Thursday 14 May 2015

Don't tell me how to drink my wine!

It’s a terribly English trait to resent being told what to do. Tell an Englishman that he might be standing too close to an edge, has possibly been in the sun too long, or may be drinking more than is good for him, and his natural response is, “I think I’ll be the judge of that!”

So the people who want to turn wine drinking into an everyday English activity should be tearing their hair out at the sheer number of instructions which now hinder anyone considering a casual enjoyment of wine. Labels are becoming littered with barked-out commands about how and when it should be drunk.

What, for example, am I to make of a bottle of Syrah which instructs me to “Drink in moderation but always with enthusiasm and food”? As opposed to my usual mode of drinking to excess with grudging resentment?

How dare they? Quantity, mood, context…perhaps they would like to dictate my drinking posture while they’re at it?

Another label tells me to “Decant before serving.” Thank you, but I’ll decide about that. You think it makes your wine sound like a distinguished, elderly claret. But, really? A £5.99 New World bottle? How much sediment has it actually thrown during its fast-track route from stainless steel tank to supermarket shelf? Will its flavour develop with aeration – or disappear? And how many shoppers will be halted by the fact that, er, they haven’t got a decanter? “S’alright Kayleigh, we can use that old vase…”

But it sounds posh, doesn’t it, as if Carson is about to serve it for dinner at Downton Abbey:


And the same is true of “Best with…”. Often this is another directive hijacked by the marketing department, an attempt to associate the wine with fayne dayning dishes, like scallops.  Wines are often “Best with…” game, which hardly anyone eats, but the suggestion of which hopefully imbues the wine with an air of the aristocracy. So at least I can feel I’m drinking a sophisticated wine, even if I’m eating a KFC Bucket.

Some wine label instructions, like “Best before…”, must have been carried over from other foodstuffs. Foolishly, perhaps, I still like to think of good red wines ageing gracefully into a maturity which rewards one’s patience. Naturally I find it depressing when the label orders me that a red is “Best drunk within the next six months”.

And other instructions are just not realistic. When I am told to “Serve between 15-16°C”, I am not, actually, going to start taking the temperature of a £6.79 Rioja.

Buy a potato, a steak, or a loaf of bread, and you don’t get a whole sheaf of orders about how to consume it. It goes against the whole notion of everyday consumption. Imagine if you bought a nice sirloin, and the butcher’s wrapping told you that it was best served between 52-77° C, with chips, should be put on a plate before serving, and that he advised the use of a knife and fork.

Oh, and, of course, enjoy your sirloin responsibly. Some people who are buying steak might be advised to cut down on their consumption of red meat.

For producers are now bound to instruct us to “drink moderately”, a euphemism which glides over the fact that one man’s moderation may be his wife’s “Did you start that bottle this evening?”

And as for that edict to “Enjoy responsibly”… Kindly allow me to drink in the manner I choose! What if I want to enjoy it frivolously? Put my burdens of responsibility aside, and enjoy my wine in a totally carefree manner?

You may well say that manufacturers now have to state a lot of this stuff. It’s rather like the instructions hidden away in your car manual, where it tells you to turn on your headlights at night, and not shut your fingers in the door. It’s been said, just in case it ever comes to court. But at least those instructions aren’t on open display, like a wine label. And is there really anyone stupid enough to need them?

Well. The dumbest instruction on a wine bottle still surely rests with the screwcap of a bottle of Jacob’s Creek – “Twist to open”. I suppose, if someone’s stupid enough to buy a bottle of Jacob’s Creek in the first place, they may need to be told how to turn a screwcap?

Or perhaps I should ignore their instruction, and adopt the belligerent “No-one’s telling me…” attitude of a proper Englishman?

“Twist to open”? Pah! Pass me the corkscrew, Carson…



  1. Are the Jacobs Creek screw cap instructions just for the export market? I bought a bottle of Semillon Sauvignon Blanc today with no instructions apart from the usual "Enjoy Jacobs Creek Wines Responsibly." Haven't drunk any JC for a while though, so will report back when I've quaffed this one. For a good el cheapo Oz wine, Houghton (from Western Australia) is currently filling the bill. (Don't call myself a wine buff, cooking and writing about it is more my thing)
    Cheers, (from the land of Oz)

  2. Wouldn't know about the export thing - although it would raise the question of why they felt the rest of the world needed such instructions...

  3. "Another label tells me to “Decant before serving.” Thank you, but I’ll decide about that. You think it makes your wine sound like a distinguished, elderly claret."

    Actually, you shouldn't decant elderly wines at all really. If you do, you run the risk of over oxidising your wine. Young wines conversely, are best off being decanted as they can do with a breather, especially if they're the strong tannic type.

    1. But unfortunately those distinguished elderly clarets often contain a shed load of sediment - as Carson clearly knows...


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