Thursday 30 July 2015

One Damn Thing After Another: Pinot Noir

So No.1 Son and his girlfriend are coming round for supper, and I decide to get a bottle of something half-way respectable in an effort to impress them. Standing like an imbecile in Waitrose, I fall into the clutches of a bottle of Louis Latour Pinor Noir, copperplate writing on the front + cork, at 25% off what is presumably an initial price overinflated by 33%.

'That'll do the trick,' I say, allowing myself a 45% probability that actually, it won't.

And do you know what? I'm right. It is crummy: just a vapid red drink with a bit of lacquer on its breath. Startled and slightly ashamed, I drag out a screwtop Fitou to try and make amends to the young people whom I have let down.

'At least this tastes of something,' I announce sportively. Indeed: ink, a hint of liftshafts, blackberries, an extinguished barbeque, all the things you'd look for in a no-quality Fitou. Nobody much cares, though, by this stage. The empty Latour bottle sits there, fat, vain and friendless and I loathe it. Then I have another idea. A pal, recently travelling in Latvia, has brought back a very small bottle of something he can't account for, and kindly given it to us.

'It might be a liqueur,' he said at the time. 'Or cough mixture. They seem to like it in Riga.'

The Riga bottle, Riga Black Balsam it says in silver on a black label, itself stuck on a bottle made of black glass, is about the size of a single round of ammo. I forget to make a joke about the word noir. We all look at it seriously for a while, then each take a sip. And yes, it could be cough mixture, or a drink, if, like the late Malcolm Lowry, you're the kind of person who drains a whole bottle of olive oil under the mistaken impression that it's hair tonic and might contain alcohol. It's 30% by volume, it says so. Liquorice is in there somewhere. We experience it with a sense of sadness and some loss.

A day after that, no.2 Son comes round and makes off with the only dependable Waiter's Friend in the building. We now have no reliable means of getting a cork out of a bottle.

A couple of days after that, I try and drag myself out of the slough that seems to be deepening around me by acquiring a special-offer (screwtop) Hardy's Shiraz Rosé. Having already mentioned this fine winemaker in the last two weeks, I feel I'm on safe ground, in much the way I felt on safe ground with the imposing-looking Louis Latour.

'It'll cheer me up,' is what I think. But it too, turns out to be a failure - more than a failure, an eye-watering bubblegum and hairspray catastrophe. How can this be? Does the term safe ground mean nothing? I react to it so wildly even my wife notices.

'Not good?' she says without a trace of pity.

Salvation only arrives a few days after that, when some pals turn up, and what do they bring with them, but a bottle of the dreaded Pinot Noir - providentially with a screw top - only this time there is no Louis Latour tinsel about it. This one resides in a positively self-deprecating light green bottle from Wairau Cove, New Zealand, with an equally quiet label and the instruction that it goes well with pan-fried duck. Turns out that this is the stuff I should have been buying a week earlier: supple, structured, actually tastes of something. Probably cost the same as the Louis Latour, too, although I am so busy with furtive admiration it doesn't occur to me to ask.

New Zealand, eh? A country so far off my conceptual radar I usually forget it's there. And I'm never going to visit it, unless someone's prepared to fly me Club Class all the way because I mean, I just don't fit airline seats. It will have to remain an enigma, like Finnegans Wake or the enduring appeal of the Republican Party. My loss, I suppose.



  1. I've yet to find a Louis Latour that I even remotely enjoyed, except those that I could only afford through resorting to re-mortgaging. It appears to be a brand that appeals to people that see the word 'Latour' and assume it must be all fancy, like.

    1. Which of course CJ would never have done…



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