The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

May 25, 2008


I see him in every restaurant I visit. I see his diffident request for a wine list. I see his pursed lips and furrowed brows as he considers which wine to order. I witness his orthodox and predictable adherence to white for fish and red for meats. I am unsurprised at his tentative mispronunciations of the wine's name. I sense him cringing when he hears the loud and ostentatious repetition of the name by the pimply waiter. I see him in every restaurant I visit.

The story is as old as snobbery. Where wine is concerned, there is much scope for elitism, much more so than with beer. Smug and superior wine critics have told us to expect the hint of nutmeg and the warmth of spring sunshine in every sip of a fine vintage. They assure us that wine is not merely to be swallowed, but breathed, smelled, swirled, and experienced with every sensory organ we have. They sneer at those of us who say that we like a particular wine but have no idea why, except that it tastes good. And they have browbeaten us with their scorn into a ritual as rigid as religion when the waiter brings our bottle to our table.

The waiter usually chooses the loudest person at the table to approve the wine. This person begins to shrink before our very eyes, and then - observing the contempt of his fellow diners - manfully faces up to his fate. He may have forgotten the name of the wine he had ordered, and can barely recall whether he ordered a cabernet or a shiraz or a zinfandel. He has no alternative, therefore, than to accept the bottle he has been shown.

The waiter then pours out a smidgeon into his goblet. The look of despair deepens on his face as he realises that he is now the hero of a vaunted ritual. He lifts the glass up to the light. His hand trembles but he keenly observes the colour of the wine. He swirls the liquid around and - seized with momentary bravado - adjures his party to appreciate the legs of the wine. He then proceeds to place his nose in the goblet and inhale deeply. "A rare bouquet," he will then proclaim. He will suck in a brief mouthful through pursed lips and inhale again. He will make slobbering noises, his mouth compressed like a fish's. He will gargle and chortle and waggle his eyebrows. The waiter will wait, impatient and sighing. He has seen it all before. But the ritual is important, so he waits. The man will swallow the wine and beam unblushingly at the waiter. "Good," he will finally announce.

What else can he say? It is unlikely he can tell if the wine is too young or too forward or cheeky or jejune. He can barely distinguish between vinegar and wine. In a blind test, he probably cannot tell a white apart from a red. He has probably seen the film Sideways and will offer to run for the hills if shown a Merlot. But faced with a wine that's corked and his own ignorance, what is he to do?

I know all about that man. That man is me.


Space Bar said...

Wow...that's a lot of posts in a last couple of days!

Have you read George Mikes? He's got a chapter in How To Be British, I think, that should sort out your problems. You have to learn to state with authority (and keep trembling shoes firmly out of sight) that the grapes were grown on the sunny side of the hill.

It has to be carried off with a high hand.

Fëanor said...

What ho, Space Bar. Yeah, I've been stuck at home with miserable weather and there's been nothing else to do than blog. I did read Mikes in the hoary past, but - with your exhortation - probably should revisit him as I can't remember a dashed thing from his books...

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