“It’s a naive domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.” As wine opinions go, I have never found a pronouncement more indicative of the hoo-hah surrounding a bottle of plonk than this one by James Thurber.
James Grover Thurber (1894-1961) was an American author, cartoonist and general wit. Whether or not he was a wine connoisseur, I do not know. But then, so many folk these days are wine connoisseurs in the legends of their own lunchtimes.
In the 36 years I have been of legal drinking age I haven’t made great strides in the wine appreciation department. Like many young’uns in the 1970s I cut my grape-teeth on bottles of Babycham, as this was the drink traditionally bought by boyfriends for girlfriends (along with a packet of cheese and onion crisps) on their first date.
As affairs of the heart became a tad more serious (the Babychams having worked their magic) the restaurant date occurred. I recall my first at an establishment in Hampton Court, London. I chose steak – go on, guess which one – as I had never eaten it before. Mum had simply never thought to include steaks in her weekly dinner menus. Yes, Steak Dianne, thoroughly cooked at the table with a grand flourish and much flame. I left the wine choice to my boyfriend and was most impressed with the pretty label on the bottle and the fact he was given the cork to sniff. And no, it wasn’t a bottle of presumptous vintage burgandy, but a Blue Nun.
Scoff if you will, but funnily enough when I Googled Blue Nun just days ago I found this extolling comment by British wine expert Anne Kennedy, “Many reviewers hate Blue Nun, yet in blind tastings, it has at times emerged as the best wine in the tasting to have with curry.” Faint praise, but praise nonetheless….”I’ll ‘ave a Blue Nun wiv me Bhajji, ta.” Thereafter, during the late 70s I dabbled with the (then) trendy Bull’s Blood and a packet of aspirins.
Meanwhile dad took to wine-making at home. It was a clandestine business involving trips to the Sunday market for bananas, much furtive activity in the bike shed, culminating in bottles of “Whatever” produced at Christmas. I say “whatever” because dad had decided that alcohol was never to pass the lips of his only girlchild… Then I went abroad for the first time. Two weeks in sunny Crete and manifold bottles of Retsina. I sought to recreate that heady time when domiciled in Invercargill in the mid-80s. I spotted a bottle of that notorious Greek “paint-stripper” in a bottle store, downed the entire 750mls and woke 12 hours later to find that although I had managed to smash some crockery my bottom had sadly remained unpinched by hunky Greek waiters.
Since then I have dabbled in the overblown process that is the selection and appreciation of “fine” wines. To me, wine is a load of grapes, crushed and processed to produce an alcoholic beverage. I am unmoved – nay, put off – by flowery descriptions. If I want undertones of blackberry, overtones of apricot, a hint of oak-aged vanilla and a general feeling of fresh herbs wafting off a European hillock, I’ll make a myself a pudding and watch a dvd of “The Sound of Music” thanks.