If I had a pound for everybody who told me that they would like my job I wouldn’t need a sodding job and I could fulfil my destiny of becoming an international playboy – a role for which my forebears, rather short-sightedly, failed to provide adequate funds. Members of the general public naïvely assume that I spend ALL of my time sampling France’s vinous treasures and scoffing haute cuisine in high-end restaurants. Well, I do devote many hours to those activities but there are numerous more irksome aspects to being a wine merchant that never occur to the person cutting your hair or mixing your cocktail. Fielding phone calls from stroppy customers being a fine example. Only this morning an ennobled captain of industry threw a hissy fit and withdrew his custom because we were unable to furnish him with an astonishingly rare Northern Rhône Syrah. Tant pis – into each life some Grenache must fall.
Writing our annual wine list is another Herculean task that I wouldn’t wish on my mortal foe. I’d rather muck-out the Augean Stables any day. The problem isn’t writing about wine per se it is trying to come up with fresh angles on the same old same old. The whole thing has become like Groundhog Day and I find myself referring to ‘ozone fresh Muscadet’ and ‘briary, chest-thumping Côtes du Rhône’ on some kind of ghastly auto-pilot that it’s impossible to disengage.
Few people credit it (barring critics and fellow vintners) but one can soon pall of fine dining if over-exposed to it. Like sex and drugs and rock and roll a surfeit can be worse than a deficiency. I am put to mind of the prisoners in Essex, Massachusetts who rioted in reaction to their invariant diet of lobster, and people who work in chocolate factories seldom take their work home with them. There are times when all one desires is a cup of tea and some hot-buttered toast and not a reduction of Jerusalem artichoke purée served with a tempura of hand-picked scallops on a bed of lambs lettuce and Perigord truffles.
Tasting wine all day is also a joyless experience. After a couple of hours the flavours start to meld in your mind until it is only the really weird offerings that register. Your teeth become blackened by juice and your tongue becomes furred with tannins and your faculties start to fade – it’s no wonder that so many wine journalists are semi-certifiable.
The area about which wine-muggles are most deluded is that of the wine buying trip. By day four or five the endless offerings of pieds de cochon, rillons, rillettes, tête de veau and pot au feu coupled with incessant par-fermented vat samples of unfinished wines can really take their toll. There is almost nothing less-pleasant than having to feign interest and maintain the sang froid in the face of a full-blown Gallic gastric crise. Indeed, it was only my latent triple-jumping skills and a providentially located toilette that saved me from disgracing myself at a very distinguished Château.
If you want my job you can have it – I’m going to re-train as a masseur!
(This article first appeared in Country Calling, 15/06/2011)