone so like CJ that he is, in fact, CJ. Rather than point out the errors of his ways, I shall simply observe them. There are lessons to be learnt here, and I shall pass them on for what they are worth.
Needless to say, I approach with caution the McGuigan Estate Shiraz he chooses. As the McGuigan name coincidentally reminds me, Shiraz can be a pretty pugilistic wine at the best of times. And this one is thick and purplish, like a bruise. Never mind how my teeth are going to look, I worry about whether it is capable of staining my tumblers. (Because of course, he wants to drink it out of tumblers…)
Astonishingly, CJ is comfortable with its furious attack. I have never before described a wine as ‘angry’, but there is something about this wine which tastes exactly as a bee in a jamjar sounds. It growls ferociously around my mouth, a brawl between tannins and alcohol taking place ankle-deep in fruit.
I look to CJ for guidance. In this particular arena of bodily harm, he’s got form.
“Leave it in the glass for a bit,” he suggests, wiping his now watering eyes.
He’s right, in the sense that it gives up the fight, and collapses. Drinking it becomes slow and arduous, like wading through a fruit slurry.
What do we learn from this? Well, there were several elementary mistakes I think CJ made. Take note, and you can avoid similarly unpleasant consequences.
Location, location, location. There are many places you can purchase a decent bottle of wine these days but, despite the broadening of their commercial remit, these do not include somewhere calling itself a Post Office.
Height. At one point, I almost fell over CJ, who was crouching down on his haunches, the better to choose from the lower shelves. If you think of Darwin’s unfolding ascent of man, the cheap wine buyer is the figure bent low on the left, the equivalent of the knuckle-dragging cro-magnon. As opposed to the upright, homo sapien wine buyer on the right. You can’t argue with evolution. The latter stance has developed for a reason, viz. that it puts you on an eyeline with anything worth drinking.
Language. This label says that “The premium vineyard regions of South Australia provide some of the country’s finest wines”. It does not claim that this is one of them.
Trophies. Although the microscopic print reveals that they are three years old, and don’t apply to this actual wine, there are two medals on its label. “Look! medals!” says CJ triumphantly. He thinks commendations. I think, Colonel Gadaffi.
Screwcap. Most of the arguments against corks are about the maturing and/or spoilage of good wine, not about the bottling of wine which is dreadful in the first place. This seems to me something of a numbers game. There are still relatively few great wines with a screwcap. Ergo, the chances of a terrible wine must increase if it does not have a cork.
Price. Well, what can you expect for a fiver after Mr Osborne has trousered his take? As it looks to offload its massive overproduction, there’s a possibility of finding a drinkable bottle of wine from Spain. But if you want to guarantee something good to drink for less than a fiver, buy a beer.
But I think he knows. I think CJ needs something to rail against, somewhere to vent his spleen. He is like a man who follows a continually failing football team. It nourishes his sense of injustice. We all need things in our lives which help us appreciate the good, and he seems to have chosen cheap wine.
And, for better or worse, me.