Is white wine taken seriously? The Times recently interviewed Jeremy Paxman over a lunch. Tomato salad and mutton, since you ask. And the journalist reported that to go with the food, Paxman ordered “a glass of white wine (which he believes doesn’t count as real booze)”.
Well, I’m glad someone else has said it. Because I’m not sure myself that white wine is taken seriously.
Let’s face it, when you think of wine, you think of red wine. I’ve quoted before the essayist Christopher Hitchens, who ordered a glass of wine in a restaurant and was then asked by a waiter whether that was red or white. Hitchens retorted, “Wine. Is. Red.”
I don’t recall the New Testament specifying the colour of wine, whether it was accompanying lamb or fish. But most of the Old Masters confidently painted it red. And Bette Davis said that you should "Never, never trust anyone who asks for white wine. It means they're phonies."
Yes, there are lunches in Pall Mall gentlemen’s clubs, with Dover Sole and a bone-dry Chablis, but that’s more of a ritual than a meal with a drink.
And when you offer Champagne, everyone starts oohing and aahing as if you’ve just shown them a baby. But that’s nothing to do with the taste; it’s because it’s a statement of celebration. Champagne is like a footman’s announcement that gaiety is now in order.
So my heart sank when it emerged that, for dietary reasons, our recent Sunday lunch for guests had to be planned around fish. Which meant that I would not have the excuse of social generosity required in order to open one of my heavyweight clarets.
Of course, the wine still had to be good. There’s little worse than bad white wine. I can only assume, from the colour of the analogy, that it was a white to which DH Lawrence was referring when he complained of a Spanish wine that “this is the sulphurous urination of some aged horse."
But fortunately, back in May, CJ and I found ourselves at a Laithwaite’s tasting, on an excursion which was part fact-finding mission, part… well, there had to be a laugh in it. Little were we to know that this particular tasting would be Tweeted later that day by Jancis Robinson (no less) as “the best tasting of @Laithwaites wines I have ever been to.
"Probably most expensive too,” she admitted, “but there are treats & some real value.”
Indeed; for there I encountered Dog Point, a genuinely delicious Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, with all that traditional fruit salad of gooseberries and grapefruit, balanced with a crisp edge and minerally finish. Gorgeous; but at £19.99, was this even a treat, let alone real value? It was hard to consider properly, given the distraction of CJ’s price point flabbergastation.
However, never let it be said that Sediment does not provide a reader service, even if that’s basically a euphemism for miserliness. Laithwaites currently sell the 2015 for £17.99 (“Save £2.00 – was £19.99”!) However, Winedirect get it down to £15.50 by the case, although there’s a delivery charge. And then, God bless ‘em, there’s the Wine Society, at £13.50 a bottle with free delivery. That’s knocked it down by £6.49 a bottle. Well, presumably old Tony Laithwaite can’t drive it in his borrowed van all the way back from New Zealand.
Anyway, on Sunday, it went down well. In fact, I’d forgotten just how well white wine goes down. Even when it has a decent alcohol content, white wine doesn’t seem to receive the slow, serious, savouring respect of drinking a red. It was like watching a sink emptying.
And there was nothing for me to talk about. No years in the cellar, no en primeur gamble, no purchasing trip. No story to tell – other than how I had saved a third on the price, hardly something a host shouts about.
So I’ve come reluctantly to the conclusion that, however enjoyable, people don’t take white wine seriously. You’re not going to make any kind of impression with white wine. Unless you want to convey the impression that you’re someone who drinks white wine. Which, despite this little triumph, I don’t.