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?


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