A well-known London wine-merchant sends me throughout the year a series of glossy and bulky documents urging me to snap up Bourgeois Growths, Bin-Ends, Special Offers, Fine Wines and ‘En Primeur’ before it’s too late.
When I last asked to be deleted from their list – not wanting to be a part of yet another felled Brazilian tree – they answered that I was one of their valued ‘Account Customers’. On further questioning, their cut-glass-voiced telephone lady (and I could see her sitting there power-suited) admitted that it would cost them more to get me out of the computer system than to send me stuff which I wouldn’t read. Secretly and guiltily, I’m glad to be irremovable. What they send is both hilarious and sobering.
‘Sobering’? Wine-chat ‘sobering’? Well, take this brochure here on my desk, which limits itself to the ‘en primeur’ Bourgeois of 2000. Helpfully it assigns to each potentially marvellous wine a year in which to start drinking it. Looking down the list, it’s immediately obvious that the stuff with enough potential to be worth laying down is certainly not to be drunk before 2008 and more probably not before 2012. Hang on a minute! By 2012 I will, if still here, be a wheelchaired, slobbering old wreck who won’t know the difference between Romanee and Coca-Cola. For whom and for what, then, am I buying? For the wedding-feasts (or divorce-feasts) of my grandchildren? Will my Chateau Inconnu go with the pizzas?
(And if the stuff turns out to be lousy, will my wine-merchant still be there to respond to a writ? And won’t a legal limitation period for claims long since have run out? Looks to me as if being a wine-merchant is, writwise, far safer than being a lawyer or doctor.)
Warily I reach across the desk to this second brochure headed ‘En Primeur Fine Wines 2000’. I allow myself a timed two-minute fantasy on the deck of my yacht, surrounded by presidents, royalty and sex-mad starlets, before getting down to the text.
Who writes wine-merchants’ prose? Not, surely, the Accountants or the pin-striped Directors who travel club-class to the sales in Bordeaux or Burgundy. Is there, on call, a group of failed journalists and poets? ‘Sweet, earthy rich nose, flamboyant and perfumed’. ‘Extraordinarily dense, thick with succulent dark fruits matched by powdery tannins’. ‘Sumptuous, incredible power held in check by a firm structure which, finally, provides elegance and exquisite balance.’ Someone is trying to tell us something, but where does the language come from? The later Tennyson? The Swinburne of Atalanta? Is someone somewhere paid to harness new adjectives and adverbs?
If he/she tastes it all, then something odd is going on, for nobody except the inconceivably rich could afford it. I once calculated that 1988 Chateau Petrus costs £5 per sip. That has been overtaken by Chateau Le Pin which soon will be £5 per sniff. (Do I need to add that if you buy either of these ‘en primeur 2000’ the earliest start-date for drinking is 2020? No use just being seriously rich. You also have to be seriously young. The irretrievably old should stick to Krug and caviar which, if they are not perfect, one of your footmen can take back to Fortnum’s the next day together with a stiff note. )
Tips from me to me.
- It would be impossible for the French to admit that an increasing amount of New World wine is better than their own, but they are learning that we cautious customers have realized it. Within a year or two the French will have to lower their prices. Therefore, do not, for the moment, buy French wine en primeur.
- If you want to silence a merchant of French wine:
- Remind him that all his post-phylloxera vines are American.
- Ask him about corks. The ‘Trade’ knows perfectly well that much of the Eighties and Nineties was bottled with inadequate corks, i.e. corks that have become saturated before the wine was ready to be drunk. (And always insist that the wine-waiter draws the cork at the table.)
- Stop talking – especially out loud – about wine.