Why, one wonders, do people feel the need of a ‘guide’ to drinking wine? You can drink all sorts of other beverages entirely on your own two feet without being made to feel obliged to wade through turgid ‘lifestyle’ pieces in the Sunday supplements telling you that you simply must buy a case of that Tescbury special offer Ernest Gauloise Cabaret Savant at the bargain price of only £25 a bottle or you’ll never be able to hold your head up in polite company again.
I blame the BBC for dumping Saint Delia and getting all starry-eyed over the likes of the shamelessly self-promoting Jilly Goolden and her mate Oz Clarke. I refuse to have my drinking preferences dictated to me by someone who saw fit to appear on ‘Extreme Celebrity Detox’. (No really – it was on Channel 4.)
I wouldn’t mind so much if it wasn’t for the patronising tone and the assumption that everybody out there lives in an excruciatingly fashionable loft conversion overlooking the Thames, and spends weekends in a Grade II listed rural retreat with ivy invading the pointing. Oz feels it necessary to tell me that “The first step in tasting any wine is to extract the cork.” Wow, thanks Oz, however would I have managed had I not stumbled upon your expert guidance? And then he proceeds to warn that I really shouldn’t consider using anything other than a Screwpull corkscrew (a snip at £60) to perform this operation. That would explain why my Chablis always tastes like shit then – it’s the IKEA waiter’s friend that’s doing it.
(Screwpull also manufacture a device called a ‘champagne stopper’. Apparently you insert it into a bottle of champagne if you aren’t going to drink it all. No, I didn’t get it either.)
And we fall for this stuff. There we are in Sainsrose on a Saturday morning slavishly buying whatever overpriced plonk the nation’s ‘wine critics’ have been bribed to fill their columns with this week. Anyone can criticise wine, you know. I’ve done it myself, often: “This wine tastes like cat’s piss”, I’ve said, usually with reference to something I’m being expected to serve to ski resort guests.
Still, for those of you who still feel the need of a bit of guidance, here are a few pointers for the more down to earth drinker. Very France-specific, I’m afraid, but it’s the best I can do. This does not meet with the approval of the current batch of fashionable winistas, who are all smitten with Argentino-South African Peanut Gigots, but we’re not allowed foreign wine here unless it’s utterly undrinkable and demonstrably inferior to the French stuff, so generally we don’t get any at all unless it’s Moroccan.
From the bottom:
1. Plastic bottles: really don’t. No, really. Even the hardened winos don’t drink that – when it says cooking wine it seriously means it. Empty it into the Bourguignon by all means, but don’t drink the leftovers and don’t put it back in the cupboard either because it turns into vinegar exactly half an hour after you’ve taken the lid off.
2. Glass bottles with plastic lids and stars around the collar. Only one step up from cooking wine, and very very variable. One bottle might be OK as the third of the evening, but its neighbour on the supermarket shelf is quite capable of tasting like Paraquat and poisoning you for a week. The bottles have a deposit on them though, so if you collect enough of them (ie about four) you’ll be able to afford to do it all again.
3. Plastic footballs. A favourite with campsite montage teams, and just the thing for playing banned drinking games after a hard day spent retrieving tent frames from trees in the rain. Experienced players can be identified by the fact that they have worked out how to pour the wine without covering themselves in it. No, I’m not telling you.
4. Vins en vrac. The preferred tipple of montage teams in the south of France. Slightly cheaper than the footballs, and usually marginally better quality (but don’t quote me on that). Just take your jerrycan along to the local cave cooperative and they’ll fill it up from something which looks worryingly like a petrol pump.
5. Cuvee du Patron. Vin tres ordinaire indeed, but dipping a toe into the realms of the drinkable. Red only – the white will be intolerably vile.
6. Shellfish wine. The white equivalent, sightly more expensive than its red counterpart. Various brands, but the label is always adorned with a scene depicting a lobster, two clams and a bit of seaweed. Presumably this is a serving suggestion rather than an indication that the contents may taste like seawater (though that’s always possible).
7. Any wine described as ‘complementary’ by a ski chalet operator. This stuff usually comes in a 20-litre bag-in-box arrangement, and tastes just as good as you’d expect. Stick to the red.
8. Vin de Pays. You can pay as much as 2,50€ a bottle for this. Go on, push the boat out.
9. AOC. Anything which can be traced to a defined region of France. This is no guarantee of quality, you understand, it just means you’ll know which region to avoid next time.