Thursday 22 December 2016

Season's Greetings from SEDIMENT

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers!

Thursday 15 December 2016

These I Didn't Do: 2016 In Missed Opportunities

So there were a few things I didn't write about, or couldn't be bothered to, for one reason or another, in 2016. Among them:

Great Wine Moments In Movie History VIII: Sideways (2004) Given that Sideways in précis resembles nothing so much as Sediment (two middle-aged losers drink wine while failing to learn very much about themselves) it would seem the most obvious of all films to take a look at. Too obvious, perhaps. Also, despite the excellence of the leads (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church) the movie as a whole left this reviewer just a tiny bit underwhelmed when he saw it a decade ago. The principal reason? Too much wine. And wine, as we all know, is the quintessentially boring consumable, more boring even than fast cars or cheese.

On the other hand, in a moment of great listlessness I did once Google Movies with wine in them, but that threw up some real oddities, so odd I just threw them straight back. Hands up if you've heard of, let alone seen, Bottle Shock (2008), This Earth Is Mine (1959, with Rock Hudson, Jean Simmons and Claude Rains, seriously), Merlove - A Documentary About Merlot Wine (2008, starring an animated bottle of Merlot), Barolo Boys (2014), A Heavenly Vintage (2009, New Zealand), The Secret Of Santa Vittoria (1969). None of which is to be confused with the profoundly yet satisfyingly insane The Duke Of Burgundy (2014) - a lesbian lepidoptery fetish movie starring the magnificent Sidse Babett Knudsen and a tremendous amount of ladies' underwear. But no wine, as I recall, although what I do recall of The Duke Of Burgundy I don't entirely believe.

Style Icons: I didn't get round to attempting puerile imitations of

Kim Jong-un
Alice Munro
The IKEA Catalogue
Sir John Gielgud
Melania Trump
Walt Disney
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Iggy Pop

Best Affordable Wine of 2016 - Waitrose Chilean Cabernet Shiraz, £5.99: Bold, fruit-driven, full of dark cherries and a still-youthful vigour. Surprisingly complex and intensely-structured for such a bargain wine. Will even take some ageing - another four or five years won't do it any harm. And what a price! Truly, a red for the impecunious drinker who doesn't want to let his standards slip. The reason I never mentioned this before? It doesn't exist, is why. And even if it did, Waitrose wouldn't stock it, they just wouldn't.

Dares Not Accepted: PK challenged me to polish off a bottle of wine which someone had given him at a dinner party. More than half its contents remained. 'This is so disgusting,' he said, 'I bet even you can't finish it.' He was quite right. It was so disgusting that I couldn't finish it or even make a dent in it. Sometimes you just don't know until you've been there. PK has also challenged me to go into Berry Bros. & Rudd's famous St. James's Street premises and act as if I might be interested in buying some wine from them. Just to see how long I last before I run screaming from the building. So far I have been in too much of a funk even to go in, let alone talk to one of the (I imagine) crushingly urbane staff. I know how pathetic this is; after all, what do I think they're going to do to me? In all honesty, this: expose my low birth and knavish ignorance within the first thirty seconds of the encounter, before crying Let's teach the little squit some manners and chasing me the length of Pall Mall.

Drinking Songs You'd Rather Forget:

Howlin' Wolf: I Asked Her For Water (But she gave me gasoline)
Louis Jordan: What's The Use Of Getting Sober (When you're gonna get drunk again)?
Bill Boyd & His Cowboy Ramblers: Drink The Barrel Dry
W Lee O'Daniel & Hillbilly Boys: Dirty Hangover Boys
Tampa Red: You Can't Get The Stuff No More
Johnny Tyler: It Ain't Far To The Bar (But it's such a long road back)
Muddy Waters: Sittin' Here Drinkin'
Luke Wills' Rhythm Busters: Shut Up And Drink Your Beer
Slim Gaillard: The Bartender's Just Like A Mother

On the assumption that 2017 can't be worse than 2016, I therefore resolve to: No - it's just not coming. Can I get back to you on that one?


Thursday 8 December 2016

Bish, bash, bosh - it's wine money!

Look at my wad! I’ve got Loadsa wine money! Whap it out!.

Not content with simply offering discounts, wine merchants are now distributing faux banknotes, as if to make us feel we have some kind of actual spending power in our hands. They are printing wine “money” faster than you can say quantitative easing.

And to be honest, they look more like genuine banknotes that some genuine banknotes. (I’m thinking of those childish old Dutch guilder notes, which looked as if they had come out of a board game.)  This “wine money” is carefully designed, with shiny, silvery sums, with pseudo-banknote squiggles and lines, to make you feel you’re handling actual currency. No-one’s going to forge these, you’re meant to feel. They must be genuinely valuable notes of exchange.

I’m like a child, building a stash of Monopoly money. I’ve got all this pretend moolah, that I can spend on actual wine. Bish, bash, bosh, lovely job! Look at my wad!!

But think about this for a moment or two. Who on earth pays for a case of wine with cash these days?

Cash occupies the opposite ends of the social spectrum, where people don’t ask, don’t tell about their money. United in a desire to make their transactions untraceable and untaxable, the people who hoick out a wad of cash to pay for purchases are either at the lower end, like scaffolders, drug dealers and ticket touts, or the high end, like Russian plutocrats.

But the people who buy cases of wine are predominantly the middle classes. Honest, clean-living suburban characters, who read the personal finance columns and put their money in ISAs. Even in these times of austerity and low interest rates, they’re still not keeping their money under their Slumberdown mattresses. Happy in the middle of that social spectrum, they don’t carry cash – they pay with credit cards – because they worry about being mugged by the lower end, or mistaken for the other.

Are there merchants where the cash cowboys buy their wine? I have a feeling that drug dealers and scaffolders are not particularly au fait with the world of wine; their involvement with cases is limited to the courts.

At the other end of things, there is somewhere like Hedonism, in Mayfair, the incredibly upmarket wine merchant – sorry, “fine wine and spirits boutique”. But a £60 saving wouldn’t go very far on a case in Hedonism; it might just get you a 10% discount.  On a bottle. And someone showing off by pulling out a stack of fifties to pay cash for a 1989 Haut Brion at £2,300 is hardly like to fish out a £60 discount voucher.

In fact, the wine merchants who distribute these faux banknotes actually do most of their business online, where cash is useless. So, hidden in the ornate calligraphy of their “banknotes” are codes and passwords that will allow you to get these discounts online – making a mockery of the whole business of impersonating cash.

And if a merchant did only accept cash for their wine, wouldn’t we think that a little suspicious? When any shop nowadays says that their till is broken, or their debit card machine has gone down, and would you be able to pay in cash, we assume the worst. They’ve got, as the term has it, cashflow problems – and we wonder whether they’ll still be around next week.

Now I know that CJ mocks my yearnings for a mythical past, when wine drinking was the province of the cultured. But I do not wish to be associated with either the scaffolder or the plutocrat. And how much more refined it must have been, when one sent one’s man down to St James’s to select one’s wine. Presumably a nice hand-written invoice, made out in guineas, arrived along with the cases. One paid with a proper cheque. And no, one did not put one’s card details on the back. One’s signature was sufficient.

But it’s all fiscal nowadays. It’s all about handing over the dough and meeting that pricepoint. Bosh, bosh, shoom, shoom, dollop, dollop. And surely something about the character and tradition of wine, the relationship with your merchant, and the sheer pleasure of the transaction, has been lost, if you pay with a fistful of notes – one of which has been issued by the merchant themselves?


Thursday 1 December 2016

Pump Up The Volume: Xmas Drinking Songs

So let's cut to the chase: I'm talking about songs with the word wine in the title and which contain numerous references to that drink, such that I can play them festively over the Christmas period in order to get me through that particular nightmare. That's all I'm interested in. No, not quite - Days Of Wine And Roses, for instance, the Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer classic, is a great tune in its way, but not what I'm after. Ditto Little Old Wine Drinker Me - sung by Dean Martin, it passes the time and there's never a good reason not to listen to Dean Martin, but all the same: it's too effortless, it lacks urgency. To say nothing of Paul Anka's A Steel Guitar And A Glass Of Wine. Or, for that matter, UB40's take on Neil Diamond's Red Red Wine. No, in these troubled times I need something up, something elemental. And these are my top six up, elemental, wine songs. Or seven.

Wine Woogie - a tearaway 1952 r'n'b swinger from Marvin Phillips & His Men From Mars, jam-packed with sax and containing the line I can drink wine, baby, like no-one else can, a commitment we can all, I think, relate to. Likewise the legendary Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson with their magesterial Wine-O-Baby Boogie from 1949. First thing Big Joe says is When you see me sleeping, baby, please don't think I'm drunk. About the last thing is Better stop stealing my money baby, and buying that bad green wine. There you have it: the human condition in the space of two and a half minutes, and when Big Joe puts it down, you better get hip and pick up on it.

Something more recent? I'm going to go wide and choose PassThe Wine (Sophia Loren) an out-take-that-made-it from The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street of 1972. If you can stand Mick's cheesy Americanisms, this boils down to Pass the wine, baby, and let's make some love, all things being equal in an imperfect universe. Is it that close to being one of The Stone's more half-assed numbers? Yes, but I like to think there's enough horn section and sassy female backing singers in the mix to get it across the line into sheer dumb good-time listenability.

No doubts, however, about Drinkin' Wine Spo-dee-o-dee, in all its manifestations. This hymn to excess, with its half-gallons of cheap red wine, its references to constant fistfights and wanton destruction of property, its New Orleans setting, has everything the lifelong wine drinker needs to celebrate his or her favourite beverage. So many great versions to choose from, but I'm going to stick with Winehead Swing by James 'Smokestack' Tisdom (1950). This begins with him yelling Aw, you winehead fool and Gimme a drink so I can play this thing and spreads outwards from there, with the assistance of James's intense guitar work and a harmonica player in the last throes of delerium. The YouTube version's a bit fuzzy, but it gives you a sense. Him, or The Sugar Creek Trio. I have a feeling the trio aren't playing these days, but a couple of years ago they were hardcore Rockabilly madmen of the most uncompromising kind, playing both Las Vegas and the greater Oxford region. Their take on Drinkin' Wine defies you to sit still for longer than five seconds, if at all. Drinkin' that mess with delight is the essence of the encounter and the guitar player is on fire. Stick this on while you're basting the turkey and everything is going to turn out fine. Oh, and I'm going to capriciously throw in The Moonglows' Hey Santa Claus, just because it's so good - and, yes, I know, it doesn't use the word wine once.

To calm down? The conversation-stoppingly lachrymose Tears And Wine from Dusty Brooks & His Tones, recorded in 1953. Tears and wine to help forget, they groan, because laughter and love are uneasy bedfellows at the best of times and if you can't be depressed at Christmas, when can you? Equally, if you're like PK and your Christmas is spent wearing a quilted smoking jacket and an Edward VII beard while inhabiting a world where certain timeless verities apply whatever else is going on outside, then you might decide to celebrate your largely insane otherness with, say, The End Of Me Old Cigar, the Harry Champion music-hall classic. Not wine, no, but a related activity, and I'm going to include it. You can get Harry himself performing the song, but I've got to confess to a partiality for the version by the great Adge Cutler & The Wurzels. This is, in fact, what PK listens to non-stop from Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day; and it pretty much captures the essence of the man. Seriously, it does.