Thursday 11 October 2018

Wine? Or chocolate?

Chocolate? Or wine? And why the choice?

Well, the Marks & Spencer “Dine in” offer of a meal for two comprises a package deal of two starters, a shared main – and either wine or chocolates. (You cannot, it seems, go for an evening of just chocolate and wine, the ever-popular Bridget Jones option.)

So in its current Italian format, that’s a choice for your meal between a bottle of Italian wine, or some Italian dessert chocolates.

Now, what kind of choice is that? I presume it is meant to provide compensation for customers who don’t drink wine. But it’s rather like a hotel package offering a room, a meal, and the use of a car – or, for those who don't drive, flip-flops.

Because, let’s face it: a meal without chocolate is a disappointment. But a meal without wine is a disaster.

It’s intriguing to wonder at the kind of dinner M&S envisage here. Is this a romantic dinner à deux for the culinarily incompetent, just a notch above having a moped rider turn up with two carrier bags? If so, a bottle of wine might provide some much-needed social lubrication. And how many potential lovers are happy to be seen stuffing their face with chocolates?

Or is this a convenient meal for two established partners? Chances are that at least one of you drinks – and in my experience, a wine-drinker is going to be much more annoyed by an absence of wine than a non-drinker is going to be annoyed by an absence of chocolate.

As far as expectation at a meal is concerned, there can surely be no argument. As CJ so ably expressed it, in our entertaining, modestly priced and completely original e-book, Wining & Dining, “The wine must be there, and in quantity, to make a dinner worth attending, or giving, or ruining, or turning up late for, or hosting.

“The wine must be there,” he insists, “And it mustn't be so foul that it makes your armpits prickle.”

Whereas chocolate? It’s been a while since someone tried to persuade us that chocolates were a key part of a dinner, and that someone was After Eight. In fabulously dated TV ads, dinner was portrayed as a formal, black-tie affair, with candles and silver, and military men smoking cigars. People cast each other meaningful glances, although unlike many dinner parties today, the meaning of which they were full was not “Do you think we can leave yet?”

Black tie? Well, things may be different round at the Rees-Moggs’, but CJ classes it an upmarket dinner if all of the men wear socks.

And what was all this “after eight” business, anyway? At Casa K, we’re usually still on the pre-dinner nibbles just after eight, wondering if all of the guests are actually going to show up.

No, I’m sorry, whether it’s a romantic dinner for two or a full-blown dinner party, chocolates are not so much after eight these days as afterthought.

Okay, there are similarities between wine and chocolate. Neither is particularly good for your health. You can choose between damaging your liver, or your teeth. Wine seems to contain fewer calories, although at least you can drive after consuming a gutload of chocolate.

(And don’t you like the way M&S describe them as “dessert” chocolates, as if you should treat them as an actual course?)

Or is it that M&S perceive both as a “luxury” item? Unfortunately chocolate, like wine, is only as luxurious as you pay for. It is hard to conceive that a substance with the same name can be either the creation of an artisan chocolatier, or a Freddo bar. But then, it’s hard to believe that Chateau Lafite is the same product as Penguin Sands.

Look, if you don’t drink, take the wine anyway. Even if you don’t consume it, you can always take it as a gift to the next dinner you attend. Which perhaps explains the bottles of dodgy M&S wine now residing in my cellar…



  1. Well, no wine we've ever had as part of these deals has actually been worth drinking! But the chocolates seem to get eaten .....

    1. On this side of things, I'm afraid the wine always gets drunk, worth it or not. That's the story of Sediment…


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