Magazine article The Spectator

Bathing in Burgundy

Magazine article The Spectator

Bathing in Burgundy

Article excerpt

WINE, women and song are supposed to have been the passions of rumbustious folk down the centuries. But while men and song - to a respectable and limited degree -- were admissible to women, what about wine?

In Hogarth etchings alcohol is only drunk by women as a symbol of moral decline. It was associated with prostitution and general degeneration. 'Nice' women might take the occasional glass of porter usually to calm fluttering nerves - but that was the extent of it.

In Jane Austen and Trollope, heroines are consoled by small amounts of alcohol dispensed by anxious parents when they are disappointed in love. One doesn't read of women discussing the merits of burgundy versus Bordeaux at the Pallisers' dinner table.

The acceptance of women and alcohol began only with general moves towards female emancipation. By the 1920s and 1930s it was permissible, even seductive, for women to knock back strong cocktails. So Nora Charles in Dashiel Hammett's The Thin Man is quite often incapacitated. `What hit you?' asks her husband, Nick. She replies wearily, `The last Martini.'

Other drinks associated with women were champagne - for the swanky ones - and later Babycham and Blue Nun for the secretaries. Women and serious wines like claret? Oh no. In any case, as any woman's magazine will tell you, red wine stains the teeth and detracts from the personal appearance.

It is only recently that women have been taken seriously as having 'palates'. Even my father, who encouraged me to appreciate claret and distinguish between the different vintages, declined to 'waste' any of his good wine on my poor mother, who was told at dinner parties, `Oh no, you wouldn't understand this.'

When my parents visited Chateau Latour, my mother was roundly ticked off for appearing at dinner wearing scent and lipstick. The scent would interfere with the wine's bouquet, she was informed, and the lipstick would ruin her palate. The food was carefully co-ordinated to complement the wine. No garlic, little cream, and definitely no puddings doused with liqueur.

When my parents returned from Chateau Latour I began to realise how seriously many women were now taking their claret. I overheard the comment, `Had a wonderful weekend with the so-and-sos. Lots of lovely Lafite'. …

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