Some Wine I Drank In England


1. 2 $14 glasses of NV Bisol Desiderio e Figli 'Belstar' Prosecco DOC

I am at an airport bar, and sadly, it’s not a very good one. But I am, however, here. So that's something!
        At work yesterday, I told my friend how much I was looking forward to having a drink at an airport bar— “If you’re having a drink at an airport bar,” I told her, “It means you have literally nothing, in the world, to do, except have a drink at an airport bar.”
         Even being on holiday is higher-stress than being at an airport bar. On holidays you have to go do something, go look at something, see a building, eat a food you can't get at home. You're supposed to be having a very special time and if for whatever reason at whatever moment you're not, it means you're fucking up your holiday and that kind of thing gets me really skittish. No one would ever ask you to be having a very special time at an airport bar. So I feel very safe here.
       Here I am, me, at this piece of crap. I have fully committed myself to being here, drinking a glass of Prosecco, which I ordered on an iPad, which is bolstered to a wall. I briefly considered giving Wayne Gretzky Estates’ Chardonnay “No. 99” a go, as a joke about being Canadian to myself, but I needed bubbles. I needed this thing I’m doing to be as close to my romantic ideal of “drinking champagne at an airport bar” as I could get it.

Something I often say, and sometimes believe, is that I want it to say It’s only called Champagne if it’s from the Champagne region of France on my tombstone. Drinking a glass of Prosecco at an airport bar and telling someone you drank a glass of Champagne at an airport bar is, sorry, unacceptable. On instinct I just started writing a sentence that began "Calling Prosecco Champagne is like calling...", but really, there's no comparison more coherent, more profound, than Prosecco v. Champagne itself: "Calling generic-brand club soda Perrier is like calling Prosecco Champagne," you could say, or, "Calling your synthetic velour H&M camisole velvet is like calling Prosecco Champagne" — 
        Calling Prosecco Champagne is like calling Prosecco Champagne. Calling Prosecco Champagne is slightly worse than calling Prosecco Cava. Calling Cava Champagne is slightly better than calling Prosecco Champagne. Calling Cava Prosecco is gauche. Calling Champagne Prosecco is literally the gauchest thing a human being could do. If I ever heard a person call Champagne Prosecco, I would literally die, for seemingly no reason, on the spot. 

(My tasting note for Belstar Prosecco: Sugar on the nose, plain white sugar, the bad stuff. And there’s fruit on it, stupid generic fruit flavour— it’s imprecise. Pears? Tangerines. Synthetic tangerine, some tangerine & acacia flower Bath & Body Works-branded bubble bathy body sprayey thing, but I don’t hate it, in fact I love it, it’s an on-the-nose example of its own horribleness, so I appreciate it for that, and also, okay, here's my thing: it’s better than a Fresca! That’s my tagline for Belstar Prosecco, if I were Don Draper pitching to the Belstar people, just get me in a room... "One hundred percent, unfuckwithably, you literally can’t deny it, the taste of it tastes better in your mouth than the taste of a can of Fresca- though not by much! But by a little.") 

I ordered my second glass of Prosecco halfway through my first, on the iPad, nimbly, a seasoned pro by now. An elderly couple sitting nearby were just frustratedly yell-asking line cooks— there's an open kitchen, an island encircled by the bar  how to order off the iPad. The line cooks looked back at them blankly, and the old people kept yelling. I liked everyone in the situation. Everyone was being rude to everyone, but no one really cared. I am interested in situations wherein strangers quietly, sort of elegantly, agree to be fleetingly rude to one another, then hold no grudges, immediately rebound. Like a gentleman's bet. How fly. 
        My second glass came in a regular white wine glass rather than a Champagne flute— I am a great champion of drinking sparkling wine out of a regular wine glass, since well-made sparklings should be assessed as still wines first; the bubbles, ideally, should be happenstansical. Maybe on my other tombstone it should say I’d rather die than drink Champagne out of a Champagne coupe— that’s my other Champagne-related thing I’m always going on about. It’s very stupid, really, this recent-ish resurgence of sparkling wine being served in Champagne coupes at, embarrassingly, "good" restaurants, and I use the word “embarrassing” very pointedly here:
        Look. If you are a sommelier, or bar manager, or beverage director, or whatever little twist on a job title you have, and you made the choice to serve sparkling wine out of a Champagne coupe at an establishment you stand behind, you should be deeply, deeply embarrassed for yourself. Yikes! You don't understand the point of your own job, which is worse than being bad at it. You should go off somewhere and blush alone, go hide somewhere, and quiver there.
          Drinking sparkling wine out of a Champagne coupe is a cool idea if you're bored of your own life and into ruining things. If the thought of ruining Champagne really gets you going. Ruins it how you ask? Well!
         The large surface area of the glass over-aerates the wine, which is what causes it to a) go flat in five seconds and b) evaporate off a great deal of its aromatic character, which, if it's Champagne, is probably fucking magnificent. Just as importantly, people look c) stupid while lapping from a coupe, like they are d) the snooty white kitten from The Aristocats. Also, you e) spill the entire glass all over your hand if, like, a butterfly breathes fifty feet away from you, which is an even greater waste of the Champagne you already wasted by serving it out of a fucking Champagne coupe. It's not that fucking complicated: f) don’t waste Champagne, and g) yeah I always capitalise Champagne, like it's the Internet, or God. (PS: Flutes are preferable to coupes but still a bit of a nightmare to drink out of, the bubbles splashing out at you like embers from a firework, and your nose always gets in the way. The only people who need be drinking Champagne out of Champagne flutes are people with very tiny noses. Maybe just pug dogs.)

2. 50 mL of 2015 E. Guigal “La Doriane” Condrieu AOC

Viognier is a low-acid— almost no acid— white grape; that’s the thing they want you to know about it, the thing they’re most eager to impress upon you. They, they, they. Who's they? My old instructors from wine school, I guess. And me! (One of the strangest parts of getting older, I find, is that you become the they. It happens to me at work all the time. "Can't they get that fixed?" "Can they order more whatever?" "They need to call an exterminator." 
        "There is no they!" I'm constantly reminding people, "I'm they!")   
        Viognier is a low-acid white wine grape, which makes it a bit of a weirdo, because white wines usually need acid to perform. Acid, or acidity, sounds ugly when you say it to a person, these are words we have negative associations with, they make people think of either psychedelia or heartburn. If you sell wine to people for a living, which I do, you have to build up an arsenal of words that say acid without saying acid. You say lean, and you say tart. You say nervy- I love when wines are nervy. Nervy wines are alive, all the words that relate to being alive: lively, spirited, like a frantic weird girl who is so lit inside of herself it seems like her nerve-endings must be touching the underside of her skin, trying to break out of her body. And I like racy too, racy acidity. So sexy! So fast! It makes me think of drag-racing, a long-legged summer girl from a Beach Boys song. 
        And then, of course, there's elegant. Lightly touch a hand to the heart, gaze off into the distance, sigh... that's what an elegant white should make you do, and acid, as a rule, is the bulk of what makes an elegant white as such. White wines can’t coast on tannin for structure like reds; acidity gives them the backbone they need to stand up to food, and I can’t stop thinking… the only way I can put this, that really makes sense: it grows them up

A word you would use to describe white wines that lack acidity is flabby, a word that when used in any context makes me think of a chunk of a pulpy John Lennon biog I used to read over and over again in high school, in which a woman recounts her experience of giving John Lennon a blow job in the late nineteen-seventies, describing his body as thin, but flabby. Freckled, and pale.   
        Flabby wines just sit there, dumb and mute, a lump in your mouth like a fat old cat. Bad Viogniers are always flabby; it takes a lot of finesse to get a Viognier to do fucking anything except sit in your mouth and fucking die there. A wine descriptor I am wont to overuse is “like Gena Rowlands in a cream silk pantsuit,” which is a really smart way to describe any wine that is both low in acid and elegant, since Gena Rowlands is mad elegant, but there's just something about her, and everyone who's reading this sentence and has ever seen Gena Rowlands act in any movie understands it. She is not a high-acid woman! She's a Viognier.  

The word Condrieu refers to the Central-Southeastern French AOC ("appelation d'origine controlĂ©e"/ "controlled designation of origin") where the Gena Rowlands in a cream silk pantsuitiest Viogniers in the world are made, and that’s what I was going for when I spent ten quid on 50 mL of La Doriane- peak Gena Rowlands in a cream silk pantsuit. 
        But, unfortunately for me, La Doriane was overoaked, which was a drag, but also cool in that I fucking love the particular brand of incensed I get from drinking overoaked wine  I derive great satisfaction from putting on my little performance of being over-the-top offended by it, pacing around the room with smoke coming out of my ear, and shouting, it’s like drinking sparkling wine out of a Champagne coupe times a billion-
        “Hey! I have a good idea!” I like to yell, “Why don’t you just take your wine, why don’t you just grow the grapes, make the wine, and then, why don’t you just fucking ruin it?” 
         And then there’s also “It’s disrespectful to the grape,” that’s another really good one. I’m such a freedom fighter, a real activist, for the rights of grapes. But, all joking aside, I am not fucking kidding around here. A Condrieu should NOT (I used capitals rather than italics to communicate that I'm not emphasizing, I'm YELLING) taste like a California Chardonnay! It should taste like a fat white peach, juice dribbling down then wiped off your chin with a white lace hankie by a painter of watercolours in a movie about the summertime. An overripe peach on the pavement, stomped on by a peach-coloured kitten heel, white flowers raining down. It should taste like a garden, but not an English garden: a French garden! And dead ghost girls’ perfume and pink lips. It should NEVER taste of oak. 
        E. Guigal overoaked his Condrieu, the idiot, and I think he knows it. And I do believe, in my heart, that he will learn from his mistakes. I believe that he will do a better job next year.

3. 2010 Sylvain Gaudron ‘La Symphonie’, Vouvray AOC / 2014 St. John ‘Bien Autre’ VdP de l'Herault/ some Madeira

I met Alex at St. John Bread & Wine and we sat at the bar next to a cook on his break and drank a glass of sparkling Vouvray per each of us. I used to believe that every meal should begin with a glass of sparkling wine, but my new thing is having a glass of bone-ass-dry white as my aperitif, then drinking sparkling with my meal until I get bored and want red: either with or for dessert. No disrespect to my that night's decision: there are few wines in the world that speak as directly to my palate as a sparkling Vouvray, which is vinified in the Champagne style, though drinks more candied, honeyed, than Champagne. Nutty rather than bready, and slightly oxidative, musty-not-dusty. 

And with our dinner, which was fucking exceptional, but this isn't about food, it's about wine, we shared a bottle of St. John’s house Bien Autre, which was simply fucking yummy, yumster or yumsville or something, the kind of red I like to call “a house red wine in heaven.” House red wines in heaven are usually made in the south of France or the middle of Italy, are uncomplicated but lovingly-crafted, lightly oaked, with a bit of body- a glass of house red wine must always be medium-bodied- but no discernible acid or tannin, and should taste predominantly of slightly-smokey strawberry jam.
         As far as reds go, my personal preference will always be for a plucky, slinky, aggressively mineral, and translucent Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, or Nerello Mascalese, but the point of a house red is that it should have absolutely nothing to do with a given sommelier’s personal preference; it should be a people’s wine, and the people, in my experience, like Merlot. Merlot, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Grenache. Any house red that isn’t made from at very least a blend of one of these grapes is some sucks-at-her-job sommelier’s masturbatory passion project and literally no one in the entire world cares except your dumb sommelier friend who indulged you in your embarrassing choice of making your house red wine a Blaufrankisch. And I bet you serve your Cremant d'Alsace out of a Champagne coupe too.  

The Bien Autre was a Grenache/Syrah blend, a wedding wine, an unobstrusive thickish juice that you could and maybe should blend with ice and slurp out of a bendy straw until you can’t, until your teeth turn black, and go to bed. For dessert we classily ate some not-that-delicious Fernet-Branca flavoured ice cream, plus a Madeira per each of us.
        I can’t fucking wait until Madeira comes back into vogue, which— I can feel it— it will. It tastes like a suntan in a glass, cutely-burnt, with a lightly-freckled nose.  I’m on a train and I don’t have any Internet so I can’t tell you the exact story of how a bunch of Portuguese sailors once discovered that Madeira existed but it’s something like: They kept their white wine in big barrels as they sailed across the ocean, and as they journeyed it was baked by sunshine, and turned into Madeira. The sailors tasted it, and thought, "We should keep doing this," and then did. White wine with a suntan! Like your summer vs. winter self: it's that much better. 

4. ½ bottle of NV Gosset Brut Reserve Champagne/ two glasses of Baglio Bianco Cataratto

I hadn't seen my friend Eli since last July 17th, the day I flew home to Toronto after two years spent living in London. Together we commuted to the airport at six in the morning, hungry and hungover on the Heathrow Express, and a woman sitting across from us had the ugliest highest-pitched voice, breathy and babyish and every time she spoke it made my head bleed. We smoked a cigarette in the Smoker’s Area and as we said goodbye I told her, “The next time we see each other, it will feel like no time has passed.”
         Yesterday she called me a cab from the train station, in Margate, where she lives now, and I stood outside her flat and she walked up to me and we saw each other for the first time in ten months, two weeks, and six days, and it was true. I was right.
        We walked to the sea and shared a paper box of fish & chips. Part of the fish & chips was a pickle: it was the best pickle I’d ever eaten in my life. In February, I was on the phone with a man on a Monday and he asked me what my yesterday had been like; it had snowed the day before, and I told him, “It was the most perfect snow day I’ve ever seen.” He got a bit sassy with me for saying that, because he didn’t believe me. He assumed I was being hyperbolic for the sake of it, which is a reasonable thing to assume, since I’m hyperbolic, but that time, I wasn’t. I said, “Dude, no, it really was the prettiest snow I’ve ever seen,” and that’s just how life has to be sometimes. You’re alive for a certain amount of years, and over the course of them you’ll see a lot of snowfalls, eat a lot of pickles, and out of all of those snowfalls and pickles, there’s got to be a prettiest or best of either one of them, and in 2017, when I was thirty-one, I experienced both.

We came back to Eli’s from the sea and drank a bottle of Gosset champagne, which we drank out of Champagne coupes, and I trash-talked Champagne coupes, and then we trash-talked Champagne flutes- Eli thought up the thing about the pug dog. We walked up the street to a cute-seeming wine bar named Urchin but it was closed, so we walked down to a street that curved up and around the sea, so if you looked down over a fence you could see where the sea was, and the tide was low. We went to a place. 
        I ordered a glass of orange wine, a Cataratto, on a whim. It overdelivered. I said, after my second glass, “This will be the wine of my trip"- I peaked early. 
         It was an herby candy drop, a honey lozenge— what are the names of those things you dip into honey that look like old-timey microphones? A “honey-thing,” I think. There’d be a picture of one of those honey-things, dripping with honey, on the cover of the lozenge box. And because I have to, and because it’s interesting to me, I think a lot about the difference between “herbal” and “herbaceous”- as they relate to wine, I mean. I think of "herbal" as smelling/tasting of something like the inside of a doctor’s medicine bag, all the plants that they boiled down to make the first-ever batch of Coca-Cola. Liquorice, menthol, eucalyptus. And “herbaceous” makes me think of ferns, skinny-leaved, fresh not dry, alive, the cute nervy plants exuberant home cooks grow out of flowerpots on their kitchen windowsills.
       The Cataratto was herbal on the nose, but when Eli ordered a plate of blistered Padron peppers, seasoned with sea salt, the wine woke up, and all the dried herbs came back to life, like a time-lapse video of their life-cycle shown in rewind. And the fruit is rarely so ripe on orange wines, usually it's trail mix-y, but this guy drank like someone squeezed a bit of fresh lemon onto a spoonful of apricot jam. And then there was hazelnut, macadamia nut, like biting halfway into a nut in the middle of a chomp of chocolate bar, but without the chocolate, I just mean the surprise of it. What a treat. I’m so bored of orange wine always tasting of whiskey & muesli & farm, like all the dead things.

5. A bunch of stuff at Sager & Wilde

I had a very nice evening here! I drank a bunch of different wines, and all of them were nice, I liked them. They tasted like another person’s idea of what cool or good wine should taste like, and I like being given the opportunity to taste through another person’s palate, another person’s tongue. I am here right now, I’m still here, sitting by a window looking out onto an ugly little patch of grass off Hackney Road, sniffing my glass of skin-contact Alicante: it smells like a hospital, a pharmacy in a hospital. There’s a chalkiness to it that makes me wonder if maybe it wasn’t aged in oak or steel; maybe it was aged in “amphora.” It smells like the chalky candy Rockets, there’s a candy called Rockets in every country I’ve lived in, and in every country it means a different thing. But I’m talking about the Canadian Rockets: a cylinder of chalky fruit-flavoured discs, smaller in diameter than a dime, coloured in pastel. They’re really just the worst candy. Mean old people who don't care about kids having a nice Halloween would pass them out to trick-or-treaters, what a mediocre childhood memory: having eaten my way through my Mars & Twix & Snickers, I'd be left with a plastic bowlful of shitty Rockets (and maybe some plain lollipops, green and yellow) that I didn’t particularly want to eat, but did, because they were sweet, and there.

I am consciously and thoughtfully not writing about the lunch I ate at Eli’s restaurant by the sea this morning, double-fisting a black coffee and Bloody Mary, our four oysters, two apiece, which tasted only of the sea. It was today, this exact same day I'm currently living, and I'm shocked to discover how quickly, sharply, this missing can set in, the absence of a Something that this place is trying so keenly to provide: excellence, really, and that’s what I love about restaurants, I think it’s such a wonderful concept: it’s never really about food, or wine, or service. It’s about a place, an environment, an ecosystem, which has been constructed to turn one's life, for a couple of hours, into somebody else’s idea of what your favourite night might feel like. Sometimes it succeeds; often it fails. All this place is making me think is, “This is not my favourite night.”
        It’s an okay place. It’s dark, and I’m sitting on a barstool at a wooden table, and there's a candle on the table. Both the bartender and the server are VERY (I'm yelling) attractive men, and one of them, I can tell, is charmed by me, which is part of it. And I don’t want to condemn this place for being synthetic, or inorganic, I’ve been here a bunch of times in my life and I’ve liked it, often loved it; I drank a glass of wine that changed my life here, a Chilean Carignan that on the night I drank it I didn’t know how to describe yet, I wasn't good enough at wine yet. So all I remember that I loved it, how terribly I wished I could be a person who knew how to describe exactly why, which I am now. Which is a gift, but not one that I’ve been given. It’s something that can only come with time.
        And, another day, a couple weeks after I first moved to London, I took a bus to this place in the middle of the afternoon, on my break from work, to drink a glass of twenty-year-old Crozes-Hermitage, because I saw on this place’s Instagram that they were pouring it. It was thick and brown and heavy and I liked it but didn’t love it, and my not loving it taught me more than whatever I’d’ve learned the other way. You have to mentally and emotionally prepare yourself to be let down by wine, because it will let you down. Just like everything, it’s bad more often than it’s good, and average more often than it’s bad.

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