Sometimes, usually when a little pissed, I wish I were a proper blogger, and could set down in archly lively prose some vague and vaguely entertaining impressions having something to do with wine, in the blissful expectation that lots of people would at least give them a cursory glance, and the more naïve of them might be enthralled for a few seconds, before surfing onwards and upwards. (Would they ever bother with a sentence that long, I wonder sadly?)
But in that spirit (ie, at the time of writing I am a trifle, er, less sober than at other times) I offer a few evening thoughts – that is, thoughts on my evening’s experiences. Most pertinently, I have a (sticky) glass at hand which interests and delights me in equal measure. At the end of my humble evening meal, I felt the need of something sweet and alcoholic – but being prudent and knowing I’m eating out the next two evenings, I didn’t want to open anything nice and new and vulnerable to being left open a few days. (The meal had been dutifully, but very pleasantly accompanied by the remnants of three divers bottles of Morgenster recent releases, whose progress I wished to monitor, and on which I shall report shortly.)
And lo and behold, desultory research revealed, in a kitchen cupboard, a third-full bottle of screwcapped Swartland Winery Red Jerepigo! Unvintaged, and I reckon it must have been lurking there at least a year. More likely two. I thought I could force down half a glass to quell the sweet cravings. Well! After rather more than that, I’m still there, and propelled to my computer to record my delight before I forget it. I think I might even venture a third exclamation mark and say that it is quite delicious!
In fact, I suspect that the bit of oxidation the jerepigo’s 17% alcohol has permitted it has been very beneficial, and given it a complexity that the original deliciousness did not have. (I am somewhat notoriously fond of slightly oxidised wines, on occasion.) In fact, there is a distinct echo of madeira, dare I say – especially in the “aeroplane glue” aroma that wonderful madeira always has tucked away. Much sweeter than any madeira, of course, and made in a totally different way.
I do always recommend people to drink good Cape jerepigo (NB, good – but a lot of it is that); it is undoubtedly one of the great local bargains. Am I now recommending that you and I should buy a case of the stuff, open it all and leave it a few years to acquire added interest? Perhaps. Further research is needed – if anyone out there has done it, I’d be grateful for your observations.
A sadder lesson this evening has been further evidence of how pathetic English fiction usually is when it comes to matters of wine. Over the aforementioned supper and divers wines, I was happily reading David Mitchell’s highly reputed Cloud Atlas. In it, a reproduced letter of 1931 speaks of a celebratory dinner in a grand house in Belgium, where the ageing composer Vyvyan Ayrs tells his wife: “Then, Jocasta, tell Mrs Willems to fetch a Pinot Rouge 1908!”
The exclamation mark in this case is the author’s, or the speaker’s – certainly not mine. “Pinot Rouge 1908” doesn’t, as far as I know, deserve one. What the hell is this special wine, apart from being 23 years old at the time of drinking? A burgundy? 1908 wasn’t more than a “good” year. Guessing that “Pinot Rouge” might, with any luck, be “Pinot Noir”, why couldn’t it have been a Clos de Vougeot 1911, for example? Pinot Rouge! (Here the exclamation mark signals contempt, not awestruck excitement.) There was no significant burgundy in those pre-Americanised days that would dreamt of putting the grape variety on the label – let alone calling it Pinot Rouge.
Further suggesting that David Mitchell (a brilliant researcher, generally) is little interested in what wine-life would have impressed a couple of upper-class Englishmen in 1931, the letter’s writer continues, in purplish prose: “We toasted Bacchus and the Muses, and drank a wine rich as unicorn’s blood. Ayrs’s cellar, some six hundred bottles, is one of the finest in Belgium….”
Well! (I promise to avoid exclamation marks from now on, as I wind down). This is just further evidence of a shocking lack of seriousness about wine things. Belgium has a history of being one of the great wine-connoisseur countries, and its finest cellars would have included many, many times more than a mere 600 bottles. Even I have more than 600 bottles – and not a single one of them would admit to being called Pinot Rouge.
Life is disappointing, as we know. But when literature lets one down like this, it’s a bad thing. It’s not, after all, surprising that Mitchell didn’t get the Booker Prize for this novel (he was a finalist). I’m sure that the judges marked him down heavily on the wine issue. It’s enough to make one turn to drink – especially magnificently oxidised jerepigo.
Later postscript: An alert reader pointed out that the jerepigo had obviously got the better of me last night, and that I’d referred a few times to apostrophes when exclamation marks was obviously what was intended…. It might, of course, be yet another sign of premature senility rather than inebriation, but thanks anyway, Karl – now corrected (I think).