Uncorking a Growing Demand; Wine History, Culture, Good Taste and a Desire for Great Parties Have Combined as Liverpool Expands Its Role as a Wine-Fancying City

Article excerpt

Byline: David Charters reports

OVER the flavours of the still, crimson wine in the connoisseur's glass, you could see the shut-lids and the lashes, the tooth filling, dark chin stubble and wise smile on the face of the blind historian.

Behind them, we see the sullen old river, which brought here fine and exotic cargoes, as well as people of many faiths.

But on this clear day, the historian can see way beyond the vista spreading before them from a balcony perch high over the port. For he is looking at the past and he describes it so richly that you can almost touch the pictures in his words.

Today he is talking with the wine man about one of the great changes social changes in British life.

But first you have to cast your mind back some 30 years to a Saturday night in the lounge, almost any lounge in the country where the sofa and the chairs are lined-up, waiting in front of the telly

Suddenly the lads burst in, singing and shoving, flushed and exuberant, from their night in the smoky pub.

With them, they carry bags of chips and tubs of dipping-curry The bloke staggering a little at the back has the heaviest burden, simply known as "the cans".

These are, of course, cans of ale, an essential accompaniment to watching Match of the Day

For just a moment imagine how it would have been then if one of the lads had volunteered a preference for a nice glass of Pouilly-Fume.

Mouths hang agape. Eyes fall on him like spears from Heaven.

At such a sacred gathering, it would have been worse than belching at Holy Communion, or chorusing You'll Never Walk Alone on the Everton supporters' coach.

In those days only women and poets were expected to drink wine and, and, oh dear... how could you express it? - well, those chaps, you know, who don't grow hair on their chests.

That was then.

Nobody quite knows how it happened, but now we drink more wine than beer. That often means the lads leaving the glitzy wine bar, with its polished wooden floors and olives in dishes, to watch Match of the Day

This is a huge relief to their elegant wives and girlfriends, who find the bars of today far more convivial than the old pubs.

Of course, some lads still cling to their cans, but the mood is changing.

Observe the range of people checking the shelves and racks in any wine store - in downtown Birkenhead and Bootle, as well as the plusher suburbs. Listen to the chinking of the trolleys weaving down the supermarket aisles.

There has been a quiet revolution in the British palate.

However, as wine drinking has become routine in millions of households, we now find certain beer buffs considering body texture, provenance and strength - matching the suitability of particular brews to cuts of meat.

But rich Liverpudlians, living in one of the world's greatest ports, developed a taste for wine long before most other Britons.

Even so, it has taken several centuries for this taste to filter down to ordinary people, leaving most of us in need of a little help with wines.

Enter Ian Clarke, 48, the genial managing director of the Purple Wine Company established a year ago to help organisations, and private individuals choose suitable wines serve at functions.

It is one of the many valuable ways in which Liverpool is excelling in its role as an international host city

But Steve Binns MBE, the community historian, whose lectures, tours and broadcasts should be a highlight of the city's 2008 European Capital of culture, is able to tell Ian about the role of wine in Liverpool's history

WHEN did we start sniffing bouquets?

"One of the main restrictions was the monopoly of the London wine companies," he says.

"Obviously until Liverpool built its first dock, we were limited by size as well. But if you start looking at the time of Elizabeth I, when you can actually see what ship came in on what day and what they were carrying, every so often you see wine from northern Spain or Portugal. …