Today, I read about for the first time something called “Sober October.” Puts head in hands and drops it. Smack forehead emoji.
I haven’t worked in the wine trade for 30-odd years to be thwarted by unpleasbyterians. In our binary-stupid world now, it’s as if we need to have gimmicks for wine and gimmicks against wine. Or, maybe I’ve misread this completely and it is, in fact, a month dedicated to exclusively drinking wines from Vinsobres. Now that would make more sense!
Wine in moderation is a lovely thing. Even the bible that castigates demonic drunkenness, advises: “Take a little wine for thy stomach.”
We are drying out to the point of desiccation. From dry January to Lent, there’s some serious denial going on. I find myself reciting the names of the months fearfully lest they rhyme or alliterate with anything suggesting aridity. Parch March is a bad start. Continue to Abstain April. A drink every other day May. Deny July. No drink shall pass my lips November. Clunky, yes, but you can see where I am going with this.
I understand abstinence for reasons of health. Gesture resolutions are another matter. Wine in moderation is a lovely thing. Even the bible that castigates demonic drunkenness, advises: “Take a little wine for thy stomach.”
Wine has fallen foul of being lumped into the general category of booze. True, wine’s cultural origins lie in the Bacchanal and drunken revelry, but I would like to think that it deserves to be considered more as a gastronomic drink rather than the catalyst for laying waste to city centres on a Saturday night.
Groucho Marx once said in an interview: “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set I go into the other room and read a book.”
When did you last see an intelligent discussion about wine on mainstream television? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way, since the answer is “never.” Back in the mists of time, Jancis Robinson did present an interesting series which took a more documentary approach to the subject. These days, television producers view wine as the parole of elites and something to be hidden in strange timeslots or specialist channels, all despite the fact that wine has now overtaken beer as the most popular drink in the UK. The greatest – and most popular – documentaries: Civilisation; The World at War; Life on Earth showed that there is place for intelligent, educational programmes in the television schedules. Let’s hear it for real gastronomy.
When did you last see an intelligent discussion about wine on mainstream television? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way, since the answer is “never.”
Where one is most likely to encounter wine is in The Saturday Kitchen format, a gentle form of zoo tv. Cheerful and chirpy and light as the froth on a cappuccino, this form of media is more for entertainment (rhapsodising about the way a wine tastes on screen) than explication. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Most journalists (and indeed amateur wine enthusiasts) video stream their wine ponderings. If you know where to look, you will find some pearls of information.
Hype hype hooray – another press release about English wines thuds into my inbox.
When a largely amateur wine scene evolves into a full-blown industry, then the quantity of PR increases commensurately. For years, the not-so-subtle narrative being promulgated was that English producers could out-champagne the champenois in the bubble game. Blind tastings and international wine awards are almost always the friend of the “underdog”; new reputations are easily forged and public perceptions change swiftly. Now, the hype has hit another level. According to received PR wisdom, this country is currently apparently producing world class wines as a matter of course. Never mind the quality, feel the bling.
The knowledge that Pinot Noir will probably reach a potential abv of 14% in Essex isn’t a special cause for celebration.
2023 has already been designated as “an unprecedented vintage” for U.K. wine due to various climatic niceties of the year. You may not thank the weather gods for the endless deluge in July, but the vineyards were in seventh heaven. A combo of dry June, wet July and then an Indian summer created the circumstances for big quantities of good, even excellent quality grapes. As with PR poured over on Bordeaux wines, great or unprecedented may refer to the fact that the vintage was larger than the five-year average. Of course, bigger vintages and even better-quality fruit do not themselves mean that better wines will be made. Although you would hope that would be the case. Nor is the knowledge that Pinot Noir will probably reach a potential abv of 14% in Essex a special cause for celebration. The real story here is climate change and the fact that our weather conditions now are more conducive to growing grapes than parts of mainland Europe, where greater extremes are making farming extremely problematic.
Last week, my wife and I celebrated our 20th anniversary on board the Prince Regent, a cruising restaurant narrowboat on the Regent’s Canal owned by London Shell Co. Being a landmark anniversary, and having invited wine friends and trade colleagues, I wanted to share some of my favourite wines (the precious!), ranging from what I would want to drink now to some rare and special ones culled from my cellar (a small cupboard under the stairs). It was more difficult to know what to leave out than to include.
At the end of the party, we were standing and chatting as bottles of Miroirs, Comando G and Valentini were absent-mindedly opened and glasses were being filled with what might have been rocket fuel for all that anyone noticed or cared.
I deliberately narrowed the number of options so that we could “digest” what was on show. But in any happy bubbly babbly atmosphere, all wine is relegated firmly to the background. At the end of the party, we were standing and chatting as bottles of Miroirs, Comando G and Valentini were absent-mindedly opened and glasses were being filled with what might have been rocket fuel for all that anyone noticed or cared. The lesson is simple. Your greatest bottles are best enjoyed over an intimate dinner with friends, where one has the opportunity to relax with the wine, to roll it around the mouth, focus on the flavours and, yes, talk about it.
Sometimes, you just want to drink something to make you smile.
Do you have guilty wine pleasures? I do. A friend of mine, who happens to be a natural wine aficionado with a fantastically precise palate, loves the taste of old-fashioned tawny Rioja. When going out to my local Greek restaurant, I always order the house retsina. I relish that turpentine/linseed oil flavour chilled to distraction. For my sins, I also adore Gewurztraminer, even the cheap stuff that smells like lavender palm cream. This week, my favourite wine was an amber Gewurz from biodynamic natural producer Pepin (a Dietrich family project in Alsace). Blended with other grapes, the Gewurz was the over-rider, an exotic fruit salad of peach, orange flower water and cloves. Like a cocktail. Not subtle– in fact quite obvious–but I loved it. Sometimes, you just want to drink something to make you smile.