On drinking (a little) too much

In what now seems to be my youth, though in my real youth I’d have thought it pretty ancient, a bottle of wine could easily last me as accompaniment to three dinners (though not living alone, even then most of my at-home meals were enjoyed with a book for company, and no need to share the bottle). If the wine was really good, it became a two-meal bottle. Only in company, dining out or getting as close to partying as I ever do, would I drink more.

Now, I’ve sadly degenerated – if that’s the word I want, which it actually isn’t; a disapproving society suggested it. But at my present rate of, OK, decline, I shall most likely be dead from other causes before I’m unquestionably drinking too much. Falling off a stepladder, or getting cancer, or, most likely, being run over by a soccer mom in a Toyota Fortuner, blithely going through a red light, kids in the back for safety, cellphone to ear, and knocking me off my bike. The last of those seems to be a danger I face every day of my life.

Earlier this week I went for a medical check-up. I mentioned to my GP that I drink quite a bit of wine each day. “Oh”, he said; “how much? Two….” Before he could say “…glasses?”, I had a flash of relief, thinking he was expecting me to say I drank two bottles per day, and that I could proudly claim that it was just one. On average. Ish. When I confessed to the bottle, however, he looked a bit shocked. Now he’s having my blood tested for liver damage and other evidence of the harmfulness of my intake.

Clearly my GP and I live in very different worlds. I daresay I must seem to him to occupy the one that includes, just a little deeper in, those undoubtedly unfortunate people who have a proper problem with drink. Surely I don’t? Surely you readers of this website aren’t aghast at the idea of a bottle a day? Which includes, pro rata, bits of Caperitif and brandy, of course.

The medical encounter was Thursday. Friday I went with my friend John on what is normally our three- or four-weekly lunch to the Chef’s Warehouse in Bree Street, Cape Town (the failure of this marvellous restaurant to get into Eat-Out’s 2015 Top Ten is enough to throw the list’s validity into serious doubt). In fact we hadn’t lunched there for about two months, for various reasons; during which time chef Liam Tomlin’s upped his game even higher – more subtlety, more (somehow) sublime unity-in-diversity on each plate. (I can’t speak too highly of his inspired inclusion of a few tiny Greek-basil leaves, alongside the raspberries, in the lemon posset that is our deliriously inevitable dessert.)

Anyway, my point is that we got through our usual crisp, dry and flavourful bottle of Jordan Real McCoy Riesling a bit more quickly than expected, with a few plates of food remaining. Our waitress (whose name I suddenly sadly forget – perhaps it’s the drink, or merely standard senility) had spoken with eloquence and genuine interest about the new wines on the list, mentioning particularly the Almenkerk Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinot Noir from Domaine des Dieux in the Hemel-en-Aarde. Well, obviously, we thought we should try the latter – contemptibly, I didn’t note the vintage (2013?) – and very good it was with the remainder of our meal. (It’s been made by Gerhard Smith, at La Vierge the last few years, whose New Zealand-honed touch with pinot I admire a lot.) We did, in our restraint, leave a bit for the waitress.

Drinking at lunchtime affects me much more than in the evening, and I confess that a few hours later, as I woke from a heavy nap, I did wonder if my GP might not have a point. I gingerly prodded my liver, but it was my head that responded.

Leading to a nice rounding off of this preoccupation, I and a few others received this morning an email from one of the more eccentric and interesting Cape winemakers, Pieter de Waal (of Hermit on the Hill; together with the even more wonderfully weird Krige Vrisser, also emailed, Pieter also has the Mount Abora brand; both of these brands, of course, entirely recommendable to those who like wines to be characterful as well as good). Pieter’s email was largely to give a link to an article in the New York Times by Laren Stover, called “The case for melancholy”.

I read the article with pleasure and some recognition, and then asked Pieter if he thought that grumpiness also counted as melancholia. His reply: “My take on it is that grumpiness allows – even advocates – for the consumption of alcohol whereas melancholia warns against it ….” Which I thought both elegantly expressed and acute. And comforting to a grumpy over-indulger.