Thursday 19 December 2019

Thursday 12 December 2019

Wine socks. Yes, wine socks.

What possible connection could there be between wine and socks? Good question.

At this time of year, thoughts inevitably turn to wine. The columnists trot out their lists of 10, 20, 50 wines for Christmas; one national newspaper has actually published a pull-out guide to 100 best wines for Christmas. As if narrowing the choice down to a hundred is doing any favours. Or, indeed, any narrowing down.

And, of course, seasonal thoughts also turn to socks, last gift-giving resort of the desperate. So what could be more appropriate for Sediment than to turn our own festive consideration to… wine socks.

Sorry, wine socks? Oh yes. After all, that sock-wearer that you know possibly drinks wine. And you’d be surprised how many of the people who drink wine also have feet.

So who can blame a retailer for thinking of a way to target both? It may stretch logic and credulity to combine two such distinct notions as wine and socks – but if there is stretching to be done, then someone out there with an eye on Christmas profit will find a way to do it.

And the bizarre way most have found is to weave wine-related statements on the soles of the socks. Because nothing makes an entertaining Christmas gift like a fatuous message. And the most popular message, with minor variations of quantity and politeness, is: If you can read this, bring me wine. 

The festive scenario is set right there. At other times of the year, of course, the soles of the feet are pointed primarily towards the floor. Perhaps this is why some of the retailers describe this as a hidden message, a concept which rather defeats the very purpose of a message.

But at Christmas, your socked feet are assumed to be resting up on a footstool or sofa, their soles visible to family and friends. Or, which would be even more entertaining while holding a glass of wine, you are playing Twister.

There is little to say about the message itself, apart from the fact that if you are sartorially (or alcoholically) challenged, you can put the socks on the wrong feet, and the message is still comprehensible. To the same end, you can cross your feet without garbling the message like Yoda. (“Bring me wine, Could I ask you to?”)
It’s astonishing just how widespread variations on these socks seem to be. Some acknowledge my old Mum’s edict, that a “please” would be nice. Others reduce matters to an impolite command. 

Yet at least one pair fails even the basic requirement of the message, since the socks are woven in such a bizarre typeface that, actually, you can’t read it.

And then there are those who have tried to create their own, unique message. This white (well, whitish) pair, for example, with a worryingly authentic-looking red wine stain around the ribbing. They say, “Watch me sip, watch me lay lay” – what does that even mean?

Another pair clearly fail the feet-crossing test, as they could read, “Calling in sick for work. This wine tastes like I’m”.

Yet another says “Follow me, Bring wine.” Or is that “Bring wine, Follow me”? Either way, it makes little sense. Is the wearer not prone, rather than upright and moving? Where are we meant to be going? What for? Why?

And then there are socks which display the classic message, but on the back of the leg. Presumably these are aimed at the niche market of either gender who do not wear trousers. Or those, possibly a larger market, who spend their drinking time in only underwear and socks, face down on the carpet.

It is foolish to ask whether any of these message socks would actually work. Did Kiss Me Quick hats actually work? (And would they, in today’s climate, be considered to constitute consent?) I can tell you now that the message would be roundly ignored in Casa K; and if the soles of my socks were on display, I would probably be asleep.

Anyway, the retailers of these items seem to be oblivious to one basic thing. Who drinks wine in their socks? Next you’ll be telling me that there are gentlemen who eat dinner without a jacket.



Thursday 5 December 2019

Ian Botham's Disappearing Smell

So in a fit of asininity, I buy a bottle of celebrity wine: Ian Botham's Cabernet Sauvignon ('The All-Rounder' it announces on the label) on account of its being on offer in the supermarket and anyway, don't we all need something to cheer ourselves up with in these dark times? Only 13%, which I would have thought maybe a tiny bit underpowered for a south-eastern Australian red, but what do I know? Also, I have no idea why Ian Botham should have started a side hustle in wines. Yes, 'It’s probably better than scoring a hundred at Lord’s getting this right', he might have said in an interview, but I'm not persuaded. Still. It gives us both something to do, I suppose, him putting his name on a drink, me drinking it, so I get the grog back home and try a glassful.

But here's the thing: it doesn't taste of anything. I mean, there's a kind of rasp of wine somewhere around the roof of my mouth, but nose? After-effects? Tannins? Acidity? The sense of having had a drink? I'm not getting anything, anything at all. All I'm getting is this:

At which point I start to panic. Clearly, Sir Ian can't have let a bottle of fine Australian Cabernet Sauvignon out of the warehouse without making sure it has some kind of flavour; so the clear inference is that I'm losing my sense of taste. Of course I am. I've been subjecting myself to a diet of cheap industrial wines for years and now my taste buds have burnt out. It had to happen. There is a moral here; actions have consequences; what else did I expect? I'm surprised they lasted as long as they did, now I think about it.

Either that or I'm experiencing one of those unpredictable changes which happen over time, in which a favourite taste or sensation simply loses its appeal - or worse, becomes completely unpalatable. People just announce, one day, that they used to love cheese but can't eat it now, or have had to give up coffee because it makes them sweat, or once adored the music of Peter Frampton but now have to leave the room if it ever comes on, not that it ever does, but you take the point. I've seen it happen. Such changes come unannounced and turn out to be permanent. I once used to like milkshakes, but it passed. I am now about to lose any capacity I once had to enjoy red wine. White wine next? Croissants? There it is. It's time to come to terms.

But - just to be sure - I crack open a bottle of affordable Monastrell I happen to have been thinking about for a few days and take a swig. It's not mind-expandingly good; on the other hand, it tastes of some kind of red wine, a taste I already greet with a twinge of nostalgia. I take another swig. Well. Yes. Red wine. I try the Botham again. Still nothing. I put the Botham away for a day, before taking it out again and running it concurrently with the Monastrell. This gets me nowhere. At the end of three days I have drunk most of two bottles of red wine, one of which tastes of something and the other of which doesn't.

I can draw no conclusions from this, because the test sample is too small. All I'm left with is a choice between two unacceptable realities: the prospect of having to give up wine; or the prospect of having to come to terms with the idea that England's greatest all-round cricketer might stick his name on a bottle of something as flavourful as the atmosphere in a lift. I am too old and weak and cranky for this kind of inner conflict.

Apart from that, things are fine. How's your Christmas coming along?


Thursday 28 November 2019

Something not quite riot...

Ah, pinot noir. The wine described with adjectives such as “elegant”, “delicate” and “graceful”. The “thin-skinned, temperamental” grape loved by Miles in the movie Sideways. The grape of red Burgundy. And who was the pretentious fellow who once described a fine example of a Burgundy as tasting “like choral evensong”? Oh, that was me.

So where does “ugliness” fit into this? Here, I’m afraid; a Pinot Noir with an ugly name, an ugly label; and, if the Oxford definition of “ugly” as “unpleasing or repulsive to sight or hearing” can be extended to the other senses, then an ugly flavour too.

There are, I suppose, wines which might conceivably have some kind of association with a riot. A bruiser of a shiraz, perhaps, up for a fight. Something with a high enough alcohol content to suffice for comrade Molotov. Or one of those nasty acidic wines whose very fumes have the room-clearing potential of tear gas.

None of these qualities would seem particularly strong selling points. A Shiraz Cosh, anyone? Burnt-out Bordeaux? Cabernet Sauvignon ‘CS’ Gas? And… a Pinot Riot?

Well. There are rowdy, aggressive Pinot Noir drinkers – like the “roomful of buzzed alpha males” which Jay McInerney wrote about. But they bray and brag about the cost of the wines they drink, and are unlikely to trouble the supermarket shelves for this £7 trifle. And as McInerney also writes, “The new generation of Pinotphiles favour adjectives like “restraint” and “delicacy”.

So the very name, Pinot Riot, is something of an oxymoron. Pinot Noir is simply not a loud, boisterous wine.

And the label description contains a further contradiction in terms. This wine supposedly offers “an abundance of intense yet delicate flavours”. It makes you wonder about their understanding of the terms “intense” and “delicate”. Perhaps they like colours which are black yet white.

Nothing restrained or delicate about their label, either. A hideous melange, reminiscent only of a particularly ugly BBC2 ident. Are they dinosaurs? Monsters? Eyeballs in snot? Would anyone want this on their table? Would anyone want this in their house?

But Sediment took it in, and drank it, so that you wouldn’t have to. A rubbery bouquet heralds an astringent, bitter flavour – but thin, weedy, a shallow, diluted experience. Not, by any measure, a riot of flavours. And certainly not a soaring choral evensong; more a muted cough. By halfway through the first glass there is little but alcohol left; no bouquet, no fruit, no point. And, as they themselves state on their label, no future.

Of course the know-it-alls will say that you can’t possibly produce a good Pinot Noir for £7 a bottle. And they are probably right. But think, on the other hand, of the know-nothings. For they may buy and drink this, and believe that they have tasted Pinot Noir. Once, and probably never again.

If the apocalypse comes, and people are stripping the shops of essentials, I don’t think they’ll be too picky between cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. They certainly won’t be rioting to get their hands on this. Only, perhaps, to get their money back.


Thursday 21 November 2019


So the wife and I (mostly the wife, to be honest) are having a bit of a party, scores of superannuated guests invited, and I have been put in charge of the wine. This is not as much fun as you might imagine.

First off, how much do we get in, sparkling and still combined? The estimates we're currently using give us something like one and a third bottles per head. Either this is not nearly enough, or way too much. If I drink a whole bottle of wine in the course of a few hours, I generally feel fairly lit up. Is everyone else going to want to feel the same way? Quite a few guests will be driving, so that cuts them down to a mere couple of glasses, I would have thought. A few more won't want to drink much anyway. This then bumps up the possible input, for the hardened boozers, to something like a bottle and a half, which sounds quite a lot. On the other hand, the last thing we want is to run out. Or perhaps we do, to act as a heavy-handed way of marking the end of the fun? Okay, so the numbers stand, for now.

Secondly, where to get it? As it happens, Sainsbury were doing a good price on some champagne a couple of weels ago, so I ordered three cases online, went to pick them up two days later, found that they only had one case and had made up the rest of the order with Prosecco and anything else lying about. So I took the champagne, left the filler, and where did I turn? Majestic. Yes, Majestic have been getting some mixed publicity recently and we've drivelled on about their apparent loss of mojo, but all I can think of now is that they do wine, wine is what they do, I want several cases of wine, the wine I actually want, not the wine left lying around in the stockroom and so, helplessly, guiltily, I gravitate to Majestic and immediately pick up some more cheapo champagne to make up the deficit.

While I'm there, the still white chooses itself (a basic Picpoul de Pinet, really rather delicious) but the red is more of a challenge. I grab a bottle of generic Spanish red for sampling purposes, mainly because it calls itself the guv'nor, which I think is kind of amusing; only it turns out the guv'nor tastes like the floor of a hardware shop, so back I go for more red samples, ending up with a Tempranillo, a Malbec and a Barbera D'Asti, all within the price range.

A couple of days of intensive sampling then pass, at the end of which I feel ill and slightly unhinged. I am so full of cheap drink that If I lean over, red wine starts to form a puddle in my ear. Also, I'm getting some bad interference from the copy on the backs of the bottles. I know this is the kind of thing PK is always ranting about, but the beastly guv'nor does itself no favours (not that it could, anyway) by announcing, just above the alcohol content, that the guv'nor rules his establishment with confident poise, yet his disarming politeness conveys a sense of wariness. He is not a man to be trifled with. The Malbec, on the other hand - Argentinian, who knew? - turns out to be called Las Maletas - the suitcases - complete with a Hanna-Barbera-themed cartoon on the front of a man holding a suitcase over his head and an injunction to Pack your suitcase, grab your coat and travel the length and breadth of Argentina via these flavourful wines, on the back, again just above the alcohol content. The wrongness of all this still haunts me.

In the end I go for the Tempranillo, not least because it comes in a bottle with a label and not much else; also because it stays down, not something I can otherwise guarantee. So I'm done! All I have to do now is put the order in and hope that it's delivered at the right time and to the right place by a business whose existence is predicated on the idea that it can deliver the correct wines to a given address on a given day.

And then I have to sort out the music. I'm thinking The Crystals, The Shangri-Las and Betty Everett. And possibly Bernard Hermann and the Northern Dance Orchestra, although this might change. I mean, there's still time, now that the booze is under control.


Thursday 14 November 2019

Can I help you, sir?

“Hello there! I wanted a bottle of wine, about twelve pounds or so, for a dinner party…” 

“And there’s just so much to take in, on the internet and so on, isn’t there sir? Well, I think we’re ‘up to speed’ with all of it, as they say,… A formal dinner party? As opposed to a kitchen supper?”

“Well, just a few friends…”

“When and where, sir?”

“Does that matter? I mean, I…”

“Oh yes, sir, I mean this weekend, next weekend…? We track the local weather, you see, because atmospheric pressure and humidity can alter flavour perception.”


“Oh yes, sir! Makes a difference!  But if you’re travelling…”

“Oh, it’s local, I’m local, I just don’t usually come in here, only I wanted to get something decent for this dinner.”

“Of course, sir. Serious matter. Serious matter. Before I make so bold as to suggest some wine, do you have the menu with you? Our pairing advice is based on the dishes’ fattiness, acidity and so on, and of course it’s the sauces that matter, not the meat or fish itself…”

“Well, my wife…”

“And what will be playing, sir – classical, rock, jazz…?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Your background music, sir. Rhythm, pitch, articulation, it all alters the taste, you know. Oh yes."

“I haven’t…”

“And are you decanting, sir?  Aerating?  Or hyper-decanting?  How far ahead of the meal? Did you bring your timetable with you, sir? And how will you be maintaining the temperature? Are you centrally-heated? What is your room temperature?

“Look, I don’t know that much about wine…”

“Oh, forgive me, sir, then I should have asked, do you actually possess a corkscrew? Because we do have bottles I can offer you with screwcaps. But there’s a wealth of advice on how to remove corks by other methods, using a shoe, or a knife, or a hammer, if you have any of those. Or if you’d rather, we can sell you a corkscrew? Waiter’s Friend? Screwpull? Pronged?”

“I’m not…”

“And glasses, sir?”

“I’m okay for glasses, thank you.”

“No, what shape, sir? Makes a difference!  And what kind? Riedel, Zalto? I can see you’re what Jancis Robinson describes as ‘big-nosed’.”

I beg your pardon??”

Her glasses are designed to accommodate the big-nosed, sir. And they’re ‘gossamer-thin’. ‘Gossamer-thin’, sir. ‘Once you have experienced this delicacy,’ as she says, ‘you really can't go back.’” 

“Well I can, actually. Back to the supermarket. Thank you.”

“Oh dear, sir. Well, perhaps one day…” 

(The door closes.) “’Twelve pounds’???”


Thursday 7 November 2019


So, mead: I mean, you can't really call it a divisive drink because nobody drinks it, therefore there's no-one to be divided by it. It's just that stuff you sometimes find in heritage gift shops which sometimes seems like a good idea for an elderly relative but more often not, and anyway, have you ever tasted it? It seems familiar enough while at the same time being unknown. I feel sure that I must have drunk it, I can feel the stuff coating the inside of my mouth, honey, yes, that's what it's made from, maybe a faint alcoholic rasp at the back, it's up there with egg nog as something you never want to tangle with unless you've decided to live in a cave in the Welsh Marches. Perhaps it's good to steep fruit in? If you like your fruit almost inedibly sugary? The stuff stopped being an everyday drink at the time of Beowulf, surely.

But here we are in 2019 and what do you know but I find myself sitting at a bar in Peckham Rye, where a good many hipsters have taken root, tasting 21st Century mead with its creator, Tom Gosnell, who - following an epiphany a few years back in the US, where mead is big, or bigger than it is here, anyway - is determined to get mead back on our tables, where it belongs. Seriously. His meadery - I'm not making this word up - is a mile away and he sources as many of his ingredients locally as he can. Not only that, but he offers a whole range of mead sensations, none of them in the least like what I think mead might be.

We actually start with several examples of mead-in-a-can, which is a funkier, more contemporary kind of mead done as a long drink, plenty of sparkle, only 4%, so the same as a glass of beer but evidently not, especially in the form of Gosnells Hibiscus Mead and I'm not making this up, either. Yes, we are in SE15, but Hibiscus? Only, guess what? It's really not bad. Comes out of the can a deep blush colour, looks a bit like a Kir Royale, sits there quite confidently in the glass, the honey undertow (you can't escape it, it's still mead, even if there is plenty of water mixed in) working with the drier hibiscus additions and the fizz to stop your palate from furring over completely. Yes, it's weirdly stimulating and refreshing. Indeed I'm so startled that all I can do is sit there saying Well I'll be damned under my breath. I don't even want to give my glass up when we move on to the next round of beverages.

These, by way of contrast, are your more classic mead stylings, presented in a smart glass bottle, not a can, and once again I am caught on the hop. Two in particular: Gosnells Finsbury Mead (5.5%) and Gosnells Saffron Walden Mead (7.5%) leave me writing Rather fantastic in my tasting notes, and Forget you're drinking mead. The Finsbury Mead actually uses honey from Finsbury, just up the road, and I start to entertain the slightly hallucinatory idea that I'm drinking the essence of London, a concept I rather like. We're talking about something slightly sterner than the canned stuff, not dry exactly, but not a Sauternes either. Also with a hint of pétillant. Someone suggests that it would go well with a blue cheese. I nod, as if what I think might matter.

And this mood returns, not surprisingly, with the Gosnells Hackney Mead (a full-on 9%) which Tom Gosnell describes as Telling the story of the summer which the bees have experienced. I don't even do a double-take at this. We're not in wine territory, nor are we in craft beer or cider country, although the latter might be this kind of mead's nearest rival, what with the pastoral overtones and a sense of reaching back into a shared past. Complex, I manage to write down. Still, I feel I'm doing well to achieve as much as that. Complex is what this whole thing is: not just the drink itself but the need to reclassify this kind of mead as something better than a mere comedy beverage. It is a whole new taste and one which will take some processing. We finish up and I leave Peckham Rye, fuddled and yet, somehow, slightly sharpened.

Two points remain: Tom Gosnell himself is in a very cheerful mood, not least because he's just inked deals to supply his product to the United States and Korea, two countries with a confirmed taste for the new mead; and if you want to buy some from the Gosnells website, it's £25 for a 75cl bottle of the Saffron Walden variety. Which suggests to me that now might be a good time to invest in some bees, especially if you live in Hackney.


Thursday 31 October 2019

Excuse me, sir…

There is an alarming tendency now for news programmes to go out and seek the opinions of “ordinary people”. These are known in the media as “vox pops”, and this “voice of the people” was once summarised as “the man on the Clapham omnibus”. Nowadays it’s more likely to be the woman in a Leicester market, the man in Tunbridge Wells, or the couple who stray into the Ground Zero surrounding any broadcaster’s HQ, within which an interview team can work and return without missing their lunch.

Ordinary people have a great deal to offer, but insightful and well-informed views do not seem to be among them. Yet for some baffling reason these cost-saving, time-filling commentaries persist. And what if these vox pops, which seem to have replaced informed political, economic, even sports comment, replaced wine commentators too?

“They’ve been coming over here from France and Italy and Spain for years. Now they’re coming from South Africa and Australia and South America. Honestly, I saw some from China the other day. I mean, we’ve got to do something about it.”

“Wines? They’re all the same, the whole bloody lot of ‘em.”

“Yes, they asked us what we wanted. But people simply weren’t told what kind they would be getting. You can’t just ask people whether they want wine or not, you have to tell them what kind it’ll be. Now that we know what ‘wine’ really means, they should ask us again.”

“I’ve lost faith in the whole system, frankly. We told them what we wanted, and they said they were going to deliver it back in March. It’s now October, and they’re saying that we might have to compromise and accept alternatives. Why can’t they just deliver what they said they were going to?”

“Well I don’t know that much about wine myself, but I know what I like.”

“To be honest, I’m just sick of hearing about wine. These so-called ‘experts’ go on and on and on, it’s like they talk a different language, and they never really answer the question, do they?”

“It’s shocking. You’ve only got to look at our High Street. There used to be a wine merchant on that corner, but it’s gone now. It’s a shame really. I mean, obviously I get mine from the supermarket, ‘cos it’s cheaper, but I used to like looking in the window.”

“No, that sort of thing is unacceptable, really. It’s just not the way to discuss these things. They ought to know better. We used to discuss it properly, we’d say it was ‘splendid’, or ‘not quite right’, and that was enough. All this stuff that’s going on now, the language, the spitting and all that… There’s really no need for that.”

“It’s all very well saying give ‘em time. But if they’re not improving, something’s got to change. There’s only so long you can wait. Because at the moment, they’re just waiting there in the box, and nothing’s happening. In the short term, you’ve got to go out there and spend. Maybe bring in some Italians with a bit of flair, or some heavyweights from Spain. Long term, like, we'll just have to hope the young ones come through.”

“Don’t talk to me about wines. They’re all as bad as each other.”


Thursday 24 October 2019

The Winemaker's Shirt

This week's style icon: Roland Barthes

The winemaker's shirt embodies a contradiction. The winemaker himself belongs to a priesthood largely unknowable to those who drink his wine. His shirt, it will be readily admitted, is therefore a garment whose sacerdotal power belongs to a whole typology of priestly raiments, including copes, cassocks, wreaths, stoles, sacred threads, birettas, clothing whose emblematic function serves both a reality (the authority of a state religion) and a condition of submissive dreaming, a rêve from which the element of transubstantion is never far. 

As in a dream, the priestly garment must be perfect insofar as it can never be other than its perceived lineaments suggest: there is an iconographic component in every button, every seam, in the way the shirt hangs negligently and yet without apology from the shoulders of the wearer (and what shoulders must they be, to sustain such an item of clothing?). The psychology of the dream in itself repels the secularization of the everyday.

This is of course necessary, given the mythical status of the wine which is being created. It is well known that wine, far from inheriting the morphological birthright of a Proteus or a Zeus, has always created the conditions in which its seemingly galvanic powers generate reversals or alternative modes of existence. When we drink wine, we engage with an archetype whose singularity lies in its ability to contain a multiplicity of outcomes: good cheer, aggression, lacrimosity, invention, nostalgia, amorousness, candour, somnolence and so on. Just as it inhabits two planes of existence in the ritual of the eucharist, so it antithetically liberates and enslaves at the moment of earthly consumption.

Capitalism, on the other hand, insists that the image of the winemaker should express not only a sense of ritualized condescension on the part of the wearer, but of social communality, a sense that We're all in this together and that We all drink wine because it is understood that it would be wrong not to. The morphology of the shirt therefore embraces a type of synesthesia in which the sacerdotal garment elicits feelings of shared purpose, of routine experience at the same time as it invokes the mystery of the altar. 

In photographs, the winemaker's shirt is not always properly ironed; sometimes it is neatly tucked into the waistband of the trousers, sometimes left outside, as if the wearer has been in too much of a hurry to get to work to dress properly; sometimes the shirt is clearly a business shirt casually opened at the neck (once back from his business meeting, comfortably at the locus of his authority, framed by casks and stone floors, he can devote himself to his calling) in order to evoke the human tensions the winemaker encounters every day.

But what is more characteristic is the fact that we consume the shirt at the same time as we consume the wine made by the inhabitant of the shirt. It is a bourgeois necessity to appropriate and envelop: the shirt becomes part of this process of consumption, which is why so many winemakers submit to this iconographical levelling, demanded by the business they work in. Without his shirt (if such a condition were possible) the winemaker would merely be another artisan; with it, he is elevated to the status of creator, the shirt, as we have seen, endowed with true gestural significance. This, then, becomes the contradiction: the winemaker's shirt endows him with a mythical otherness at the same time as it renders him indistinguishable from his peers; while simultaneously advertising his sacrificial materiality, a materiality which is both necessary for the gratification of his customers and for the process of winemaking to be reborn, year after year.

Translation: CJ

Thursday 17 October 2019

Wine in Succession – Power meets Pinot Noir

If you ever needed a lesson in the social signalling of wine, Succession has provided it. The Netflix HBO drama, following the maneouverings and manipulations of the rich and powerful Roy dynasty, has featured wine across both of its seasons so far – as a revealing backdrop to the behaviour of the impossibly rich.

Because despite what we are often told about the sobriety of successful Americans, the Roys certainly seem to pile into their wine. There’s none of that abstemious drinking of water or iced tea. Indeed, one of the ways in which a putative CEO, Rhea, an outsider, was crushed by the Roy siblings, was when a waiter was halted from topping up her champagne glass with a cry of “No! She doesn’t drink!”

The irritated look from magnate Logan Roy said it all. Expensive wine is one of ‘the King’s favours’. “Look at the fucking wine I’m serving you!” he once berated a recalcitrant banker. “I’m fucking wining and dining you!”

But is that wine, like so much else in the Roy lifestyle, ultimately about the money?  Marcia, Logan’s third wife, savoured the French wine at a patrician family’s dinner; asking the waiter for more, she grumbled that her husband’s cellar is “all New World, so it doesn’t suit me”. Surely the ultimate putdown of a nouveau riche? Or, as Time put it, “a first class burn for the one percent set”.

Logan’s son Kendall, in an adulatory rap, praises his father’s “A1 rating, 80k wine”. But what kind of connoisseur spends $80,000 on New World wine?

And Logan’s eldest son Connor “hyperdecants” his Burgundy – which means putting it into his kitchen blender. “I hyperdecant,” he declares proudly. “You don’t hyperdecant? You’re just doing regular decanting?”

(This process was “invented” by Nathan Myhrvold, formerly of Microsoft, a man who also, presumably, has more money than time, and better Burgundy than you or I. Wielding his blender jug, Connor claims that “it softens the tannins, ages the aromas. You can age your wines five years in ten seconds, truly.” Which shows that wealth and wisdom do not necessarily go hand in hand.)

In the first season’s finale, the ‘wining and dining’ came to an abrupt end for one character, as Tom forced his bride’s former lover, Nate, to pour his glass of banquet wine back into the bottle. What better signalling of banishment from the kingdom?

And this week’s season finale did not disappoint with its wine moments. There was former country Cousin Greg, sunbathing on the family’s yacht, the wine in his ice bucket illustrating his final ascent from distant relative to inner family status. “What are you drinking, Greg?” Tom asks him.

“This is…I’m not sure…it’s a rosé…it’s not my favourite.”

“What?” Tom exclaims, “You’ve got a favourite champagne now?”

“Well,” says Greg, “You can’t help noticing…it’s fine, I’ll drink it. But it’s not my favourite.” Welcome to the family.

In which Connor Roy, asked by a waitress what he would like to drink with breakfast, replies “I will take a full bottle of Burgundy please, thank you.”

“For breakfast?” queries his anxious partner, Willa. Was it the Burgundy she was concerned about – or the “full bottle”?

“Well yes,” Connor replies. “For breakfast. Why not?” And who will gainsay him? At least he didn’t ask for it to be hyperdecanted.

Over the two fabulous seasons to date, it was of course an English woman, Lady Caroline, who used wine to deliver the perfect social putdown. For if the English know anything about the super rich, it’s that money can buy them wine, but not class. “So kind of your parents to have paid for all this delicious wine,” she says to future son-in-law Tom at his wedding rehearsal.

“So clever the way they’re letting every single person know.”


Thursday 10 October 2019


So the problem is this. On the one hand, I have a chirpy little article in front of me from the Waitrose food & drink magazine urging me to enlarge my beverage horizons. Love pinot grigio? it demands - then why not, it wants to know, try a Waitrose & Partners Petit Manseng at £9.99 a bottle, instead of the £5.99 a basement Pinot Grigio will normally cost you? Love valpollicella (and who doesn't)? Then it's a Waitrose & Partners Mencia, from Spain, apparently, also £9.99. Love côtes du rhône (no capitalisation on the R)? Cannonau di Sardegna, only £8.99. And so on.

I mean, you can't blame them for wanting to upsell until we're sick of living, but quite apart from the sheer nakedness of the endeavour, the business of moving me into new and exciting realms gets up my nose not least because it has taken me years, years, to reach the point where I stand a more-or-less evens chance of identifying a Cabernet Sauvignon, or a Merlot, or a Sauvignon Blanc, or, maybe , just maybe, a Shiraz, without looking at the label on the bottle. And I am not going to endanger that footling semi-ability by trying to get my head round a petit manseng or a mencia or an arinto from Lisbon, assuming such a thing even exists. I know, I'm closing myself off from a world of extravagant novelties, but penury, anxiety and small-mindedness make powerful allies in this case.

Added to which, and on the other hand: I have a sack of beetroot to deal with. I mean, it's fantastic beetroot, don't get me wrong - given to us by some pals in Cheshire who grow a superabundance of fruit and veg in their loamy Cheshire soil, some of which has made its way back to our place clinging to these gigantic beetroots, as big as cannonballs, not even beetroot-shaped, but full of cavities and whorls, like Barbara Hepworth sculptures in places, crowned with topknots of leaf stems, elemental beetroots in fact - and it's as much as I can do to cut them down to size, stick the pieces on a roasting tray and hope for the best. Seriously, it's a good half-hour of slashing and hacking with my biggest, most urgent, knife, just to get them into some kind of order. The kitchen's covered in red juice; it looks like the site of a gangland slaying. Which then compels me to ask myself, Which wine, of the handful of wines available to me, would go with an incredibly bloody mediæval beetroot? It's a real-world problem and one not helped by all the beseechings from Waitrose.

I sit down and gnaw at the issue. After about three-quarters of an hour I get the beetroots out of the oven, a cloud of steam emerging with them as if a boiler's exploded and I stare at my handiwork. They still look savage and undignified, even cut into bits and shimmied around a bit on the roasting tray. They are, to be frank, unreconstructedly Northern European. Bruegel would have recognised them, possibly stuck them in a corner of one of his larger compositions. They speak of mud and cold and tragedy. They are simply not a wine-related foodstuff. Down in the south, heading towards the Mediterranean, they get truffles and aromatic herbs. They have wine. Up in the north, in parts of Cheshire, they get dahlias and beetroots. What to do? Somehow honour the rootsiness of the beetroot by nipping out and buying some beer? By dousing myself in warm gin? I can't see a bottle of Cannonau di Sardegna fitting in, even if I wanted to make that effort.

As it happens, I find a couple of duck legs, roast them up too, and, with blank inevitability, reach for a half-finished bottle of generic Australian Cabernet Sauvigon which has been sitting around for a few days and let it fight it out with what's on the plate. I call it food pairing. It's okay. Can we just leave it at that?