Thursday, 12 July 2018

These Vocalisations I Make On First Sampling A Beverage*

- Mm, yeah, yeah, not bad

- No, I like a bit of a head on it

- ...I'm getting loose boxes...spent matches...guacamole...

- You could use it for cooking

- Woah! That's got a nose on it!

- Ah, death and Château D'Yquem. Yes, I know it is Château D'Yquem

- Of course, when we leave the EU this'll cost a fortune

- Is it meant to be this colour?

- ....Mmm...mmm...nnn...

- Woof!

- Shit, sorry, I'll get a cloth

- Oh yeah, yeah, oh God, yeah, that's the one

- Of course, this was Winston Churchill's/Adlai Stevenson's/Sonny Bono's favourite drink

- Oh, for fuck's sake

- This is the last one, then I'm out of here

- Can I see the label again?

- So like I said, at one point the whole of Bob Dylan's backing band was in the CIA

- Wowsers!

- Did you make this yourself?

- I'm going to say a Sainsbury's Rioja. A 2009 Pauillac? Well, you had me there

- How do you spell terroir, exactly?

- ...Eewww...

- The last time I had this was in 1982/Cousin Clive's funeral/the London Olympics

- I dunno, I think I prefer it at room temperature

- Is it meant to be slightly pétillant?

- Seriously, this is it, or I'm going to miss my train

- I dunno, I think I prefer it a bit colder

- And it's been in your family for four generations?

- No, don't worry, I'll get it out with a spoon

- I did have this once in Italy, but it didn't taste like this

- Ah, that's it right there

- Minerality, my arse

- Well if Jancis Robinson likes it, that's good enough for me

-'s pee...

- God, I hate Argentian Malbec. Actually, this is quite nice

- This is a very small glass

- Bang on!

- I think this bus may have already left the depot

- 14.5%? Why didn't you tell me?

- I went to the place where they make this, once. It's absolutely tiny. Or is it quite large? No, wait a minute, it's really huge

- I'm glad to see you've moved on to a screw top

- I dunno, what do you think?

- I can see why they drink so much of it

- Aaarrrp...

- Yeah, Spain. Bit of a mystery

- Lovely colour

- ...Stone know, that thing that comes in a kind of round leathern receptacle...

- Who was that bloke who used to advertise this on the telly?

- Hang on, I've only just started

- I'm only going to drink beer and spirits after this

- Ah, the old Red Infuriator

- Shit, this shirt was clean this morning

- Good stuff. The next one's definitely on me

- I met this guy who told me you could make it out of lettuce leaves and sodium bicarbonate

- There's only one thing you can say about this

- Nope. I'm just getting cat's pee

- You've got to hand it to the French. They can really knock this stuff out

- It's Greek?


*Contains adult language/themes

Thursday, 5 July 2018

White rabbit

I’m so sick of white wine. I’ve had three weeks of hot weather, three weeks of fish, and shellfish, and salads, across London and Cornwall. Which has meant three weeks of white wine. Oh, I’ve put away so much of the damn stuff. And I’m thoroughly fed up with it.

Of course we’re going to choose white wine during a heatwave. Everyone keeps telling us it’s “crisp”, and “zesty”, and “fresh”, descriptions which would sell anything during a spell of hot weather. It’s served cold, the condensation calling alluringly from the glass. And we’re eating all those lightweight dishes, which a proper red wine would smother like a duvet.

But honestly? It’s a glass of nayce whayte wayne.  It’s what you have at those canapé and conversation events where talking is more important than drinking. Where you’re never sure of the quality of the wine, and so you pick up a glass of white, because bad white is never as bad as bad red.

White wine is for lunch. As Keith Waterhouse wrote in his magnificent The Theory and Practice of Lunch – a theory and practice sadly forsworn by today’s teetotal lunchers – “the wine that travels best with the lunchtime banter and gossip is not served at room temperature.” (Although of course when that was published two decades ago, few restaurants had their own rooms chilled.)

It’s been the mainstay of lunch at a gentleman’s club, the steely Chablis with the smoked salmon and the Dover Sole. But when the weather’s like this, you have the same kind of supper in the evening at home. You’re not cooking stews, or roasts, or anything else which requires having the oven on for an hour. No, it’s fish and salads and cold collations, which just scream out for white wine.

So you have to accept you’ll have another cold white wine – but then it doesn’t stay cold. Those coolers, whether plastic or terracotta, never really work, and the absence of a home ice bucket means I am faced with constant trips back to the fridge. Even so, the wine simply warms up in the glass, becoming rapidly tepid. Great; I’ve eschewed something which on a hot summer’s day has the look and temperature of blood, for something which has the similar characteristics of urine.

And let’s not talk about the flavour. It’s “steely”, it’s “flinty”, it’s “chalky”. Have you noticed how many of the adjectives used to describe white wine apply to things you would never put in your mouth?

OK yes, I am modern enough to drink chilled reds, and have now purposefully bought a Brouilly for the cellar and a Chinon for the fridge. But I am not going to ask for a chilled red in a restaurant in Cornwall, where I would risk looking like some utter bassoon, coming down here with his trendy Shoreditch ways.

(And don’t get me started on rosé, with its “here comes the sun, here comes the rosé” seasonal marketing, as if the mere presence of sunshine demands that you drink it. Quick boys, the clouds are parting, wheel out the rosé. Well thank you waiter but no, there are people passing my table and I don’t wish to look like a gullible dilbert.)

After three weeks, I’ve had enough. Enough crispy freshness and fresh crispness and perky zesty steely minerality and what have you – and never the deep, resonant weight of a red which sends you off genuinely satisfied.

Eventually, this weather has to break. Spit, fire, spout, rain and all that. We’ll all go back indoors and there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the alfresco set and the barbeque boys. But over here will be a happy man, retreating to his dining room with a proper supper and a glass of good claret. At last.


Thursday, 28 June 2018


So there we are on the boat, in the blazing sunshine, and my resolve to drink only boat-related beverages goes overboard when I discover that some previous boat guests have left a small stash of wines - undrunk by them, nor by my wife who doesn't drink wine anyway - in a locker under one of the seats in the saloon. Feigning indifference while in reality trembling with curiosity, I dig the things out from among a mass of time-expired UHT milk cartons and emergency water containers and find:

A bottle of Morgon
A bottle of white Côtes de Gascogne which is a complete novelty to me, I mean I suppose I must have drunk a Côtes de Gascogne at least once in my life, but when?
A white Burgundy from Tesco

My wife claims in passing that someone also left a Crozes-Hermitage knocking around but then revises this theory, deciding that perhaps this person brought the bottle with him and then drank the contents himself. Certainly, there's no sign of it - but still, I have three bottles of drink which in value alone clearly beats the horrible Porcupine Ridge Syrah I've brought down with me (because after all you never know when you might need some undrinkable red), plus a hideous Waitrose own label cheap Australian red which promises all manner of easy drinking now and deep existential regret the day after. My course is clear.

Results? The Morgon is pretty nice, but I'm not sure au fond how much I like Morgon, or indeed any kind of Beaujolais. Still. The Côtes de Gascogne, on the other hand, is delicious, really eye-wideningly so. I can't remember now who made it or what went into it, other than that I didn't recognise a single grape listed on the back, but it was delicious then and delicious in hindsight. I mean, delicious. Tesco Burgundy? Yeah, it was fine, too. But not delicious like the Côtes de Gascogne was delicious.

At the end of all this, I feel pretty lucky to have found a microcellar of neglected wines, rolling around in the bottom of an elderly sailboat, and knocked it off before it got any more corrupted; and we're sitting on a mooring just outside Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight feeling borderline smug (see pic of outrageous sunset) instead of merely exhausted and terrified, when it becomes apparent that what we think of as the Good Life is too small even to be lived, on account of the superyacht Amaryllis, which we suddenly discern at anchor, not far away.

Amaryllis is more than seven times the length of our boat and six stories high. Apparently it cost around £100 million to build, is the thick end of £700,000 a week to charter, takes fourteen passengers and nineteen crew, has a floodlit swimming pool, a gym and a steamroom and boasts 4,000 horsepower of engine to get it around. The interior is Art Nouveau-themed. There are leopardskin bedspreads in the staterooms. We cannot imagine what it is doing outside Yarmouth, which is delightful but not bigtime. Is it the Isle of Wight Festival, celebrating its Fiftieth Anniversary just a couple of miles away and boasting Liam Gallagher and Depeche Mode as top acts? Is Liam using it as a floating hotel, a rock star ultraglamping? Doesn't seem to be much action on board, so perhaps not, maybe just the crew.

But: what are they stashing away on Amaryllis to drink? Five'll get you ten that whoever is or isn't on board, they'll be demanding those Methuselahs of easy-drinking rosé that don't taste of anything, but which dull the pain of life on a huge faux Nouveau boat. Litres and litres of bland pink - whereas I, on the other hand, have had a brief and deeply satisfying excursion into French goodness for way less than £700,000 a week, merely by parasitising someone else's generosity. Does this tell us anything about the operation of the moral universe? I suspect it does; but I also suspect I don't come out of it terribly well.


Thursday, 21 June 2018

But I would drink 500 mls

Now here’s a good idea, I thought to myself. (Obviously, because how else can one think?) A 500ml bottle of wine, two-thirds of a full-size bottle. It was being promoted by Mud House Sauvignon Blanc, at the London Wine Fair, and I thought, how considerate, how laudable, how sensible. At a stroke, they are giving me a simple way of reducing my evening’s consumption by a third. Perfect.

As the producers have said: “Alcohol consumption is going down with drinkers wanting to maintain control over their alcohol intake. These occasions often happen midweek when busy and stressed consumers are looking to unwind.” Busy, stressed, that’s me alright. I too want to unwind like a clockwork toy; and yes, often midweek, which is hardly surprising given that midweek constitutes 5/7ths of the week.

And I certainly do like to maintain control over my alcohol intake. This generally means positioning the bottle on my side of the table, within easy reach. Which ensures that no-one else can interfere with behaviour I can only (but precisely) describe as self-serving.

This new format will also save me from pumping out unfinished 750ml bottles like a demented cyclist – and then finding when I return to them that someone (no names, no pack drill) has either knocked the seal, or taken some wine without pumping it out again. (I return to the bottle, and my heart sinks, as the seal fails to emit its breathy little kiss of welcome.)

The explanatory tag above was on the bottles I saw at the London Wine Fair. “2 large glasses”, its first icon explains. I would excise the word “large”, to describe a 250ml glass of wine, and use a term such as “proper”. We are not in the world of restaurants, where as little as 125ml of wine constitutes a “glass”, as opposed to a more accurate definition such as a “taste”. No, we are at home, where generosity is unbounded.

And where a half bottle seems so miserly in the evening. At lunchtime, a half bottle is ideal; indeed a pichet is often adequate. With an afternoon of work ahead, a pichet or a half bottle oils the engine without, as it were, flooding the carburettor. Long-term readers may remember that I once bought a pichet, but soon realised that what works at a restaurant lunch does not necessarily work for supper at home.

For we are clearly talking here about an evening meal. “Dinner tonight”, the tag’s second icon proclaims. Indeed, the producers advise the trade that “Ideally the wine should be positioned outside the wine aisle, by the ready meals, to target the meal for tonight mission.”

The what, now? “The meal for tonight mission” sounds like a place which provides supper for the needy.

Ah no, mission is a verb, not a noun. And of course, buying a meal for tonight does mirror a combat mission. Getting successfully in and out of the zone (car park), achieving a targeted objective (meal for tonight) and incurring minimal collateral damage (to one’s wallet and schedule).

So part of the idea seems to be that “busy and stressed” punters will grab a 500ml bottle along with the other elements of their evening meal. Prices are just £5 to £5.50. Let us banish any thoughts that in the ready meal aisle, because there are no other bottles around for comparison, they might be so “busy and stressed” that they grab at it thinking they are actually picking up a reasonably-priced full-size bottle…

But then the third icon stopped me. “Sharing”, it said. I read the tag more closely. “Perfect for those occasions when you want to share just two large glasses of wine and no more.” Share. So if I understand it correctly, the suggestion is that this 500ml bottle will serve two of you?

Oh dear, no. I’m sorry, but, no. Perhaps this suggestion is aimed at people who don’t actually like wine?

I’m with Winston Churchill here. Winston considered the imperial pint of champagne,​ which is roughly 500ml but sounds a lot more impressive, to be the 'ideal size' for an individual at home. He famously said: “Clemmie [his wife] thinks that a full bottle is too much for me. But I know that half a bottle is insufficient to tease my brains. An imperial pint is an ideal size for a man like me.”

And, indeed, me.


Thursday, 14 June 2018


So I'm brooding on beers and spirits (so many beers, a wall of the damn things in the supermarket, like the reredos of a mediaeval church) when PK demands to know what I think of these people - whose business it is, apparently, to supply really rich boatowners, or at least people on superyachts, with wine. Why me? I say. Because you go sailing, he says. But the boat I sail in, I say, is fairly small and lumpy and mostly sails around the South Coast, not the South of France or the Caribbean and I don't even like sailing that much. I'll send you the link, he says.

Well he sends me the link and for a long time I avoid opening it but at last boredom and the faintest atom of curiosity overcome me so I go and have a poke around and I have to admit that there is a horrible fascination in discovering that very very rich people live lives so far removed from mine that we might as well belong to two different species. Also that, according to a piece about Onshore Cellars in Decanter, what these monstrous superrich humans like to drink a lot of on the Côte d'Azur are Dom Perignon Rosé and Cristal plus plenty of Petrus, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and a load of costly rosés delivered in bottles as big as fighter jet drop tanks, such as I saw a couple of weeks back at the London Wine Fair. One person in eight on this planet doesn't have enough to eat, but one person in approximately four million can expect something described as a 'Seven-star service' in which the most tiresomely whimsical appetites are routinely pandered to by a team of frenzied perfectionists. There you go.

But the horrible fascination only lasts five minutes because after that, reason returns and reminds me that

a) Superyachts aren't boats in the first place. I've never been on a really big superyacht but I have been on a couple of vast Sunseekers at boat shows and even though they're only half the size of the monster boats, it is clear that in the broadest sense these structures aren't boats, they're floating boutique hotels whose scenery occasionally changes around them; rather than things which pitch roll and yaw horribly even at anchor, and

b) The more northerly your latitude, the less appealing wine becomes, anyway. Yes, in the Med or the Caribbean, you might well feel like a cool glass of pink champagne at any time of the day or night, but in the English Channel and northwards, it's just not going to happen. Spirits are what we crave, whisky, gin, brandy, calvados. I wish I found rum, given its Naval associations and its sovereign powers as a cure-all and mood-settler - especially for those of us reduced to terror and misery by the open sea - something other than revolting, but the others do just fine. And beer, of course. Wine + sailing results in a category error which no amount of finessing can correct.

On the other hand -

Beerwatch: five days ago, in keeping with the new ethos, I had a bottle of Tiger beer for supper, and it was delicious. This Singaporean beverage, now apparently yet another part of the Heineken empire, comes in at 4.8%, with a pleasing deep amber appearance and just the right suggestion of airport toilets in the nose. Served good and cold, this went down perfectly with some trout and the following morning I felt fresh as a daisy, not something you can always depend on with trout. A couple of days after that, I had an Adnams bitter, not quite as emollient as the Tiger but perfectly good in its way. The night before last, I had a Welsh beer (yes) called Double Dragon, in a pub, in Wales, and it was rather terrifically firm and fruity and had just a hint of putrefaction, so what with one thing and another, I had a pint and a half of the stuff and felt strangely confirmed in my choice. In other words, wine? On boats? Not when I've got this Wonderland at my feet!


Thursday, 7 June 2018

Wine recommendations

Have we got wine recommendations for you? Well, actually, no, we haven’t – but everybody else certainly has. Each in their own inimitable style, wine writers, critics, merchants and retailers are out there offering their wine recommendations. And surely, if someone in such a prominent position recommends something…

There may be some of you who have not encountered the wines of Belfalas, not so much an obscure corner of the globe as a little-explored inside pocket. I was lucky enough to visit the vineyards of Belfalas, on a trip generously organised by Belfalas Wines. Belfalas produces a sauvignon blanc called Xtapjle, which has all the traits of the sauvignon blanc you know, love and could more easily buy, but with the added piquancy of scarcity and an unpronounceable name. The local appelations are hard to understand, but I can recommend what the locals call their Best, which is better than their Good. What’s surprising is that it’s crisp, grassy, with a hint of stone fruit, just like other sauvignon blancs, and yet has a price that’s also similar to other sauvignon blancs. All this, from a very long way away. Available only from Belfalas Wines.

Here’s a real bargain, with no complications! Buy Dildi’s Stonking Red between midnight February 29th and 30th, and you get 25% off six bottles or more. And delivery is free (on twelve bottles or more, mainland only, nominated delivery day extra, use the code Pennsylvania6-5000). Just sign up for our monthly Dipso club; providing you remember to cancel it every four weeks, we won’t send you a case of wine every month similar to the one you’ve only just managed to finish. Don’t forget to use the code O0o_∆Ÿ.0.  New customers only, excluding your spouse under her maiden name. This offer is available online only; Alta Vista carries the terms and conditions. The wine? We told you – it’s Stonking!

When it comes to claret, you get what you pay for, and this is what you get. Chateau Trèscher is the kind of old-school Bordeaux I love, and over ten years give or take it will come to maturity with, as Jay McInerney said to me (more than once), all the aromas of the tack room and the library. There’s no question that you’re getting a taste of a gentleman’s lifestyle; I found suggestions myself of cigar boxes, grouse moor heather, spent shotgun cartridges and fox brush. It’s been released at £732, a mere fiscal bagatelle. Just make sure you live for another ten years, which will also give you time to save up for the VAT, duty, storage and delivery. 

The natural wine movement continues apace, and Josh Beardie’s Wiyana is where it’s at. A fan of low intervention, Josh Beardie is only 5ft 4. His vineyard is, of course, organic; no artificial products are allowed on the soil, so the pickers are not permitted to wear trainers. A horse is used to catch a cow which catches a dog who catches a cat which catches a bird who catches a spider which wriggles and wiggles and tickles inside the vineyard, but catches the flies. Wiyana (from the Hittite for ‘wine’) is fermented in goatskin, and matured in buried amphorae. The wine itself has an astonishing natural authenticity, and offers a resonance of authentic pre-scientific winemaking for which it’s worth being prepared.

The Bonvin family is part of a great winemaking heritage. When Chateau Lafite was sold to the Rothschilds in 1868, Louis Bonvin’s grandmother’s aunt’s stepdaughter was married to the cousin whose sister sold her share. You can imagine how that family connection has influenced his extraordinary wine.
    The vineyard itself is right next door to that of a celebrated wine (which we’re not allowed to name!), but it faces discreetly in the opposite direction; water from the Gironde River irrigates both their soils, and the same rain often falls upon them. Yet inexplicably, we can sell this wine for much less than its celebrated neighbour! The bottles themselves are almost identical, apart from the labels. But don't just take our word for it; one leading Bordeaux critic (who we're not allowed to name!) has used the same term to describe both wines – "red".


Thursday, 31 May 2018


So PK drags me along to the London Wine Fair, partly with the intention of re-kindling any interest in wine I might once have had, partly so he's got someone to talk to. And what do you know? Turns out this year's London Wine Fair is unexpectedlly entertaining, although not because of the wine, as such.

Over here, for instance, we have a really quite large stand run by Celebration Drinks, whose thing, it turns out, is champagne perry, done up to look like actual champagne. It's a kind of Babycham, in fact. 'We do a lot of bingo halls, hen nights, that kind of stuff,' says the guy in charge, who looks as if he might be a bouncer the rest of the time, at, indeed, hen nights and bingo halls. His Champers Demi Sec is the business. Even PK senses its grubby allure.

Over here, on the other hand, we have Dracula wines of Romania - an outfit with an apparently huge budget, dedicated to upping our awareness of a whole rainbow of Dracula-themed products, including the Power of Dracula plum brandy, Legendary Dracula sparkling wine, Dracula Fangtasy (sic) praline chocolates, and a Vampower phone charger. A couple of stalls away, the regular Wines of Romania exhibitors stand around examining their nails, but on the Dracula stand, anything goes. In my excitement I accidentally tread on the trailing hem of a blood-red dress worn by a spectacular blonde woman who offers to have her picture taken with me, or grant me immortality, or both, provided I get off her dress.

And the animals! The animals are everywhere except Dracula: if there's a theme to this year's Fair, it's wildlife. A Chilean sauvignon blanc has a llama on its label; another Sauvignon Blanc, from New Zealand, sports a kiwi, self-evidently; a Portugese gin (yes) has a picture of a cat with a monocle and a dog with a top hat, just reeks of class; a South African shiraz has an elephant; an English red sports a chiffchaff; a grenache lives in a bottle done up with an imitation record label and calls itself The Bee Side because it comes from a vineyard with the word abeille in its name. Crazy! Animals are all over everything, apart from the Dracula wines and a shiraz which comes in a tin can and calls itself Take It To The Grave (with a Day of the Dead ornamented skull motif) plus, of course, the many blingtastic rosés and sparkling wines, which have altogether other goals in mind.

Some of these sparklers are done up in faceted, spangled, dimpled containers like giant scent bottles; some of them are encased in bottles held within copper lattices like the windows of a Renaissance strongroom. Some of them - the rosés, usually - turn up in hypertrophied three-litre whoppers for the summertime bash/superyacht crowd, who apparently like nothing more than a jerrycan of sunset blush to round out their day, even if it means having to bring along a special mechincal pourer, given that the bottles are too large to pour by hand.

And then, just when I think things can't get any more deliriously frivolous, what do we stumble upon? Only Roger Daltrey's own-brand champagne, that's what! I mean, this is the Roger Daltrey, out of The Who - for my money the greatest rock'n'roll band there ever was - that Roger Daltrey, the definitive rock front man, Jagger and Plant notwithstanding, and he's put his name on a champagne that comes in a bottle with a kind of Tommy-themed packaging! How cool is that? The fact that it seems to cost £95 a go comes as a slight shock to me and PK, but actually that's cool too, because a lot of that big-ticket price goes to good causes, hospitals and so on, so it's worth shelling out. We try some of the Daltrey cuvée just to make sure he's not pulling a fast one, but all is groovy - or at least, it tastes pretty much like champagne, or something that would pass as champagne, especially if you're the sort of person who otherwise buys champagne in a bottle dressed up as a Florentine specie cellar; or Champers Demi Sec. It's still cool.

Four hours after we go in, we stagger out of the Wine Fair into the weak daylight. Clearly, I have some thinking to do: if wine is now all about Dracula, wild animals, phoney champagne, real champagne that looks like phoney champagne, joke-sized rosés and cuvée Roger Daltrey, then this is not the time to miss out. In fact there is only one thing absent from today's treats, I ponder, as I collect myself on the pavement. And that thing is wine in a bottle shaped like Thunderbird 2. I'm just putting it out there.


Thursday, 24 May 2018

Of Harrods and hoodies

It may surprise some of you to discover that I am not a regular customer at Harrod’s. But I hope that may be understandable when you see what the regular customers at Harrod’s are like these days. However, it was time for me to visit, because the Fine Wines and Spirits Rooms at Harrod’s have received “a conceptual and visual makeover”. Although the main concept still seems to be the sale of Fine Wines and Spirits.

I am delighted to see that the idea of a wine department has actually survived, whereas things like a shirt department have vanished. Like most stores, Harrod’s has succumbed to the power of brands, with each brand being given its own specific location. So if you want to buy, say, a tie, you have to trail around every single brand in order to see if they sell a tie – whereas once there was a thing of customer service and colourful beauty called a tie department, which gathered together for comparison all of the ties by all of the brands which the store was selling. May I suggest such a thing to the current owners?

Although to be fair, the store is now selling very few ties. In fact the wine room is sited in a disturbing location, at the back of a basement area offering three-figure baseball caps and four-figure hoodies, in what appears to be designer thugwear. Foolishly I had dressed up in my best bib and tucker, in order to get a bit of respect from the staff, whereas in fact I could have swaggered in looking like a mugger and been completely a la mode. (And if you ask what kind of mugger wears a £730 baseball cap, the answer presumably is a rather successful one.)

One of these gentlemen may have bought their outfit from Harrod's…

But unlike certain daunting upmarket wine merchants, where your entrance is announced with the ting of a metal bell, there are no doors here. You can just meander in to the wine department, as if you happened to have wandered past while looking at sweatpants – Hmm, perhaps the Magic Stick drop crotch sweatpants, which look to me like, well, sweatpants, but supposedly “transcend the classic style of the off-duty staple”, for just £525.

So in I drift, carefully dropping neither my crotch nor my aitches. First impressions are that this wine room is far less bling than its predecessor. Tasteful, limed oak shelving is discreetly lit, there’s a patterned marble floor, and there are “secret cabinets”, labelled with a winemakers name, which open when you touch them to reveal bottles within. (Unfortunately they are so secret that while I was there, an assistant went round touching them and leaving them ajar, because otherwise none of the customers realised they were there.)

The tables host absurd steampunk devices which look like something out of Professor Branestawm. Through these you can sample scents, like coffee. In case you don’t know what coffee smells like, you can stick your nose into a brass trumpet like Nipper the HMV dog and find out. Or visit the coffee bar.

Then there’s the wine. Of course a lot of it is preposterous ostentation. There are ridiculously expensive bottles here; not just the obvious DRCs, the predictable Petrus, Le Pin and pals, but a bottle of 1959 trockenbeerenauslese which is £28,000, or just under £1500 a character.

And the sizes! There are bottles here the size of milk churns, bottles like oxygen tanks, bottles which resemble household Calor gas cylinders.

But they’re not tucked away inside a daunting special glass room, as the finest wines were in the old Wine Department (or still are at Berry Bros). No, they’re on display alongside their affordable alternatives. And there are affordable wines, priced in the teens, for sale here. There are even wines which I consider laughable (Clarendelle? Mouton Cadet?? Really???)

So it’s worth a trip. You can drool at the cars outside. In fact, you can drool at the cars inside  – there’s a new Porsche currently displayed in one of the windows. (Either that, or there’s been a pretty upmarket ramraid.)

Saunter past the designer thugwear – sorry, “modern streetwear/luxe mash-up” – and into the Wine Room, with no door to dissuade you. And you can pass a pleasant half hour browsing, without obligation, imagining how you might spend £28,000 on a bottle of wine. Or you might actually spend a tiny fraction of that, one two-thousandth to be precise, and buy yourself a perfectly decent bottle.

Which will leave you change for some sweatpants.


Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Further Complications

So I'm ranting and raving about the need to transition from a wine-based monoculture to one which was shared more evenly between wines, beers and spirits; and someone calling themselves Anonymous writes a comment at the end of the last rant which is so on the money, so neatly-turned, that I'm going to quote it in full:

'What would a 50-50 split actually mean? What are you measuring? Volume of liquid, volume of alcohol, time spent drinking, financial outlay, pleasure returned? A few months ago I tried moving away from wine to a largely gin and cider based diet (different nights), but it was a statistical nightmare. Whatever the merits of other booze might be, absent of any Exchange Rate Mechanism back into wine, they don't seem worth the admin.'

There you have it. Long-term satisfactory booze modification turns out to be a much more enduringly complex problem than it at first appears - almost impossible if you include pleasure returned as an essential criterion. Years ago, when Sediment was young and full of certainties, I came up with a cockamamie notion called The Great Wine Graph, plotting price against sensation delivered as a way of generating some kind of standardised cost/pleasure dataset against which to judge just about any drink I stuck in my mouth. After a couple of weeks, of course, I forgot about the scheme and that was that. 

But it would be one way to tackle the ongoing question, How much am I enjoying this? - which in turn boils down to Why am I even doing this?, which in turn boils down to Why bother living?, but anyway. Boiled all the way down, I end up working not with a graph but with gut feeling, figuratively and literally - a yearning for the sort of things an old man might yearn for: predictability and value for money. In other words, last night I drank whisky and soda, the whisky being the legendary High Commissioner, a massively uninvolving mainstream blend that you find in corner shops and left-behind supermarket chains all over the country. I forget how we came by it. It was okay. It had been professionally made. It tasted like whisky.

On the other hand, a couple of days earlier I had brush with that awful Chateau Pey La Tour stuff - which I feel certain I've bleated about before but can't remember when - which I keep buying because I fall for the name (sounds like something good, but what? What?) and the smoothie packaging and the crap prize at the bottom of the front face, Concours des Grands Vins de France a Macon, Medaille d'Argent, see pic, I mean, what a heap of dross it turned out to be, very nearly (but not quite) undrinkable, and I paid something for it, way more than I should have, how credulous could anyone be? I could have been complacently drinking a bland, completely non-contentious mass-market whisky for a fraction of the price.

And then the whole mess is compounded by a bottle of rosé I knocked off last week, preposterous name - LeBijou de Sophie Valrose - apparently a Cabrières, tasted fantastic. I love drinking wine, I solemnly reminded myself as I slurped through it. I think it cost about the same as the Pey la Tour but it was as high on the value/deliciousness scale as the Pey was in negative figures. You see where this is heading? Beers and spirits are going to be predictable and as satisfying as I want them to be, with occasional outbreaks of sublimity in the gin section and, I'm hoping, in the whiskies. Wines, conversely, you never know what's going to happen. I want reassurance, at a price, not endless leaps into the unknown, except when that's exactly the thing I do crave.

Which brings me back to Anonymous and his intervention: I think my division of wine/non-wine is going to be on a crudely pragmatic day-to-day basis (yesterday I had beer; today, therefore, wine) with, as the central unit of critical judgement pleasure returned, which neatly incorporates price, predictability and taste, whatever that is. It's somewhere on the cusp between art and science, but leavened with that key ingredient: futility.