Rod Liddle

Rod Liddle: My career as a wine writer started out so well

It all went wrong when we stopped spitting out...

Rod Liddle: My career as a wine writer started out so well
Text settings

Ah, this all started out so well, and with such good intentions. This attempt of mine to write seriously and informatively about wine. Well, to write about wine, full stop, really. There was always going to be a problem with someone who rather likes retsina, I suppose. My chief criteria for judging wine is quantity.

The many bottles of Spanish wine arrived. My wife and I sat in the courtyard, at the little iron table. I had a notebook on the table, and there was a bucket beneath the table, so that we could spit out the wine, like I’ve heard they do. It was a warm and scented summer evening; earlyish — the rabbits were hopping around in the field, the bats were still asleep. The bottles were lined up. We had Manchego cheese, and olives. We kicked off with an Allende Rioja 2009, a yellowish confection. I suspect readers of The Spectator would probably prefer a Pinochet Rioja rather than an Allende Rioja, but never mind. I swilled the stuff around my mouth, Alicia did the same. We spat into the bucket, via my trousers. I picked up the pen. ‘Quite a… BIG taste, I think,’ I said. My wife nodded. ‘It’s very oaky,’ she said, ‘and I like it.’

What does she mean ‘oaky’? She’s never tasted any oak, to my knowledge — so how would she know? Maybe she just meant it’s okay. We kept drinking and, for a while, spitting, until my wife said that we don’t usually drink decent wine, we just buy that £4.99 Pinot Grigio from Morrisons, buy it by the lorryload, isn’t it sort of a waste to be spitting good wine out into a bucket? And that, really, is when the rot set in.

We finished the Allende and opened the Placet Rioja, with a corkscrew. We had to hunt up and down dale to find the corkscrew. It’s not something we’re accustomed to employing. Our usual wine doesn’t need a corkscrew. Anyway, the Placet wasn’t as BIG as the Allende, but it slipped down very nicely. I wrote ‘citrus flavours’ in my notebook, an observation with which my wife disagreed. ‘I’d say it was the opposite of citrus,’ she said, ‘whatever that is. Peach, or something.’ I ventured that people often said that wine had overtones of passionfruit, perhaps this is the sort of wine they mean. Alicia said she couldn’t taste any passionfruit at all, and there were none of those pips.

The bats were out; the olives and cheese and rabbits were gone. I think I saw the Perseids overhead, but I may have been mistaken. Alicia put some music on, loud music hammering out of the annex, and we opened the next bottle, the El Quintanal (that’s ‘Five Arses’, in English, I think) Verdejo. Do you know, one minute it was there, the next minute it was gone. This was definitely our favourite, probably because it was the closest to the sort of stuff we’re more accustomed to drinking. It was a very pale colour, the colour of rainwater running down a slightly dirty window, and its taste was not describable as BIG at all. I tried to write down ‘small’ in my notebook, but was having some difficulty.

The nights draw in so quickly in August, especially in the country. It’s all downhill, really, from 21 June, isn’t it? We kid ourselves that there’s a whole summer to come. I get forlorn and lachrymose when drunk; my wife gets exuberant and loud. She’d taken her top off and was dancing to the music in a bra, dancing to some growling noise from the Drive-By Truckers. ‘I’m too old and too decrepit to dance,’ I moaned at her. ‘Sit down.’ Normally she complains about the mosquitos biting away at her, but right now she didn’t appear to notice them, they were lined up on her arm, chewing away. We moved on to the next bottle, which was something called Viña Gravonia. It was a deep and poisonous-looking yellow, clearly intended for palates more discerning than our own. This definitely had a very BIG taste, I remarked. I don’t think Alicia heard. She was sat down now and her neck seemed to have lost the ability to support her head properly and there was a thin line of drool on her chin. ‘Itsh got a strange short of afterburn,’ she said.

‘I don’t think that’s the wine, love…’

Too late, too late. I tried to get her to come back to the table to finish the Gravonia but she couldn’t, so I joined her on the floor of the bathroom with the bottle and indeed with our last bottle, the Gramona Gran Reserva 2008, something bubbly to toast ourselves with. I haven’t the remotest idea what this stuff was like. Cava, I suppose. Odd thing is, when we’d finished it we were thirsty for more and started eyeing up the bucket rather hungrily. You know you’re in a bad way when that happens. We slept pretty much where we were, the Drive-By Truckers still blaring away until everything sort of went black and silent and lovely.

I checked the prices of some of those wines the next day, feeling guilty. It almost goes without saying that the wine we liked the best, the El Quintanal, was by some considerable margin the cheapest of those we had been sent, and you can pick one up for not much more than those Pinot Grigios to which, the following night, we returned, with a semblance of moderation.