Occasion wines and occasional wines

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You know when someone describes a wine as an “occasion wine”?  Imagine a wine that ought to be saved for a really special occasion, a wine whose brilliance will make it the thing everyone remembers from said occasion, and whose splendour ought not to be wasted on a mere Thursday night “can’t be bothered walking to the Co Op, let’s just see what’s in the wine rack” type scenario…

Well, I recently encountered a wine that was the exact opposite of that.

I’ll tell you about it in a moment, but first I want to ask you a question.  When you hear the phrase “occasional furniture” or in particular “occasional table”, what do you think of?

Do you think about a table that is so spectacular that it only makes an appearance on special occasions?  Or do you think about a small, rather dusty piece of furniture that lives in an uncharted corner of your living room and houses a few similarly dusty ornaments and that awful decorative plate thing on a stand that your in-laws brought you from their trip to Menorca?

I’ve never been entirely sure what an ‘occasional table’ actually was, so I looked it up, and it seems the second definition is the correct one.  It is not a table that is only used on occasion, but rather a table that doesn’t have any practical use, it is too small or pointless or impractical.  So it just sits there, being a table and gathering dust.  I don’t know if all occasional furniture is as useless as the table, but if there is a small footstool and/or a crusty magazine rack anywhere near your occasional table, you can probably answer the question yourself.

So, the wine.  I wasn’t expecting it to blow my socks off.  I’d stuck it in my trolley when I was doing a weekly shop and didn’t remember exactly what I’d bought until I glanced at it as I shoved it in my wine rack (for the record, it was a Pinot Noir from Chile).

It sat there for long enough.  Better wines came and went.  It certainly didn’t demand an occasion, in fact the only occasion I was really waiting for was the event of running out of wine and not really wanting to walk to the shop.  So there it sat, gathering dust.  Until last week, when such an occasion arose wherein I dusted off my occasional wine and popped the cork (well, unscrewed the stelvin closure, if you’re being picky).

The problem with occasional wines is there is no way to describe them other than by comparing their blandness with other things that are bland and drawing parallels.  So with that in mind, my tasting note for this wine would probably include the terms ‘beige’, ‘Volvo’, ‘the music of Katie Melua’ and ‘sensible slacks’.  I drank it, but the only thing that was memorable about it was that it just wasn’t particularly memorable.

Pinot Noir is arguably my favourite red grape, and I wondered how the soul could have been so mercilessly sucked out of it, yielding a wine that had none of the sultry, brooding character that makes the grape so intriguing.  But there it was.  It left no impression on me whatsoever, not even a bad one, and in some ways that offended me even more.  At least if it had tasted of Bovril or cauliflower or something I could have assigned a character to it, albeit an unpleasant one.  But a character nonetheless.

I’m not always expecting to be blown away when I open a bottle of wine – not on my budget!  But I think a little bit of me is always looking to be a little bit surprised and impressed that through having a decent palate and knowing what to plump for among the cheaper bottles I have uncovered something I will enjoy.  For me, that’s what it’s all about.

Or maybe it was just a bad bottle, and I should give the wine another go?

I probably won’t.

So there you have it – maybe it’s better to save up for an occasion wine than waste your money, like I did, on an occasional one that probably deserved to gather dust for a bit longer before inevitably getting dumped into a casserole where it might have actually had a chance to shine.