One of the assumptions that is often made when you tell someone you work in the wine trade is that you spend half your life in a pleasant state of drunkenness and the other half with a shocking hangover at work. I have to admit to knowing one or two people for whom that is true, but similarly others who have gone on to become teetotal. When we talk about the smell and taste of wine, we tend to stay away from the alcohol question, remarking only that a wine is quite ‘heady’ if it has a high alcohol content, as if it is somehow in bad taste to acknowledge that we actually might like wine because it is alcoholic. So, today’s topic of perusal is, why do we not talk about getting pissed on fine wine? After all, would we derive the same pleasure if we were tasting different kinds of mineral water?
The title of this piece comes from a tasting note I read many years ago when I was doing a wine tasting for some students at St Andrews university. (before Prince Wills’s time, before you ask.) I had offered a prize for the best tasting note and as I was going through the students’ notes, I found one which simply read ‘I loved this, because I think it would get me good and spannered.’ Now while it wasn’t the prizewinning tasting note of the evening, it certainly made me smile (and the wine, Cape Mentelle’s Ironstone Zinfandel, at 15.5% was an absolute beast that really appealed to students).
How much more interesting would critics’ tasting notes become if they took this cavalier approach to remarking on the alcohol content? ‘floral and bramble notes on the nose, hints of cedar and eucalyptus, well-integrated oak under layers of cherries and tobacco on the palate, so heady that I lost my car keys and mobile phone and may have to apologise to Jancis Robinson for propositioning her’. So already, the tasting note is bursting with intrigue. What had happened? If this were a genuine tasting note for a fine Claret, how many of us would be dying to get our hands on a bottle, if only because we secretly enjoy the aftermath and regret?
And it wouldn’t have to stop there… as you know we’ve been banging on about the #7WordWineReview, 12×75’s highly popular new instant tasting note phenomenon, but what about the #7WordHangoverReview… ‘Lost keys. Banging headache. Sense of guilt.’ Okay so this is a bit daft (although actually, I am thinking, it could be really exciting to try and get this to trend on Twitter) but it has a nice sense of honesty about it. Those of us who drink fine wine do not drink it in spite of its alcohol content, we drink it because of it. Because it gives us a pleasant buzz, and because wine itself is a hedonistic pleasure. Yes, we love the flavours and the smells and the potential food matching combinations, but when we drink wine for pleasure, let’s not forget that we might be less enthusiastic about it were it not for the alcohol content, and there’s nothing wrong with that !