Thursday 8 January 2015

Question Time

Well, I seem to have been ignored by the New Years Honours list yet again. Despite what people say about cronyism, the fact that I have drunk wine with both the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to have carried no sway whatsoever. It’s about time people realised that I have things to say, on matters which are more significant than whether I have recently been in an accident, or ever possessed PPI.

Still, as the co-author of our modestly successful hardback book, I do now find myself in the position of answering questions about wine. I answer from experience, rather than qualification – but then, so does my greengrocer.

These are what I believe are described as my FAQs. Sediment have only infrequently answered questions in public, and a couple of them seem to be FAd by my wife, but that is neither here nor there.

Is this any good?
This is usually asked as a companion hoists a bottle from a shelf, or points to a bottle on a restaurant wine list. But I have also been asked this by a complete stranger in the aisle at Sainsbury’s. Have I finally developed the air of a connoisseur? Or, less appealingly perhaps, the look of a wino?

However, it’s reassuring that these people approach wine in Sediment’s own, direct manner. They do not ask me whether a wine exhibits floral notes, or minerality, or indeed, in a description CJ once memorably questioned, “thick-textured, late-Romantic, Rosenkavalier-like decadence”. They just want to know if it’s any good. So a connoisseur’s response about regions and vintages and pairing and Der Rosenkavalier would quite frankly be wasted. And actually in most cases, the honest answer is, “S’alright…”

How much did it cost?
This is a leading question, and it’s leading to trouble. Whatever the cost of a bottle of wine, there will be something else in the household budget demanding that sum. Yes, we could have had that stilton/rose bush/drive resurfaced instead. But they didn’t have 25% off six stiltons last week, did they…?

The advantage of maintaining a modest cellar is that you can go on about buying en primeur, many years ago, goodness I’d have to look it up etc etc. But an honest answer in my own case, which also conveniently leads the conversation in a different direction, is “About four Sunday newspapers”.

What do you think about wine as an investment?
The same as I think about oil as a drink.

(Incredibly, a member of our audience actually asked us this. We probably know less about investment than we do about wine, and that’s saying something. Do we even look  like shrewd investors? Never mind wine, only one of us has invested in a properly co-ordinated wardrobe.

Or perhaps we should start an investment blog, in which CJ seeks savings accounts which still take copper across the counter, while I judge banks on the quality of their stationery…)

What’s all this ‘midlife’ business? Are you really in your midlife?
Absolutely. As long as I live to 116.

Where do you buy your wine?
As anyone who reads Sediment regularly will know, our wine comes from supermarkets, corner shops, warehouses, mail order operations, snobby wine merchants and Azerbaijan. So now you know where to avoid.

What have you got against screwcaps?
When I open a bottle of wine, I like to feel I am participating in a centuries-old experience, not a functional modern alternative. Exchanging the traditional cork for a screwcap is like swapping shoelaces for Velcro.

Where, with a screwcap, is the solemn unwrapping, like carefully opening a gift? Where is the gentle pop, an audible stimulus to the tastebuds like the ringing of Pavlov’s bell? Where is the opportunity to demonstrate my finesse and flourish with the Waiter’s Friend?

As long as a bottle contains a cork, it lies somewhere on a spectrum topped by the finest wines in the world; whereas a screwcap indicates the depressing practicality of an electric car.

Should I be opening my 2009s?

Look. If you want the straightforward answer, there are plenty of charts with little leaning bottles and half-full glasses which will tell you what various critics and merchants think. But they have nothing to do with real-world agonising, which is bound up with whether an occasion is significant enough to crack open the case, and how many people are coming, and are they people who will appreciate them, and what if I die  before they’re ready? Eh?

Did you drink all of that this evening?
No of course not. This is the bottle I started last night. Honest.


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