Five stars at Majestic

It’s the look on his face as he’s swilling.

Round and round. Never quite reaching the lip of the glass. Round and round. Its holder peers nonchalantly at the smear left with each viscous rotation. The liquid gradually slides back into the bowl and slowly, slowly, a calm settles.

His expression is that of ecstasy delayed, like Sting a few hours in. He thrusts his beak into the glass and takes a massive sniff. Because he’s a wine buff, and he knows that the finest wine begins in the nose.

It doesn’t though, does it? It begins in the bottle, then goes to the glass, then your mouth, then your stomach. There’s a period where you’re not sure where it is, or where you are or why, and then it’s in the toilet and it’s suddenly Monday again. That’s the process by which wine moves from vine to sewer via the human body. Yet to hear a wine buff speak you’d think there was a nobility of archangels escorting wine through the nirvana of the senses, though they still have to fill out a lot more forms since Brexit.

It’s the language of £600 lunches at the Dorchester and it’s absolute bollocks. Our wine buff looks into the middle distance and wistfully declares his purple liquid contains “a faint sense of regret”. Almost what he’d be feeling if he said that within my earshot; just change ‘faint’ to ‘acute’.

Some of the terms bear not the slightest relevance to drinking and tasting a beverage. Wine is ‘heavy’, ‘intense’, it has ‘character’, it’s ‘bold’. Is it fuck. Nobody’s weighing their wine and its only intensity comes from the fierce stare you give yourself in the water before you’re sick. Wine has less character than a Gerard Butler movie and I can tell you from experience that no alcoholic drink holds up well in a ruck outside the Five Bells at 1am.

Which dickhead once decided wine has a nose rather than a smell, and why was he not hounded out of Bordeaux? Wine also has legs, though sometimes its legs become fingers or curtains, presumably when its corked or spiked. Roll back a couple of centuries to when this claptrap first took hold and imagine the first person to say a wine had legs had chosen wheels instead. Cor, look at the wheels on that Zinfandel.

Does anyone even known what ‘full bodied’ means? I often find a descriptor quite meaningless when it has no obvious opposite – can a wine be ’empty bodied’? I’ll be told my brain’s just too limited for these terms in a minute, that I have no imagination. Oh my dear oenophile, can you guess what I’m imagining now?

Sometimes they do make some attempt to describe the flavours of the thing and it’s here the wine fabulist excels. The limited human palate can’t genuinely distinguish between the tiniest true influences on a grape, but their pride won’t allow them to admit sometimes wine can be affected by its production (“notes of bottling plant”) or by nature (“I’m getting a hint of, is that fox shit?”).

So they make it all up. “Mint sauce and tobacco and white pepper underlay plump plum and cherry fruit” is a literal sentence I’ve just read and now you have too. “Aromas of grilled meat, salami and charcoal briquette lead to red-fruit flavours that show less overt smoke impact than the aromas suggest”, and an 87% review by Jove. “Suggestions of tinned spaghetti and Scampi Fries, with a sorrowful mote of Orange Bailey’s at its western edge, finished with the subtle song of Weetabix.” Five stars at Majestic.

The language of wine is in no way relatable to the realities of drinking. Enthusiasts exhibit a blatant failure to use the most obvious and helpful words that could open up the world of wine to everyone. Three cups in you soon realise the only sensible word for wine is ‘moreish’.

But that’s the point. These pretentious bastards don’t want wine to be open to all. I saw a man on the Tube recently reading some kind of wine textbook, and a chapter titled ‘Understanding wines: explaining style and quality’. How does whoever wrote that book get to decide for the rest of us what counts as a stylish or quality wine? I know vinegar when I taste it, but I also know you can give an 89% review to a wine you then describe as having “notes of reduction, asphalt, black fruit and spice” – Pedestal 2016 Merlot (Columbia Valley (WA)), if you’re interested – and I’ll still enjoy myself more licking the path in the park by the blackberry bush I just saw someone picking something brown off with a plastic bag.

No, wine’s not for the likes of us. You, plebs, you stick with your beer and your gin, rolling about the pavement for our amusement while your betters peer through toughened glass past people in aprons who earn less in a week than they just spat into a bucket.

We will, thanks. Pint after pint after pint after pint, and each of them ‘bitter’, ‘black’ and ‘tasty’. A little later our vocabulary expands: ‘for fuck’s sake’, ‘drink up’ and ‘it’s your round’. And the final flourish: ‘you’re my besht mate’, ‘chilli sauce’ and ‘leave it Jamie he’s not worth it’.

I’ll drink the stuff when I have to but you can’t make me say it’s ‘nervous’, ’round’ or some other arty adjective that serve only to remind us you passed your WSET with a merit. Yeah, wine exams are a real thing. And they took the piss out of media studies back in the day.

Wine can be ‘fruity’ but it cannot be ‘angular’, that’s just not how science works. Wine is a tool to achieve invincibility, not a concept album. And the next time you think to describe a Malbec as ‘chewy’, beware that if a nearby commoner hears you, five ales deep, the next thing you’ll be chewing might be your teeth.

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