Thursday, 16 October 2014

French Excess: Gerard Depardieu

So PK is badgering me about this story which appeared in The Daily Mail - to the effect that legendary French actor Gérard Depardieu routinely knocks off fourteen bottles of wine a day, plus extras: in effect, champagne for breakfast and elevenses, followed by some red wine, then more champagne along with a couple of anisettes to ring the changes, more wine at lunch, some beer in the afternoon, a few more anisettes, some more wine - red, or maybe rosé - and, to round off the day, spirits - whisky, vodka, perhaps both. 'I can't drink like a normal person,' he claimed litotically in an interview with So Film, adding that the way to handle things if they get a bit out of order is: 'A ten-minute nap and voilà, a slurp of rosé wine and I feel as fresh as a daisy.'

This, not long after a recent in-flight toilet catastrophe, in the course of which M. Depardieu peed over the floor of an Air France plane, unable to keep everything in for the fifteen minutes during which the toilets were locked for takeoff. 'Je veux pisser, je veux pisser,' he was reported to cry out in his distress. It took two hours to clean the plane up.

'All right,' PK says in what he imagines to be a persuasive tone, 'why don't you try the Depardieu routine for a day? Just to see what it's like?'
'What? Fourteen bottles?'
'It would be interesting, wouldn't it?'
I know I am the de facto crash test dummy for Sediment, but even I can see that this suggestion is ludicrous.
'It's ludicrous,' I say.
'What if you just had fourteen glasses instead of bottles?'
'Then I'd be pissed, that's all.'

PK gives me a look of sorrowing reproach, but I mean, really. In fact, the more I think about Depardieu's claims, the more I reckon they must be intended not as a genuine lifestyle statement, but as satire. Yes, Gérard's a big lad in all directions, and has survived heart surgery and a motorbike crash (he was drunk at the time), and is as tough as pavement gum, but this much booze would kill anyone, if not on day one, at least by day seven, even Depardieu.

No, it looks more like a semi-calculated insult directed at the French, whose society he has spurned on account of not wanting to pay the income tax. Now a citizen of lawless, hard-drinking Russia, he is free to have as many snorts as he likes and critique what he deems to be prissy French moderation. Because that's one of those French conundrums: for a nation which is supposed to consume quite a lot, the French don't actually drink that much, or if they do, they don't drink it that fast. When we were sponging off our French friends and acquaintances last summer, the wine was certainly there, as were all the tiresome apéros and sometimes the digestifs, but with nothing like the profligacy I associate with eating and drinking in England. I don't think I'm betraying any secrets if I say that when someone has a meal at our house it's an excuse for a) a tonne of fatty food b) litres of drink to dissolve it. And I am not alone.

But in France they are more civilised, and make their drinks last, to the extent that one bottle of wine was deemed enough for five people - five - on one occasion. (I would also note, parenthetically and ungraciously, that our hostess on this occasion was also a rabidly assertive Parisienne who assured us that not only was it impossible to get decent bread outside Paris - we were in Provence at the time - but that the British were the mauvais élèves, her words, of the EU, with our subsidy-grabbing and rule-flouting, and that we should quit at once and leave the project to the original six. Oh, and her daughter swore blind, having looked it up on her smartphone, that only 0.1% of the French working population was employed by the state. Seriously).

Everywhere you turn, in fact, the French appear to be consuming less, drinking mineral water at their desks, not even loading up on brandies and calavados in the deep countryside before starting half a day's highly-subsidised labour, not even there. It wasn't that long ago - no more than a few years - that I was in a fantastic old-school restaurant on the Rive Gauche, where a party of middle-aged blokes, they must have been profs from the Sorbonne - tweed coats, specs, frizzy grey hair, noisy abstractions - did stupendous justice to a three-hour weekday lunch, and were still doing justice to it as I left. But no more, it seems, or possibly yes, more, if you're a university don, but otherwise, no.

At any rate, I take it to be this new dispensation which Depardieu is attacking with his surreal claim about fourteen bottles. And in this sense, I am behind him all the way. If France is not emblematic of indulgence, of highly-refined excess, what is it emblematic of? What's its point? There would be no point to France, apart from the scenery. Non! Depardieu's on-the-face-of-it insane boast is actually a lament, a sublimated threnody for a vanishing culture. It is an intervention, a plea on behalf of us all, for the soul of his native land, delivered by a 180-kilo alcoholic millionaire who nearly shorted out an Air France jet with his own pee. Salut!


Thursday, 9 October 2014

Investing in wine – without money

The other day, some chap asked CJ and me what we thought about investing in wine. I mean, for goodness’ sake. Why on earth ask us? You might as well ask us about investing in pork bellies, because we happen to eat sausages. 

Still, there is a sense in which we all ‘invest’ money in wine, as we do in anything we buy. You ‘invest’ in a can of baked beans – although, unless you’re CJ, probably quite a bit less than you invest in a bottle of wine. If I remember my Economics A-Level, we all consider the opportunity cost of buying something else instead, and weigh up the value, the cost/reward ratio, of the wine we buy. All of which sounds like investment to me.

And it struck me that actually, I invest a great deal in my wine. Not in terms of money, but in other, more personal ways.

Ego, for example. Every time I serve a wine to guests, every time I choose a wine in a restaurant, every time I pluck a wine from a shelf under the beady eye of a wine merchant, I feel that my standing is on the line. Rightly or wrongly, I feel I will be judged by my selection; I’m investing my knowledge, my experience and my financial acumen in a choice of wine. And I feel proud when I get it right. That’s a much more emotional investment than money.

Then there is time, the most valuable commodity of all nowadays, or so I believe we are being told by people I haven’t got time to read. 

Standing in front of the shelves of wine, staring at the dozens of alternatives, is like Indiana Jones trying to choose the true Grail.

Oh, the time spent, wondering what on earth to buy, whether that one is worth it, and who on earth thought that was an attractive label? Is that the one I read about last week, or is it that one? Can that one possibly be worth it? Trying to remember what you’re buying it for, what are you eating, who’s coming, and is Gruner Veltliner a wine or a cruise ship? Time ticks away, marked only by the increasingly impatient noises from the chap behind the counter. You can easily invest half an hour of your valuable time in all of this, or until they call security.

And that’s not to include in shopping time the piles of mailings which come through the door, and e-mails which come through the ether, which eat up time with their offers and announcements. Or the subsequent comparative shopping online, juggling the price with the minimum purchase with the delivery charge…“Ridiculous the waste sad time”.

Far greater than the shopping time can, of course, be the storage time invested in a bottle. I am storing a number of cases of wine which, for the sake of marital harmony, I shall define as few. My cellar is nothing like the sophisticated storage of true investment wines, in which cases are bought and sold without ever being seen, let alone handled or drunk, by their nominal owners. No, my cellar is not a bonded, temperature-controlled warehouse. Retrieval from sophisticated warehouse storage does not incorporate the risk of tripping over my toolbox. And my cellar is no more ‘secure’ than the rest of our house, although because I happen to know they’re a bugger just to get down there, good luck to any burglar who wants to carry a wooden case of wine up our cellar stairs in the dead of night. 

Mrs K imagines the space invested in wine could perhaps be occupied by other household essentials. I, too, regret the inability to store more half-used tins of paint. 

But I look at my bottles of 1983 Port, my 1989 claret, my unopened cases of 2009 Bordeaux, and see the years invested in waiting for their maturity. Time well spent.

And at the end is that most emotional investment in wine – expectation. Am I the only one who feels something between excitement and anxiety at opening a bottle? One that I’ve finally decided to bring out of my cellar. Or a bottle I’ve bought specially, or someone else has provided. Or perhaps I’m looking at the label in the hands of a wine waiter. Or sometimes I’m just reading the tasting notes in a merchant’s list before I buy. 

Anticipating the flavour, trying to imagine it; then going through the rituals of opening the bottle, sniffing it, perhaps even decanting it, before actually tasting the wine. Will it live up to all the great expectations I’ve invested in it? 

Time, space, self-esteem, hope, delight and pride, all invested in the pulling of a cork. Emotional investments can disappoint as well as delight, and past performance is no guarantee of future returns, etc. But I would rather open a bottle of wine than a trading position.

And at least my investment might provide pleasure as it goes down.


Thursday, 2 October 2014

Filthy Port

So I'm talking to this bloke who reveals that he once owned a cottage deep in the English countryside, and that a previous owner of this same cottage was reputed to open a new bottle of port at the end of every day, consume half its contents for supper, before leaving the now half-empty bottle on the doorstep overnight. When he came down again in the morning, it would be to find that the bottle had been topped up to the brim with fresh cow's milk, delivered by the cowherd? Dairyman? At any rate, a man with access to fresh milk - and this port'n'milk mix was the erstwhile cottage-dweller's daily breakfast.

Absolutely true, this bloke (whom, it must be noted, I have never met before in my life) swears as much. And I want to believe in the port'n'milk breakfast concoction so badly that I go home and try it out. Apprehensively, of course, not wanting another Queen Victoria's Tipple near-death sensation, yet emboldened by a desire to screw around with some port, a drink I can now barely tolerate at any level, especially in the context of PK's crazed reverence for the stuff, his fantasy that we routinely dine at the High Table of Magdalen College, Oxford, killing bottle after bottle of the '63 Graham's. So I fish out some elderly and mainly ignored Ruby Port that we use for cooking, plus a bottle of milk. Half a small glassful of each mixed together, and my breakfast is good to go.

Drinkable? Well, yes, oddly enough, in a blackcurrant and raspberry yoghurt/smoothie kind of way. It's thick, unctuous, sweet, with an unexpectedly generous barf of alcohol at the finish. Kids would love it. Obviously, I can't get through more than a couple of sips before questioning my own sanity, and how anyone ever knocked off a bottleful at seven in the morning is beyond comprehension. But still. I gaze at it, watching the curds and whey separate out in drifting flocculence like a mackerel sky. Is that the acidity in the port prompting the change? How acidic is our port, now I think of it? Has it, effectively, become a sweetish vinegar?

Who cares? Port is there to be interfered with. 

All right, then. How many ways are there, to adulterate and denature port? Apart from this slightly kinky milkshake? After all, port abuse has been going on for years, all over Great Britain. Port & lemon used to be the Old Lady's Favourite; someone told me that you could mix port & Coke (really? Two undrinkable drinks in one? Really?); no. 2 son assures me that a Cheeky Vimto can be cobbled together from port and Blue Wkd; there are endless appalling cocktail recipes that call for port, I can't begin to describe them, although a Hangman's Blood, containing beer, port, rum, gin, champagne, just about anything, was a favourite of the late Anthony Burgess - novelist, polymath and world-class alcoholic - and sounds uncannily like a suicide note you can drink, I mean, you've got to respect it for that alone -

- And then it occurs to me, increasingly queasily, that port could provide the USP for a new kind of bar, a genuinely British-themed port cocktail/tapas nightmare: in which the punters sit around on old G-Plan furniture; relax beneath discreetly shaded fluorescent lights; drink from NHS toothmugs; and are surrounded by Union Jacks, redundant Photofits on loan from the Metropolitan Police, messages from the now-defunct UK Border Agency ('Go Home Or Face Arrest') and tea-bag advertisements.

The port-based beverages being dished out from behind the bar (made of surplus catering kit from Sellafield, ideally) take care of themselves, but the uniquely British tapas? A few possibilities float through my consciousness:

Pieces of fried egg
Miniature fish fingers
Pork pie segments
Baked beans
Chicken McNuggets
Digestive biscuits
Cheese footballs
Hand-selected peanuts

At which point I start to feel positively ill: the port'n'milk slurry clearly reminding me that there can only be one winner in drinking trials of this kind: the drink itself. Forget everything I just said about the port-themed tapas bar. No-one should have to consume this stuff, adulterated or otherwise. It is simply wrong.

I am now going to lie down. Goodnight, everybody.


Thursday, 25 September 2014

One green bottle (empty)

The other day, I bought this bottle of a fairly basic Sauvignon Blanc, in order to make and accompany a seafood risotto. 

Now obviously, quite a bit of wine went into the risotto. Quite a bit. It wasn’t a Jamie Oliver recipe, so I wasn’t reduced to measures like two sloshes and a bosh; but even so, I poured into the risotto what might best and most accurately be described as… quite a bit. 

So when I finished off the remainder over the course of the evening, no-one, really, could say that I had drunk an entire bottle. No-one, really, except for Mrs K.

There was an honest answer to the question, “Did you drink all of that?’, and I was prepared, and that answer (see above) was no. Unfortunately the question I was actually asked was “Did you drink the rest of that?”, demonstrating the courtroom clarity for which spouses are renowned.

What could I say?  It just quietly slipped away, before anyone noticed, like a Great Escapee. It had the quiet politeness one expects from Waitrose; nothing pushy, or shouty, or forward, which enabled it to amble away unpoliced. And then… it was gone.

The thing is, at no point did I feel sated. There have been occasions on which I felt I had drunk enough white wine, but that’s largely because I got bored. Or because it was pretty horrible, and I thought that it would be better to save the rest for cooking, and take my chances with something else. 

But a white wine has never been completely fulfilling. Whenever I have moved from the white wine with a starter to the red with a main, it has always been with anticipation, rather than regret. Like a support act on the main stage; you can sometimes be delighted by how good it is, but you still can’t wait for the headliner.

In fact, I sometimes feel as if white wine doesn’t quite count. That you can often drink your way through it like this, almost without noticing. Oh, there are fabulous white Burgundies, but I can’t afford them (or so I am told, by my appointed Head of Procurement, Mr Nat West). I am resigned to the cheaper offerings, most of which seem to regard Pinot Grigio as their role model for consumer-friendly bland drinkability – and all of which evaporate mysteriously from my glass.

I can only draw a comparison with a stonkingly good, stonkingly red wine we had the weekend before. We were joined for a roast beef Sunday supper by two young people who drink only modestly (yes, such do exist), and my brother-in-law, who appreciates a bottle of mature old claret. So I opened a bottle of mature old claret; Chateau Coufran 2001, with a second waiting in the wings.

And what do you know? It was such a deep, resonant wine that a single bottle actually satisfied five of us. That’s an average of just 150ml each, although Mrs K, inevitably, had a little less and my brother-in-law and I, inevitably, had a little more.

I’m left pondering that old adage: “drink better, drink less”. Given that there’s always going to be more to savour slowly in a mature claret than in a brisk, fresh Sauvignon Blanc. That if you’ve invested more to start with – whether money, time or expectation – you’re not going to motor mindlessly through your wine like a suction pump. 

Perhaps “drink better, drink less” is not a philosophy, an encouragement, or an ambition – but a statement of fact?


Thursday, 18 September 2014

Getting The Hang: Liberty Wines

So PK and I are down at the recent Liberty Wines tasting in South London, and it's packed with wine types, buyers, restaurateurs, know-alls, hangers-on, plausible youngish men in trousers the colour of a rash, as crowded as an Egyptian train station, in fact, and there are more wines on display than you can begin to imagine: only for once I don't feel crushed by my own boundless ignorance, but instead, weirdly empowered. How can this be?

Because this is one of those tastings where the wines are grouped by grape, rather than region. Which is incredibly good news for at least two reasons. First, it means that there is no producer/importer pouring out the wines in surgically tiny amounts while probing you for insights which you don't have. Everything's jumbled together, so you help yourself - which allows a tradecentric wine fair to become something more like an immense and slightly heartless drinks party where you don't know anyone.

Secondly, the process of identification is simplified a millionfold. Charismatic bottle with pungent, design-studio label, surrounded by others just the same? Could be anything. Identical bottle, on a table with the word MALBEC written on a placard on a stick? I'm home and dry, already confident that I don't like it. CHARDONNAY posted above a table the size of a garage door, covered in heartbreakingly blonde botttles? I am all over it, especially since the first thing I see is a perfectly-chilled Chassagne-Montrachet which tastes every bit as Catherine Deneuve as it looks. 'Life is good,' I say to PK, who merely grunts and ducks his head as he moves purposefully towards the distant CABERNET SAUVIGNON.

After four years of Sediment and many humiliations and much queasy ignorance, something has lodged. Over here, I spot the SANGIOVESEs containing, yes, a couple of nice Chiantis. Feeling a need to stay Italian, I scout around for a Vermentino, and there it is, VERMENTINO, a whole trestle of it, and some of is delicious, just the way I'd hoped. PK and I then cuff some PINOT NOIR about a bit, noting with blithe pomposity how hard it is to get Pinot Noir just right. Next to someone who knows their wines, I am still an idiot, a tabula rasa. Next to someone who really doesn't know their wines, I am starting to sound like someone who knows their wines.

'How did you learn all that stuff?' I guilelessly quiz PK, who is, of course, no use to me, claiming to have once had a youthful Epiphany as a consequence of which he dedicated himself in priestly manner to Bordeaux; but he won't say when it was, or what it was, which I find sinister. Add to this the problem that my trying to learn anything these days is pretty futile; committing finished, actual wines, with names, to memory, is like trying to remember the Periodic Table - a sequence of impenetrable symbols and nomenclatures, arcana I just don't get. I am old.

On the other hand, learn-about-wine courses do like to begin with grapes and go from there, so there must be a reason. I once had to spend half a day in the bristling company of the then Chairman of the Wine Development Board, who harangued me and some drunken women about Cabernet Sauvignon in the basement of a hotel in St James's; I wasn't any the wiser by the end, but the occasion as a whole sticks in my mind. So grapes are good. Like cities on a map, they're the entities around which you mentally structure your progress towards the smaller, cuter, subdivisions, the townlets and villages, the wine makers and the châteaux. Some of this (therefore) must have become internalised over time, in spite of the fact that my head is basically filled with kapok.

And here's a thing: what if the big supermarkets stocked their booze by grape variety? How cool would that be? Shiraz/Syrah mixes over here; Sauvignon Blanc over here; Pinot Noir (including champagnes) over here? Yes, it would create limitless problems of supply and display and generate a catastrophic amount of human error. But the clarity, the almost divine sense of order if it did work: instead of having to make sense of the whole phonebook of wine, the undifferentiated rabble, Australia to Zimbabwe, we would have a strong, simple, memorable taxonomy, the benefits of which would be miraculous - and I can think of two, straight off. One: if (like, let's say, PK) you wanted to pursue the noble Cabernet Sauvignon across the globe in all its manifestations, your job would be made massively easier and more satisfying. Two: it would become blindingly obvious to all supermarkets that they had five hundred times more examples of Pinot Grigio than anyone could possibly want. And that's just for starters.


Thursday, 11 September 2014

Lessons learnt – McGuigan Estate Shiraz

Foolishly, stupidly, I let CJ buy a bottle of wine for the two of us. I feel I should allow others to benefit from this sorry experience.

We are working on Sediment’s first ever stage appearance, at the Chiswick Book Festival. A day of editing and reading requires a light lunch of sandwiches etc – and whether to get us in the zone, or to mete out some kind of punishment, CJ insists that we need a bottle of wine to go with it. He’s buying, he says, brandishing a fiver as if it is a golden ticket, and not a printed guarantee of disappointment.

And I agree, partly because, out of some ethnographic curiosity, I want to see what happens when someone like CJ buys a bottle of wine. Someone so like CJ that he is, in fact, CJ. Rather than point out the errors of his ways, I shall simply observe them. There are lessons to be learnt here, and I shall pass them on for what they are worth.

Needless to say, I approach with caution the McGuigan Estate Shiraz he chooses. As the McGuigan name coincidentally reminds me, Shiraz can be a pretty pugilistic wine at the best of times. And this one is thick and purplish, like a bruise. Never mind how my teeth are going to look, I worry about whether it is capable of staining my tumblers. (Because of course, he wants to drink it out of tumblers…) 

Astonishingly, CJ is comfortable with its furious attack. I have never before described a wine as ‘angry’, but there is something about this wine which tastes exactly as a bee in a jamjar sounds. It growls ferociously around my mouth, a brawl between tannins and alcohol taking place ankle-deep in fruit. 

I look to CJ for guidance. In this particular arena of bodily harm, he’s got form.

“Leave it in the glass for a bit,” he suggests, wiping his now watering eyes. 

He’s right, in the sense that it gives up the fight, and collapses. Drinking it becomes slow and arduous, like wading through a fruit slurry.

What do we learn from this? Well, there were several elementary mistakes I think CJ made. Take note, and you can avoid similarly unpleasant consequences.

Location, location, location. There are many places you can purchase a decent bottle of wine these days but, despite the broadening of their commercial remit, these do not include somewhere calling itself a Post Office.

Height. At one point, I almost fell over CJ, who was crouching down on his haunches, the better to choose from the lower shelves. If you think of Darwin’s unfolding ascent of man, the cheap wine buyer is the figure bent low on the left, the equivalent of the knuckle-dragging cro-magnon. As opposed to the upright, homo sapien wine buyer on the right. You can’t argue with evolution. The latter stance has developed for a reason, viz. that it puts you on an eyeline with anything worth drinking. 

Language. This label says that “The premium vineyard regions of South Australia provide some of the country’s finest wines”. It does not claim that this is one of them.

Trophies. Although the microscopic print reveals that they are three years old, and don’t apply to this actual wine, there are two medals on its label. “Look! medals!” says CJ triumphantly. He thinks commendations. I think, Colonel Gadaffi

Screwcap. Most of the arguments against corks are about the maturing and/or spoilage of good wine, not about the bottling of wine which is dreadful in the first place. This seems to me something of a numbers game. There are still relatively few great wines with a screwcap. Ergo, the chances of a terrible wine must increase if it does not have a cork.

Price. Well, what can you expect for a fiver after Mr Osborne has trousered his take? As it looks to offload its massive overproduction, there’s a possibility of finding a drinkable bottle of wine from Spain. But if you want to guarantee something good to drink for less than a fiver, buy a beer.

But I think he knows. I think CJ needs something to rail against, somewhere to vent his spleen. He is like a man who follows a continually failing football team. It nourishes his sense of injustice. We all need things in our lives which help us appreciate the good, and he seems to have chosen cheap wine.

And, for better or worse, me.


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Costières de Nîmes: Language Issues

So, three things happen:

1) I finally knock off the bottle of Costières de Nîmes I acquired a couple of weeks ago. This was the one I bought on Olly Smith's recommendation - he called it 'Plump, sleek red with deep summery fruit,' also, 'Spot on for serving lightly chilled with a barbecue', a claim I couldn't double-check on account of not having a barbecue in the first place. Worth hunting down in Sainsbury's? Well, I got some spicy, chocolatey sensations, quite a belt at the back of the neck from the 14% alcohol, but nothing sleek, and not what I could honestly call fruit: more nuts and caramel, like drinking a Toblerone bar. Lesson learnt? That I don't experience the world the same way as Olly Smith. Just as well (I piously observe) we're not all the same, how dull it would be if we all had identical tastes, perhaps if I followed Olly Smith more assiduously I would learn where his favouritisms tend to lead him and adjust my expectations accordingly, and so on.

2) Then I make the fatal mistake of buying a copy of Decanter, something I think I've only done once before in my life. What's the problem with Decanter? Only that it intensifies the crisis of language which started with Olly Smith - mainly when I get to page 10 and find Andrew Jefford really letting himself go about Merlots. For instance: 'The 2009 brims with richness (cream, vellum, faded roses) and thick-textured, late-Romantic, Rosenkavalier-like decadence'; or, 'just beginning to tiptoe towards the Havana-leaf complexities the variety is justly celebrated for'; or even 'broad-chested' (of a wine, this is); and 'a similar vapoury classicism'. I am now squinting with rage. What, actually, does all this convey? To put it another way, why do wine writers give themselves over to this kind of deranged poeticism? Fauré's Requiem was once described as 'Death and Château d'Yquem'; the motoring journalist LJK Setright, who always wore his learning effortfully, wrote a poem to a Ferrari ('The red-eyed ramrod thrust of the warhorse', and more, in that vein); William Mann famously talked about the 'Chains of pandiationic clusters' in the Beatles' songs; but these are well-mapped and easily avoided embarassments. Most of the time, we can only stand so many panting metaphors (see what I mean?) before we lose the will to live. Why then do wine writers - not just Andrew Jefford - start sounding like Lawrence Durrell the moment they get close to a fancy bottle? Whose interests do they serve?

3) Helplessly browned off, I discover a little item on the BBC website, hinting at a possible new dispensation. Scientists have been working on ways to fingerprint the characteristics of wines objectively and consistently; or, as the Beeb puts it, 'Demand is growing for a more objective test - to help consumers bypass woolly terminology, protect artisan producers' intellectual property, and help auction houses detect fraud.' Clearly, the real news in this concerns the fraud aspect - Rudy Kurniawan being the most recent, biggest and boldest fraudster of them all - but this in turn throws a light on the gullibility of high-end wine buyers, which in turn throws light on the potentially misleading irrelevance of all that rococo wine writing, all that woolly terminology. Even if the characteristics of every single wine in the world could be summed up in a unique chemical barcode, it wouldn't - of course - halt the stampede for the thesaurus whenever the cork came out, and the consequent yielding to ten-dollar words. There's something about the cultural potency of wine (love, good fellowship, riot, heartbreak, social aggrandisement, escape, death, versifying, hilarity, yearning, tasty meals, song, vendetta, humiliation, action painting, all down to it) that encourages people to toss reasonable scepticism out of the window. But. Suppose, just suppose, once everyone had finished preening and phrase-making about, I don't know, a Pichon-Longueville, there was a great string of numbers, like the identifying numbers on a car chassis - well, how rational, how calming, would that be? If I were a proper wine writer, I'd say it was like moving from a Dickensian parlour crammed with dodgy antiques, into Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, but I'm not, so I won't.