‘It is a little, shy wine, like a gazelle.’
‘Like a leprechaun’ Dappled in a tapestry meadow.’
‘Like a flute by still water’…… ‘Like a swan’
Like the last unicorn.’
Sniffing, slurping and gargling through Lord Marchmain’s cellar, I ignore the whimsy, youthful imagination, considerable exuberance and callow adolescent cooing of Messrs Ryder and Flyte and concentrate on the wines that Wilcox brings up.
‘Claret says you?’ ‘Aye says I.’ From the sublime to the ridiculous, the good to the ordinary, the bad to the downright ugly. I attempt to separate my Latour from my Latrine.
The smell, and subsequent taste, of the latter taints the painted parlour, p****s on my proverbial chips, and, like the Person from Porlock, sends me hurtling back to reality and the Guildhall to which I was summoned. Not by bells (Quasimodo rather than Betjeman) but by an incessant inbox ping extolling the virtues of, yet another, amazing vintage of affordable Bordeaux.
‘Bask in the regions reflected glory for less than a tenner with our minuscule allocation of Chateau du Manderlay’. Yet another ‘Chateau you’ve never heard of ‘ making one wonder about the availability of affordable housing outside the city walls.
This is not the good stuff, but lesser fare, laissez faire, wines tugging their forelocks to their elders and betters, drawn along inexorably on the coat tails of the great and good. Coercion based on commercial self interest. The capturing of hearts and minds. The reworking of wine on the cheap.
I’m sure you know the adjectives by now; mature, classic, approachable (no tangible descriptors) touched with cedar. Smell the pencil case , the tweed, the glove.
All about me wines are whipped into whirlpools in the search for, mostly absent, characteristics. When perceived – I will not say found – a low growl of appreciation reverberates around the hallowed hall and the wondrous elixirs are thrown back like Prester John supping from the Grail.
‘Has this increased in price’?
‘No sir. But I expect it to appreciate considerably, by the day’s end, as there are only 8,000 cases left’.
‘Ah yes, I can feel it opening up’
The myth is spun, the straw become gold, the commodity brokered. I could excuse this if the wines were divine, but they are not. It saddens me deeply that the British seigneurial palate fails to turn toward more humble appellations for its satisfaction.
Searching for inspiration, and adjectives, I raise my eyes to the lavishly timbered, swashbucklingly stupendous ceiling, careful not to swallow the wine in my mouth.
Notably nasty, dustily dry, with searingly marked acidity and the aroma of a storm drain.
‘Try this one sir, a wonderful vintage, saved ( yet again) by a glorious end to the growing season’.
This is not tasting what’s in the glass but the false promise of a label and the perpetuation of myth over reality, evoking hazy, youthful, memories of leisurely lunches in ‘Old Scrotums Wine Bar’ while the proprietor busily scrapes the mould off the cheese before wheeling it out with some tired, old, tawny to an increasingly pissed clientele.
I dislike under-ripe Cabernet. The leanness, greenness and meanness of the fruit, the dusty, musty, crusty, unresolved tannins – reminiscent of running one’s tongue along the floor of a long abandoned outbuilding – the flat footed, foursquare, stringy structure and the disagreement it wages against the majority of foods.
The first mistakes take place, as always, in the vineyard. Vine health is key, as is poor vine material – yes you can taste this – site and soil selection, pests, diseases, viruses and, most importantly, vine stress and dilution from overcropping in the interests of profit.
Picking or harvesting is of prime importance. The trend is to harvest over-ripe to avoid those pesky pyrazines – that give those green peppery vegetal notes – basing logistics over tannin ripeness then using cultured yeasts and a lash of new (ish) oak to add a bit of polish.
The wine is then comprehensively unmade in the winery and, while I ere on the side of ordure over order, I prefer it if the winemaker doesn’t leave the vinification to an assortment of cats, rats, bats and birds.
I can forgive Flyte and Ryder their youthful enthusiasm, but more is required for John Bull than the advice of some ruddy cheeked, red trousered, obsequious and unscrupulous merchant, in novelty cufflinks, reeking of eau de bonhomie. Whose judicious dash of dishonesty may return to haunt him in the deep, dark, bargain basement of the small hours, weighed down by the mayoral chains and tastevins he forged in life.
Nostalgia and desire by association are dangerous things. The Christian Eucharist. The ancient mystery cults. The supplicants desire to view the shrivelled member of the martyr.
‘Liquor sweet and most divine which my God feels as blood but I as wine’.
George Herbert’s words stir us to meditation, then exhilaration, prior to the inevitable burp of satisfaction – a source of pleasure, but not an object of pleasure.
Like Bono – I will allow this one association only – I still hadn’t found what I was looking for and what I was looking for was fruit!
For today, at least, the last unicorn is safe in its woodland idyll.
‘That will be all Wilcox.’