If you’re looking for something ‘winey’ to read on your summer holidays then you won’t do better than getting hold of a copy of ‘I’ve Bought It, So I’ll Drink It’ by leading writers in their own right, but also the double act behind the successful Sediment wine blog, Charles Jennings and Paul Keers. Here, in the first of a couple of extracts from the book, we re-reproduce their take on trying to buy a bottle of wine from a “posh wine merchant”.
Award-winning author Julian Barnes, no less, has described ‘I’ve Bought It, So I’ll Drink It’ as “not just laugh-aloud funny but snortingly, choke-on-your cornflakes funny, up there with Kingsley Amis”. Quite an accolade. Judge for yourself in the first of a couple of extracts from the book with some lessons for any “posh” wine merchants out there.
Taken from the chapter entitled “The Posh Wine Merchants”
At my local posh wine merchants – the ones (like all posh wine merchants) with an ampersand in their name – facing the door, and hence visible from the street, a rack has appeared, proclaiming a selection of wines for under £10.
This is clearly designed to attract the paupers, riff-raff and ne’er-do-wells who shuffle past their door en route to the Tesco Express, normally pausing only to raise their eyes in longing like a labrador outside a butcher’s.
An immediate giveaway of their poshness (apart from the ampersand) is the fact that they consider ‘under £10’ to be unusual enough to merit announcement. To put this into perspective, the website of this particular merchant offers 943 wines above £10. They also have wine at over £1,000 a bottle.
Their signs look as if they are written in chalk, but in fact are painted permanently. ‘Good wine for under £10’ one sign declares. ‘Good’? As an Englishman huffily responds to most forms of advice, I’ll be the judge of that.
‘Change from £10 oh yeah!’, which sounds like one of Paul McCartney’s earlier lyrics.
And finally, ‘Only got £10 no problem’, which raises a couple of issues, only one of which is grammatical. If you had literally only got £10, I suspect you would have a lot of problems, and spending your sole remaining tenner in a wine merchant’s would be way down your list of fiscal priorities.
But this particular merchant has an equally particular way of describing the wine at the upper end of their price range, too. Take the opening of their description for a bottle of 2004 Burgundy, costing £335: ‘Still only just finishing its malo, so hard and gassy . . . ’
‘Hard and gassy’? That certainly does not encourage me to spend £335 on a bottle. It sounds like a couple of the guys at Stamford Bridge.
It’s bad enough when CJ says a wine tastes of old newspapers and seems to think that’s a good thing, but at least his wine’s only £3.99. But, hang on. ‘Just finishing its malo . . . ’ – what? What??
There are, presumably, people for whom the malolactic fermentation of a wine is a key purchasing influence, and for whom terms like ‘needs some time’, or ‘not ready yet’ are insufficiently specific.
But it is the chatty abbreviation ‘malo’, which annoys me, like, yah, that’s the way we banter about our £335 wine. Yah.
Anyway, in I stroll. Of course, I try to give off the air of someone who was intending to saunter all the way down the store, to the First Growth clarets and the £335 Burgundies finishing their malo at the far end, only to be rudely interrupted by the under-£10 display in my way.
Oh, what’s this? Wines for under £10? Crikey! Do such things exist? How charming.
I am not interrupted with ‘assistance’ as I look at the modest selection, because obviously for £10 you’re not going to get the unctuous fawning you expect when you’re spending £300+ on a bottle, never mind the banter about vintages and the repartee about malolactic fermentation.
Besides, they presumably don’t want to frighten away those who have been lured, nervous as sparrows, across their threshold, but are more familiar with the self-selection of the supermarket.
It’s a sunny day, and I plump for an intriguing Italian white, Anima Umbra, made primarily from the Grechetto grape, which I’ve not encountered before. It has a couple of troublingly downmarket elements, such as gold foil on its label, which lends it a sort of bonkbuster paperback appearance; and I find when I get home that it has a green plastic cork, which is a vile and unnatural thing, resembling some kind of medical bung.
But actually, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable wine. Intensely floral on the nose, lovely creamy texture, and then an extraordinary balance of full, apple and peach, fruit notes, with a crisp, refreshing aftertaste. Just the kind of acrobatics which create an excellent white to drink on its own. Yes, it is good wine for under £10.
Now, I’m not going to make any sweeping judgements about buying from merchants versus buying from supermarkets. But there is one fundamental difference.
Clumsy as their promotional tactics may be, wines in merchants are properly priced. These are not short-term offers, with the wine doubling back up in price next week. And you can be equally confident that it’s not going to be reduced next week either, to £5, or two for a tenner, or buy one get one free. This is wine which is actually worth £9.95.
Plus, I think it’s finished its malo.