Grapes and my wrath
There are two types of wine, says Eilis O'Hanlon, Nice or Not Nice. And don't let Mr Pretentious tell you otherwise
Jim hands me a glass of wine. It's just come in, he says, and he'd like to know what I think. How could I say no? The only time you should turn down the chance of a free drink is if it's being offered by a man whose mugshot previously appeared on Crimecall under the caption, "Rohypnol Reggie strikes again".
Besides, I'm always flattered when Jim pretends to value my judgement, because he's in the wine trade.
"Though you do know I've only got two opinions on wine," I remind him. "It's either Nice, or Not Nice."
He did once ask me if wine could ever be OK, but as I pointed out at the time: "If wine could also be OK, then I'd have three opinions, and I've already said I only have two." That cleared up any confusion.
He nods the way indulgent adults do at tiresome small children and tells me to try my best. I take a sip and rack my brains for Something Intelligent To Say. "It's Nice," I decide in the end.
Jim gives me the thumbs up. Mission accomplished.
I wait for my reward in the shape of a second glass. Then Clare has to butt in. She's detected the faintest hint of nuttiness in the delicate bouquet, an intriguing rumour of lemon in the body, a faint aftertaste of artichoke, or some such twaddle.
Suppressing a snort, I look at Jim in the hope he's as scornful of this performance as I am, but no, he's lapping it up. He's practically taking notes. Which is more than he did when I was delivering my verdict.
I'm a bit miffed, so I ask: "What would you say if I told you I could taste strawberries in that wine?" He's momentarily taken aback, then replies that he wouldn't say anything, because he's far too polite, but what he'd be thinking is that I was talking rubbish. Which is very unfair. Grapes contain just as much essence of strawberry as they do lemon, ie: none whatsoever.
So, why is it OK to magically detect one flavour, but not another? If I made a cheesecake and somebody told me it tasted of claret, I wouldn't be pleased. In fact I'd have to wonder where it had all gone wrong. In wine circles, you just say "mmm, a well-balanced vanilla structure . . . south side of the vineyard, I do believe, Nigel," and nobody dares demur for fear of being ridiculed.
In no other profession would you get away with it. A music critic who said the best part of a Beethoven String Quartet was the bit in the second movement where The Edge does a guitar solo would be out on her ear in a flash, because it just ain't there.
Wine buffs say the equivalent all the time and are admired for it. Which is why I always seem to get stuck in restaurants at a table next to the winner of the Most Pretentious Tosser in Christendom award, who sees the arrival of the booze as an opportunity to play wine critic for the night. He -- and it usually is a he -- swirls the stuff in his glass, raises it to his nose, swishes it about his mouth like he's gargling mouth wash, before pronouncing it acceptable.
You're longing for the waiter to say : "Actually, sir, that's just the sparkling water you ordered."
But he never does, because they're all in on the conspiracy. Pretentious Git gets to impress the girl he's brought out to dinner, the restaurant makes a bundle on the overpriced plonk; everybody's happy. Except me, who has to listen to this codology all evening.
I think I get this impatience from my father. He used to delight in pouring wine into decanters and then filling up the empty bottle with some nettle-and-parsnip concoction the neighbours had given him for Christmas. Then he'd serve it to wine snobs at dinner to see what was said. They invariably declared it to be a fine vintage. At which point he would reveal the truth and laugh at them. Rather than hailing him as a hero of common sense, they declared him to be a philistine.
If only we could go back to the good old days, when all you needed to know about wine was where they stacked the Blue Nun in the supermarket. We were just as happy back then in our ignorance.
Alas, in wine, as in life, jargon and bullshit always win out in the end.
In fact, if you ever want to know how we ended up in such a mess, blame the self-styled wine connoisseurs.
They're probably the same ones who said there'd be a soft landing in the property market.