Thursday, 18 April 2013

Simpler Things - Waitrose Grenache

So in a fit of helpless nostalgia-seeking, I find a pile of colour magazines from the early 1970s and churn through them looking for whatever past I think I might have to thank for my current condition. The contents are intrinsically complex, the early decade riddled with a nostalgia of its own as the bright promise of the 1960s turns out to be a bit crappier than anyone had anticipated, leading to an enthusiastic rediscovery of earlier styles (Victoriana, Deco, nineteenth-century sideburns, Regency high-waisted skirts) to take away the taste of the present.

But also much simpler, in that the hydra-headed monster of consumer choice is still relatively under control: which means that the stuff in the adverts between the articles, the stuff you can buy with your rapidly depreciating currency (inflation hovering around 10% per annum in the UK, rocketing to over 24% in '75) enjoys a much reduced taxonomic range, and doesn't have much going for it when you do buy it. A trawl through the ads is therefore blissfully underwhelming. A new Ford Granada gives you a push-button radio with speakers front and rear! Warerite offers a better range of standard sheet sizes than any other laminate manufacturer! And if you want some wine with your food? Blue Nun, from Sichel: Right through the meal. Not just one less thing to worry about, twenty less things. Forty!

If Blue Nun doesn't do it for you, Deinhard Green Label ('A crisp, refreshing wine characteristic of the finest Moselles') should provide adequate cover, as will Goldener Oktober ('Cool, clear, light-hearted'), or Deinhard Hanns Christof ('A smooth, well-balanced hock'), or, for red, Bull's Blood ('Full-bodied'), or for sparkling, Asti Martini ('A wine with finesse and perfect balance'), or, indeed, Marimont ('The light, delicate, sparkling wine from France'), at a very reasonable £1.20 a bottle. Top and tail it with a Harvey's Bristol Cream ('The best sherry in the world'); and a Cockburn's Special Reserve ('A very fine bottle of port') and you're away. Quite apart from which, you're probably smoking so much (did everyone smoke in 1973? Judging by the pictures, then, yes), any subtleties in the drink are going to be as evanescent as starlight reflected in a puddle. Life couldn't be simpler.

Except: a little cloud, like a man's hand, in the form of an advert from Mary Quant - of all people, the famous fashion designer - who, in 1974, is running her own wine import business, Mary Quant (Wine Shippers) of Chelsea. And she is going to shatter the conventions of mainstream English wine drinking by bringing us a properly-sourced Côtes du Rhône, a respectable Blanc de Blancs and (something for the ladies, no doubt) a Bordeaux Demi-Sec, all on mail order. 'Appellation Contrôlée wine for around £1 a bottle,' she announces, and while part of me leaps up at the chance to get away from the Deinhard Hanns Christof being boosted as if it were a '49 Margaux, the rest of me sees, for all Ms. Quant's admirable high-mindedness, the dawn of the beginning of the Modern Age, with its domesticated wine snobbery, its specialisms, its drudgery of choice.

The nostalgia trail ends here, in fact, with Mary Quant, not least because of what I am about to drink when I finally put away this stash of yellowing old colour supplements and fashion magazines: some of that Waitrose Grenache which I originally bought to try and tame my deadly CDR. Why have I bought more of the stuff? It's not bad, a nice mix of, frankly, fresh squid and fireworks in the nose - and close enough to the psycho CDR to suggest that the CDR was mostly Grenache, but without quite that CDR's desire to inflict harm - but it's not that great. I must have bought it on muscle memory or some similar low-level autonomic impulse. It's slightly miraculous, I suppose, that I can get such a wine on impulse, in suburban London, in the first place. But am I getting any more real pleasure, real quality-of-life pleasure, than if I were necking a bottle of Goldener Oktober and considering myself rather a swell for doing so? Exactly.

And if that makes me sound like an old man who yearns to grow a pair of scimitar-shaped sideburns and drive around in a Ford Granada with a beige vinyl roof while smoking a Rothmans King Size, well, I'm not going to say it ain't so.



  1. Hilarious! I remember all this shit only too well - better in fact than the events of last week. And Szeczardi Voros (sp?) - AKA Sex on a Saturday, an industrial strength panty remover.

  2. We will have to bow to your superior knowledge on this one...