Thursday, 26 November 2015

Saw This And Thought Of You: The Sediment Gift Catalogue

So with Christmas just around the corner, what better time to bring out the Sediment seasonal catalogue, half-full of tempting stocking-fillers and can't-live-without Christmas treats? Well, almost any time would be better, given that it's already too late in the day and that I have no idea where these items are to come from, or how they are to be paid for, or made, or where, indeed, we would keep them if we had them. Perhaps if we look at this as a first installment for the 2016 gift catalogue, it might make more sense.

At any rate, this is where we are so far:

Sediment Pour Homme: the fragrance no wine lover will want to be without - a unique and seductive creation for the man who knows how to enjoy the finer things in life and roughly how much to pay for them. With its keynotes of cinnamon, warm horse, jacket patches, patchouli, cooking sherry, old briar pipes, dung beetle and spilled claret, it announces you to the world in a way that no other men's perfume can. Stand out and express your inner Sediment this Christmas!
50ml bottle: £75.00
150ml gift presentation bottle: £145.00

Electronic Salutation Coaster: Bored with your iWatch? Jaded by your drone? Then how about this electronic marvel - it looks like an ordinary round metal coaster with Fin-de-Siècle filigree decoration and a disconcertingly thick base, but prepare to be amazed as soon as you lift up your glass: it says Cheers! loudly and clearly, in a variety of regional accents. Even better - when you replace the glass, it rewards you with a lip-smacking Aaaah! of pleasure. Not enough? Then take it to the next level with the Electronic Salutation Coaster Executive Edition. This can be programmed to announce, among other salutations, Bottoms Up, Prosit, A Votre Santé, Mud In Your Eye, Salud, Sláinte, Down The Little Red Lane We Go, Skol, L'Chaim, Here's Peering Up Your Poncho Pancho, Tvajo Zdarovye and many others.
Standard Electronic Salutation Coaster: £150.00
Executive Edition: £175.00

CJ & PK Monogrammed Sediment Socks: Tired of trying to remember which is your left foot and which the right? Want to show your loyalty to Sediment but don't know how? Sort out both problems in one go with these fabulous hand-embroidered cashmere socks - the left bearing the initials CJ, the right nattily adorned with PK. Simply put CJ on the left foot each time you get dressed, and the rest will follow. Impress your friends with your unique sense of style at the same time as you banish left foot/right foot anxiety!
Per pair: £15.00
Special gift 3-pack: £35.00
Special gift 3-pack plus 150ml gift presentation bottle of Sediment Pour Homme: £165.00

Grand Theft Merlot: Engrossing, fast-paced, shoot-em-up video game, developed in collaboration with Sediment, specifically to get the kids to take an interest in fine wines. Grand Theft Merlot puts you literally in the driving seat as you fight your way through the criminal ranks, running shoplifting raids for Blossom Hill at the local Costcutter, before moving up to a Tesco Metro and half-a-dozen Wolf Blass Cabernet Sauvignons, then Majestic Wines and a smash-and-grab on a whole case of good value Chilean Reds - until at last you're ready to challenge the real wine kingpins with a well-thought-out selection of reds, whites and sparklings from Berry Bros & Rudd, some for laying down, some for drinking straight away, all of them acquired with the aid of guile, Hugh Johnson's Wine Atlas, gunfire, sexy girls, tasting notes and fast cars!
Age 18+
Platforms: PlayStation 4, XBox 360
Price: £40.00

Sediment Miniature Wine Rack: Nowhere to put your collection of 18.7cl mini bottles (or smaller) of fine wines? Tired of bunching them together in confusion at the back of a cupboard? The Sediment Miniature Wine Rack is here to save the day. No bigger than 40cm x 40cm x 20cm, this tiny but perfectly crafted teak-effect oenophile's wonder holds 36 mini bottles, keeping them in perfect condition for that special moment when only a very small bottle of Campo Viejo Rioja will do. So compact that you can keep it on your coffee-table; so elegant and practical, all your friends will want one!
Price: £65.00
Deluxe Walnut Effect: £120.00

You see what I'm getting at? Let me tell you, if this initial selection sounds exciting, then wait until next year. Or 2017. No later than December 2018, I absolutely guarantee. In fact, you could send us the money now, seriously.


Thursday, 19 November 2015

Now, don't get carried away…

This charge on plastic carrier bags has hit wine buyers harder than most High Street shoppers.

Those outside the UK need to know that our big retailers are now charging 5p for each plastic carrier bag. They could, of course, provide free paper  bags – but they don’t. Arrive at the checkout without your own bag, and it’s a 5p carrier, or nothing. There are exceptions, so you can still get free plastic bags for raw fish, raw meat, and of course those staple purchases, corms or rhizomes. But not wine.

The thing is, winelovers don’t necessarily go out prepared to carry wine. But you pass a supermarket, and they’re shouting about a reduction, so you pop in just to have a look, just to keep your eye in, and lo and behold, there’s something interesting on offer.

It’s all very well walking home with an unbagged pint of milk or a loaf of bread. Everyone assumes you were just caught short. But, can you be caught short of wine? As far as I’m concerned, that’s just casting aspersions on my cellar.

And people don’t see wine as an impulse purchase, except by those whose impulses require a spell in rehab.

You might say that if you’re spending £10 on a bottle of wine, then 5p on a bag in which to carry it is a minute fiscal addition. Well, I make that 0.5%, which thanks to the current interest rates is what my bank will currently give me if I save that £10 for an entire year. And they advertise that as being an immensely attractive, significant sum. Which obviously I am not going to blow all at once on a wild extravagance like a carrier bag.

But unless you do, it can be more than a little awkward, walking up the High Road carrying a naked bottle of wine.

Your purchase may be utter rubbish, bought because it’s on offer, and because you really are intending to cook with it, honestly. But there you have to go, announcing your poverty and/or poor judgment to all and sundry. Every passer-by is going to think you’re an ignoramus. Or a mug.

(What do you mean, people don’t judge people that way by the wine they’re carrying? I certainly do…)

And can you bear the look on your regular wine merchant’s face as you walk past his frontage bearing a supermarket bargain? You… traitor! He wouldn’t bat an eyelid at a supermarket bag, because he’d assume it contained a entirely different bottle, like olive oil, or bleach. (Although given some supermarket wines, you might be hard pushed to tell the difference…)

Alternatively, the wine you’re carrying may be reasonably good, rendering you a target for those snatch thieves on bicycles and scooters, Okay, they do normally grab mobile phones or watches, but they may be misled by the potential value of a bottle of Burgundy. They wouldn’t be the first to confuse a bottle of DRC with a basic Pinot Noir…

You’ve also got to decide how to carry your naked bottle. Cradled to the chest like a newborn? Inappropriate for anything less cherished than a Grand Cru Classé. The clench around the body? Gives a look of grim determination as if you are wielding a weapon. The carefree swinging by the neck? Not recommended for sparkling wines, as the ejaculatory opening employed by F1 drivers is not popular in social circles which favour interior décor.

Winebuyers had, in fact, become accustomed to a degree of bagging generosity. Check-out assistants would actually offer to double up bags, in order to make them stronger, and ensure your bottles got home safely. Supermarkets loved winebuyers.

So perhaps wine is a significant enough purchase for a supermarket to graciously say, do you know what, we’ll  pick up the charge on this bag, sir. Thanks for spending more than the average customer’s entire supermarket spend on just a couple of bottles of wine; we’re so grateful you bought them from us that we’ll let you have the bags gratis, and pay the charge ourselves.

Or perhaps another exception could be extended to winebuyers? For instance, there is no charge on bags for prescription medicines. I assume this is because people would be embarrassed holding a product boldly announcing some kind of personal problem. But in fact, most medicines fit into a pocket; and if you need so much Anusol that it won’t fit in your pocket then you’ve got far more than just embarrassment to worry about.

Couldn’t the embarassment exception be extended to winebuyers like me?

And then I can walk up the High Road again, carrying my wine in a free carrier bag. Like a purchaser of fresh meat. Or Anusol. 

Like a rhizome cowboy.


Thursday, 12 November 2015

Disappearing Act: Blason de Bourgogne Chablis

So after all this time plugging away at Sediment, how much free promotional drink have we managed to acquire? Candidly: we've had eight bottles. Eight bottles between the two of us. Over five years. And three of those were supplied in an access of pity by another, more successful, blog. I mean, this was one of the principal reasons for doing it in the first place, to get free samples, because otherwise what's the point? It's not even as if we have any scruples which might have landed us in this position. We'll take anybody's drink, whatever it is, provided it doesn't cost anything and we don't have to collect it. But the drink almost never comes.

Given that this is underwhelmingly where we are, you'd think I might make a better job of the one freebie which has come my way this year, and yes, I'm talking about Blason de Bourgogne Chablis which arrives courtesy of the altogether unimprovable Cube Communications, complete with a first-rate instructions sheet (the wine is 'Fine-boned and pure') plus tasting notes ('crystalline purity to the nose', 'crunchy orchard fruits', 'linear') so I don't have to do any thinking. And it tells me to pair it with 'a shellfish platter and goats' cheese', with that sophisticated positioning of the apostrophe to indicate that I'm the kind of guy who eats cheeses made from the milk of more than one goat, so freebooting yet discerning is my palate.

So. I go and get my bottle, which has been delivered to PK's house, but which I feel does not technically put it in breach of the no collection rule.

'You are going to write about it?' PK says, clearly thinking that it's something he'd be better suited to.
'Of course,' I say, taking the bottle home, placing it reverentially in my empty wine rack, admiring its sleek proportions and dignified labelling, and then forgetting about it.

A few of days later, in an abstracted state, I pull the thing out, chill it, open it, and drink about half the contents. I have nothing with which to write any tasting notes; in fact, I am barely aware of what I am drinking, other than to observe that it has a cork, not my usual style, and goes down without making my eyes water or my chest clench, again, not my usual style. I dispatch the rest a day or so after that, still only half-aware that this is a quality wine - which means that either it isn't a quality wine at all and that its virtues are so modest they barely cut through the dull ache which I recognise as consciousness; or that I can no longer tell the difference between good and bad wines. The latter seems more compelling, but whatever else, it certainly means that I have taken my one authentic gift of the year and squandered it. I have also thrown away the piece of paper containing crystalline purity. And the bottle. In fact, the Blason de Bourgogne Chablis might as well not have existed.

Then, of course, PK starts enquiring after it, have I drunk it yet, how am I finding it? I am now a fourteen year old schoolboy, obliged to explain that not only have I not done the homework, but have lost the materials I needed to do it with. This is clearly a huge test of PK's inner decency, but instead of punching me or storming out of the room, he re-supplies the peripheral material while stopping short of letting me have his bottle of Blason de Bourgogne Chablis in order that I might re-taste the wine I forgot to taste while I was tasting it. All I can do now is summon up a ghost memory of linearity, oh, and 'green leaves' which are 'draped around a steely core of minerality'. And I'm not saying it didn't possess any of those characteristics.

I can see that if you wanted to promote a wine, then Sediment, on this showing, might not be the best shop window. What can I do? How can I reclaim the integrity which I have clearly abandoned, not just in PK's eyes, but in the eyes of Cube Communications, assuming they're paying any attention to this, and French winemakers generally? This is what happens when you let your standards slip: I've not only let PK down, I've let down the makers of Blason de Bourgogne Chablis, and, worst of all, I've let myself down. Although, let's not kid ourselves, that last one happens most days anyway.


Thursday, 5 November 2015

Cases dismissed – Majestic Wine Warehouse

To celebrate their new pricing policy, I set off to walk to Majestic. It’s a longish way, but this time I can walk. Because I won’t have to walk back again lugging half a dozen bottles. I can buy just one.

Last week, Majestic Wine Warehouse decided to abandon its “minimum six bottles” rule, and allow customers to buy single bottles of wine. But this change in policy unleashed a surprising stream of pent-up anger; there were uniformly negative comments about Majestic when the Daily Telegraph reported the change.

So remind me. Why in the first place would you want to shop for wine in a warehouse?

Surely a warehouse is the sort of place to which you go for building supplies. Planks, gravel, some forbetwos, a couple of soggy chimps and a forty-eight foot bastard.

Yet, anticipating a sophisticated dinner party, you set off for a warehouse. Somewhere semi-industrial, with the striplighting of a penal institution. Where the staff wear not the striped shirts or even artisan aprons of wine merchants, but fleeces, because they’ve supposedly just finished work on the fork-lift outside. A warehouse, where you can wander through stacks of boxes and bottles, piled up to head height on industrial pallets. Ah, the sophistication of wine…

Why did we undertake this grim exercise? Because we believed that, by buying in bulk, from a warehouse, we enjoyed a discount unavailable to those buying only single bottles. It was a similar premise to a cash-and-carry, only with the added cachet of saying that you were buying “a case of wine”, which sounds classier than a multipack.

There was also a feeling that you were somehow beating the system, that you were shopping higher up the supply chain, virtually from the back of a cross-Channel HGV. And that in a basic warehouse rather than a stylish shop, you weren’t paying for needless fripperies, like shelves.

All of this was understood when the minimum purchase was a twelve-bottle case. You took your car, because the warehouse was appropriately stuck out on a grim drag of town alongside storage units and car dealers. Or out on a retail estate, next to Sofa Land and Oak Furniture Land, out in the Land of Lands.

And having gone through this whole unappealing and time-consuming process, you wouldn’t return home without something to justify the trip; so when that “something” had to be twelve bottles, if you went at all you always came back with a case.

In recent years, Majestic dropped their minimum purchase to six bottles. Okay, wine is an industry which seems unable to decide whether a case is six bottles or twelve. And they produced divided carriers, so that you could leave the car at home and lug six bottles back home by hand, presumably whistling and clanking like a milkman.

(For younger readers I should explain that a “milkman” was someone who used to provide sexual favours to housewives, under cover of distributing bottles of milk to their doors.)

But now, Majestic are allowing you to buy just one, single bottle. Which means they are going to be compared to those popular neighbourhood retail concepts, shops. And without the requirement of buying an entire case, suddenly the warehouse concept seems rather absurd.

It emphasises quantity over quality, the canyons of boxes only underlining the gallons of the stuff they are trying to shift. It’s like walking through that Tate installation. 

The bottles on your average merchant’s shelf may be just the visible edge of a cellarful of stock, but at least that visible edge looks limited and desirable. The lighting in a shop is akin to a dining room, and not to a HMRC confiscation unit. And the staff in a wine merchant’s look as if they might actually come for a dinner party, rather than come to tidy the garden.

And then there’s the pricing. Because in a wine shop, there is usually a price on the shelf, and then a discount if you buy a case. At Majestic, the prominent price is, still, the discounted bulk price.

Which inevitably leads you to consider what the wines are actually worth. If somewhere permanently offers 25% off their wine when you buy six bottles, then presumably that is actually the price at which their business operates. That is, in my language, the regular price of the wine. And you’re simply a mug if you buy a single bottle – or, indeed, up to five bottles – and pay a punitive 25% more.

So I walked all the way back again, emptyhanded, unwilling to pay 25% over the regular price of a wine for the privilege of buying a single bottle. (If only the excellent piece on their prices by Geordie Clarke had appeared before I set off…)

Yes, you can now buy a single bottle of wine from Majestic. But in a set-up where everything, from the location to the presentation to the pricing itself, is still geared towards bulk purchase – why would you do that?


Thursday, 29 October 2015

A Meal At PK's House: Haut-Médoc 2005

This week's style icon: Cormac McCarthy

They drew up outside the house later that evening. The wind had got up and was stirring the plane trees and the ragged fescues growing between the stones. As they stepped out of the car, a squall hit them, spattering the night with leaves and rain and odd speckled shadows thrown by the electric lights like some ancient painting done in a time when there had been no buildings between them and the river. Away in another county, the horses stirred in their dark stabling and nickered and rubbed their flanks against the estacada.

PK opened the front door. The light from the hallway broke over them, revealing Mrs K standing some way behind, elegant, her large dark serious eyes taking them in. They had lit the heating for their guests, but the house was still cool and PK wore a charcoal colored jersey and shook hands with CJ and formally kissed Mrs J and Mrs K kissed them both and said that they were to admire the new floor which had been laid in the kitchen and the eating area. They solemnly looked at it and envied its smooth conformities, unlike the sad ruins which they had left behind in their own place.

That's a hell of a floor, said CJ.
Aint it though.
Must of cost a couple weeks' wages.

PK said nothing and they sat down to eat. The food was delicious, delicate cheese-flavored hojaldres followed by a stew of wine and beef and a lemon cream served in small white pots, one for each guest, and the utensils were new and hard to master, and after some time they spoke of the game known as fútbol and the women spoke of other, graver, matters and then they spoke of the wine which PK had brought out and placed upon the table like a monstrance, that they should see it in its particularity and uniqueness.

Must of cost a couple weeks' wages too.
You got me.
What's its name?
Chateau Tour du Haut Moulin 2005.
Where'd you get it at?
Some place.
Aint my usual.
You better believe that. You want some more?
I'm full as a tick.
Of the wine.
I believe I do.
You're gettin it down.
I'm next the heater. I'm dry.

It was a dark and withholding wine whose secrets did not make themselves clear at first but only later told of the earth in which the grapes once grew and the strange sense of a faded tapestry such as travellers might find in an abandoned homestead on the mesa. It left a black residue on the sides of their glasses.

Could plant a whole stand of cottonwoods in there. You got any more?
I'll see.

PK got up from the table and was gone some time and when he returned he held in his hand another bottle which he said was Taste the Difference and was not the same kind of wine. It had no cork, only a metal cap to plug the contents. He unscrewed the cap with a snapping noise before pouring the drink into their glasses.

Take a fresh glass, you dont want that shit in there.

CJ made a face as he tasted the new wine and looked for somewhere to spit it out but there was nowhere, only the smooth dark floor divided into even squares with thin cream lines between the squares and although they had said these squares could not be stained by wine or blood, still he felt uneasy at the thought of spitting the red wine out and made himself drink it down. He turned to PK.

That's somethin.
I wont dispute it.

PK held the bottle towards the light and looked at it and held his head at an angle and shook it as if the bottle had told him a lie of some kind.

You think this is okay?
I dont know.
Maybe it wants some time.
How much time we got?
I dont know.

By now they had eaten the last of the meal and they brought out coffee and spoke of the great sorrowfulness of the world. Outside the storm had abated and a thin clear moon could be seen among the shifting banks of cloud while the rainwater shivered in pools and the people of the town began to make their way home in the darkness. The women stopped talking and looked at the men.

Do you believe in fate, said Mrs J.
No mam.
Neither do I. That is why we must leave.

The complexities of that remark stayed with PK and CJ a long time, long after they had parted in that same hallway and CJ and Mrs J had said their thanks and remarked a last time on the beauty of the floor. Then they headed south towards the river which lay like a rope uncoiled and passing between the lives of those who had grown up beside it.


Thursday, 22 October 2015

Does giving mean taking? – Trusting in St Emilion

A weekend on the South Coast, including lunch at friends, and a new twist on the old dilemma of which wine to take as a gift. Do I really have to carry a bottle all that way on public transport?

Now that you can’t carry bottles of wine back home in an airplane, I’d forgotten just how heavy they are in an overnight bag. Never one to stint on clothing options, I was already weighed down in case of an unpredicted storm or, alternatively, heatwave, let alone the impossibility of precisely interpreting the dress code, “relaxed”. So really, the last thing I wanted was the additional weight, let alone breakage hazard, of a bottle of wine.

The obvious solution was to find a wine shop at our destination, and buy a bottle there.

Now once, Mrs K and I were walking towards a neighbour’s dinner party, when we met another couple of mutual friends from the other side of London. They were walking from the tube station, but in the opposite direction, towards us. It soon emerged that all four of us were actually going to the same dinner party. We therefore pointed out helpfully that they were walking the wrong way.

Ah, they said, but isn’t there a wine shop in that direction, where they could buy a bottle to take as a gift?

Something about this manoeuvre seemed both disturbingly calculated, and frighteningly risky. Travelling comfortably to a dinner party, yes, without lugging a bottle all the way across London. Smart move. But then, relying on finding your gift on arrival. Having to buy whatever a local wine shop could offer, with no opportunity to shop around. Possibly turning up with a bottle you couldn’t talk about, or even recommend yourself, because it’s a wine you didn’t actually know.

No, I would usually rather rely upon my little cellar to provide dinner party gifts; not only do I know what it has to offer, but providing gifts helps to mitigate its existence to Mrs K. Failing that, there is a reliably good wine merchant on my High Road. Giving a decent bottle invariably means taking one with me. And so I will carry a bottle all the way, advertising our social life to everyone on public transport. Even if it does alert potential cutpurses that I might be worth a few bob, in the unlikely event that any mugger is familiar with the 1855 classification.

But in this case, the weight and distance were just too much. I would have to trust to finding a wine shop in this South Coast town. It would be what I believe they call… an adventure.

I soon learnt that to Mr Google, with all his infinite variety, the term “wine shop” covers a multitude of sins. There was nowhere whose name offered that comforting confusion with a legal practice.

The first establishment to which it steered me was little better than a newsagent; it did, presumably, meet the technical description, in that you could shop for wine there, but not for a wine you would drink with anyone else, unless you were drinking together on a bench. And the second, despite actually calling itself a wine shop, was basically an off-licence, specialising in beer, baccy and Blossom Hill.

Fortunately the third was an actual wine shop; if a bit young and enthusiastic, keen on hipster varieties and distinctly lacking in traditional wines (‘because it’s so hard to get the value in Bordeaux these days’ – well, tell me about it…) Instead, they had the familiar glossy culprits from the New World, the Cloudy Bays, Chocolate Blocks and d’Arenbergs. At least those give you some kind of pricing benchmark. (Dead Arm at £34.95? Ouch.)

But when you’ve taken a chance on finding a decent wine shop at all, you’re going to play safe on your choice of wine as a gift. Arrive bearing a bottle labelled St Emilion Grand Cru Classé, and most recipients are going to feel you’re knowledgeable, grateful and generous. Just how I like to be regarded. 

And you know what you're going to get. No matter what you tell me about that Ruritanian organic wine, I am not taking it to my friends for lunch if its main description is that it’s “interesting…”.

So I settled for Chateau Mangot 2009, a St Emilion somewhat ambitiously priced at £24.95. And the assistant stifled my financial concerns and sent me off instead with an indulgently warm feeling, easily awarded by simply saying, “Good choice, sir!”

Well, if I say so myself, it was. Because it was soft and smooth and rich and smoky and all the things you want from a mature claret for a Sunday lunch. And the hostess said it was lovely, when she managed to get a glass in between her husband and me polishing off the rest.

I would never wish to associate myself with the English tourists who eat egg and chips in Spain. But when you’re in strange territory, there is comfort to be found in the familiar. Even in the most exciting young wine shops, there’s a place for traditional wines, which establish a benchmark of knowledge (and price) by which first-time customers can measure the offering. 

And yes, for meeting situations like mine. When you’re looking for a gift, a traditional wine is hard to beat. A safe bet, maybe, but a good choice indeed.


Thursday, 15 October 2015

Great Wine Moments In Movie History VII: An Eternal Golden Braid

...Caché (2005): This wonderfully unsettling psychological thriller from Michael Haneke, deconstructs the supercomfortable middle-class wolrd of Daniel Auteuil, menaced by a hidden observer with a surveillance camera. Terrible truths are, inevitably, revealed. Being a film about well-heeled French domestic life - however threatened - it also contains several eating and drinking moments, and some handsome red wines: one of the absolute cornerstones of French culture, invisibly corrupted, as it turns out, by the invisible presence of Auteuil's stalker. That's how dreadful the threat is: even the innocent, pleasurable, wine becomes a part of it. So what antidote can there be to this existential terror?

Carry On Up The Khyber (1968): Best of the Carry Ons by a considerable margin, not least because of the celebrated sequence at the end of the film in which Sid James, Joan Sims and the rest, plough (with full decorations) through a formal British Raj dinner, under heavy bombardment from an army of enraged tribesmen led by the Khasi of Kalabar (Kenneth Williams) and his lieutenant, Bungdit Din (Bernard Bresslaw). Bottles explode with shot, the chandelier crashes from the ceiling onto the table centrepiece, the orchestra is hit by a mortar shell, but the civilities never waver - not least in the the consoling and civilising presence of fine wines, a countervailing force against the dark barbarism outside. Clarets, from the look of them. Lady Ruff-Diamond (Sims), picking a chunk of ceiling from her pompadour hairstyle: 'Oh dear! I seem to have got a little plastered!'

Bicycle Thieves (1948): But what if you are the outsider? What if you are marginalised - like the father and son in Vittorio de Sica's masterpiece? Wine becomes implicated in your misfortune, an index, even, of your poverty and despair. Father (Lamberto Maggiorani) treats son (Enzo Staiola) to a restaurant meal with wine, a consolation for their latest round of misfortunes. 'Let's forget everything and get drunk!' he cries. But the next table is occupied by a family of gallingly prosperous suburban Romans. Their wine is plentiful and arrives in smart bottles with labels; the father and son's comes in a greasy blank carafe. The father's good mood begins to slip away. Within minutes, he is compulsively rehashing the events that have led to his downfall - the theft of his bike, mainly - and outlining the humiliation that threatens to overwhelm them. The wine is a false friend, confirming the mood, rather than banishing it. 'We'll find it,' says the son, braver than his father, 'we'll go every day to the Porta Portese'. Do they get drunk? No. But Dumbo does.

Dumbo (1941): This is one which Disney himself had to finish off, when most of his studio went on strike. It is also the one in which Dumbo and his friend, Timothy Mouse, accidentally get soused on some leftover grog - resulting in the authentically troubling Pink Elephants On Parade sequence. As anyone with children will tell you, this is one of the hardest episodes in a cartoon film to explicate to a four-year-old - harder, in its way, than the death of Bambi's mother or the surprising uselessness of The Jungle Book. Its vertiginous transformations and distortions (multicoloured devil elephants, amoebal ghost elephants) have something of the Little Nemo cartoons, but without the charm; while the atmosphere of sick menace is as bad as anything from Max Fleischer. This is not drink as we know it. This is a trip to the pharmacopeia, and one which tells you a lot about America's grimly conflicted relationship with drink and self-loathing. Not entirely dispelled by

The French Connection (1971): Another great film: William Friedkin's best, Gene Hackman's best, an unimprovable car chase, and a terrific stake-out sequence with Popeye Doyle (Hackman) freezing his butt off as he watches bad guy Charnier (Fernando Rey) tuck into a gourmet meal in a discreetly sumptuous New York restaurant (actually the Copain). Hackman gnaws a congealing pizza and blows on his chapped fingers; Rey luxuriates in, yes, a fine wine, a wine whose very fineness indicates how terrible and heartless he can be. This is wine as metaphor for evil - rather a remorseless depiction, especially from the country which gave us Dean Martin, but there you are. There is no necessary benevolence in the drink after all - only the capacity to take on a moral colour from whatever its surroundings happen to be. Which leads us handily back to the bottle on the sleek Parisan dining table...