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Thursday, 22 August 2013

Pinot Noir and the Philistines

"Wine isn't as complex as whisky or enjoyable as ale," I tell Rachel, as we're sat in the Drake Bar, drinking a Williams Brothers beer.

"Oh it is," she assures me. "You're wrong."

"Wouldn't surprise me," I say. "Happens all the time these days. I'm certain about something, argue it adamantly, then suddenly realise I've got it round my neck."

I take a swig of the Birds and Bees, a floral, hoppy little number I particularly enjoy in summertime. "It's making me feel stupid," I say.

"No, no," she says. "You have to be intelligent to realise you're wrong. Plenty of people hold daft ideas forever."

"I never used to be wrong all the time," I say.

"You probably were but didn't notice," she says. "You're getting smarter."

"Being always wrong means I'm getting smarter?" I say. "Only you could think up an argument like that. Or would want to."

The Drake calls itself a gastro bar, so they serve omelettes in little frying-pans and the beer is £4 a bottle. It's a likeable place though, with quirky, friendly staff that welcome young and old, kids, dogs and families.

"So why am I wrong about wine?" I ask, wondering how to attack the omelette.

"Because you drink mass-produced stuff from hot countries," she says.

"It slips down nicely," I say.

"But that's like drinking blended whisky and pontificating about malt," she says.

"So enlighten me," I say. "But spare me the bollocks about wet dogs, sweaty saddles and caramel-coated autumn leaves."

"Would you prefer ethyl 2-methylbutanoate and t-anethole?" she says.

"Yes," I say.

"No you wouldn't," she says. "And even if you did, most people would rather hear about hints of plum and aniseed. The vocabulary of taste and smell is a lot more limited than sight and sound. Art and music critics have it easy."

"That's true," I say.

"When you talk about wine you have a choice," she says. "Use science vocabulary and no one understands you, or make up metaphors and Philistines like you take the piss."

"Funny you should mention them," I say. "The Philistines were into booze in a big way. They had breweries, vineyards and shops that sold strong drink."

"You'd have been right at home then," she says. "Science has pretty much confirmed that the flavours wine-tasters bang on about come from chemical compounds. They're real. They don't make them up."

"Oh yeah?" I say. "What about the faint aroma of flat-footed gecko, basking on a rock on the shores of Lake Como?"

"I've tasted that one," she says. "Mock all you like, pal. It's science. It's chemistry. Big wine companies understand and control that. So you get to slurp sun-drenched Shiraz at £5 a bottle. It's drinkable and you know it won't taste like weasel. But it's short on subtlety, complexity and the element of surprise."

"I don't want to be surprised," I tell her.

"From what you were just telling me, your life is full of surprises."

"Most of them unpleasant," I say. "So if I took a chance what would you recommend?"

"You could do worse than a red Burgundy," she tells me. "Pay at least £20 and see what Pinot Noir can do."

"What can I expect?" I ask, scraping the last pieces of omelette from the frying-pan and decanting them into my mouth. 

Her eyes search the middle distance for inspiration. "Drinking a mass-produced red is like being wrapped in a duvet filled with the soft down of a Canadian snow goose," she says.

"I've often thought so," I say.

Her eyes are closed now, her brain mulling metaphors. "But a sip of Pinot Noir is like a light touch on the nape of your neck, from the lips of a young Pacific porpoise, newly weaned from its mother's milk."

I shake my head in admiration. "Very fine bollocks," I tell her.

"Thank you," she says, opening her eyes. "Now get me a beer."

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