Magazine article The Spectator

Great Expectorations

Magazine article The Spectator

Great Expectorations

Article excerpt

I'VE been wine correspondent of The Spectator for nearly two years now, and I've loved every moment. People often say something on the lines of: you jammy devil, you lucky bastard, how did you get a job like that, it must be marvellous, can we have some? And I say, yes it is. It's a terrific job. And one of the greatest pleasures is sharing wine with your friends and family. For instance, we sometimes get sent more wine than we can finish. I will try some of each bottle and persuade others to give me their opinion. But at the end of the evening there may be a dozen bottles, each three-quarters full, and no sign of a boeuf bourgignon to pour them into. I assumed that neighbours might be offended if they found some of these remainders plonked on their doorsteps, as if we regarded them as a convenient bottle bank. This has not proved the case.

Now and again I meet wine writers who tell me what a hard row they have to plough, how demanding the task is, and how trying 350 wines in the course of a day is a grind like any other job. I'm sure they're right. I could never do it myself, because I can't spit. For a wine writer, not being able to spit is like being a pizza delivery boy who can't ride a scooter. It's fundamental. Others spit, some in a messy, mind-my-tie sort of way, others like Jancis Robinson, with terrific grace, as if she featured in a fountain in some Italian palazzo. Oh, I can physically expectorate; what I can't do is sense what the stuff would taste like just by swilling it round the mouth, up past the gums, sucking in air like a malfunctioning geyser, and then pushing a disgusting mixture of warm alcohol and saliva into a spittoon. I need to drink it. That's what the wine experience is.

Years ago I went to a German wine shippers in Pall Mall with a very distinguished wine writer. The first we tried was a Sylvaner. A modicum was poured for the very distinguished writer, who drew it in, swirled it around, held his head back, made a sort of death-rattle gargling noise, then committed it to a wash-basin. `That was delicious!' he exclaimed, adding, `But I don't think I'd want to swallow it!' Everyone else nodded in agreement, as if this were a perfectly sensible thing to say. I assume that the wild choking noise in my throat was attributed to an attempt to oxygenate the Niersteiner. What have I learnt over the two years? Well, the first is confidence. If you like a wine, then you like it. There's nothing more pointless in letting someone else tell you what's good. If people enjoy the wines I recommend, I'm delighted. Those who don't share my palate will go elsewhere. If you happen to think Blue Nun and Mateus Rose are the nicest wines of all, you're very lucky, and can spend the money you save on shoes, or beer, or your children's education. Most people do find that pricier, sophisticated wines are, after a while, more pleasing and more satisfying than Black Tower or Le Piat d'Or. But it's your choice, and you should never let other people's taste or other people's snobbery get in your way.

Secondly, a famous name means little. It's a personal thing, but I get more and more disillusioned with red Bordeaux. A few times I've been to tastings of rather posh wines, and thought, well, this is nice, yes, it's got lots of flavour and a lovely aroma and a nice, cedary touch. But for 250 a bottle? You can easily pay 40 or 50 for a wine that contains so much tannin that you'll feel your stomach has had an enema. At this point you're not buying wine to drink; you're buying it to impress people with how rich you are, or perhaps to lay down and sell later to Japanese businessmen with more money than sense. …

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