Jeremy Dennis is Jeremy Day (cleanskies) wrote,
Jeremy Dennis is Jeremy Day

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drinking the wine rack

A few years ago, not sure how many, Colin came round to my flat, plonked two wine bottles on the table, and said, "we're practically neighbours now" and one thing led to another ...

On all subjects other than good food and wine we were fairly incompatible but you can travel a long way on your stomach and we were together for a while and togetherish for far longer than that.

All this time, Colin bought wine. He bought wine when he was on holiday, going on trips, visiting vineyards, going abroad, going through duty free (he worked abroad) or exploring somewhere new. He bought wine to commemorate good times and cheer up bad times, to remember people, places and times, as gifts, as treats, or just for fun. He bought wine for the maker, the country, the year but also for the label, the packaging, the colour of the cork and the shape of the bottle. He bought wine because he liked wine shops, wine shows, foodshops, cooking, eating and getting big boxes of stuff through the post. Especially if it was wine.

We went shopping together and saw films together and went to food shows together and one year he took me here for my birthday, though my fondest memories of all are from visiting here. The split was slow and sporadically acrimonious. Like many POAS* I have unreasonably high expectations of my partners, and it was doubtless rough on him, though the last time I saw him he was happy enough, living in gadget and microbrewery heaven in Austin, Texas, and happily visiting in sin with a woman he met on the internet.

I disentangle slowly from people. There are still three boxes in the loft, containing (among other stuff) his port tongs. Up until this weekend, the wine was still here too, or the ghost of it, rather; all the bits he couldn't take with him and didn't value enough to stash at his parents, but was too unreliable to use as bribes or gifts, rotting slowly in the corner of the room, jammed between the comics and my Habitat clothes rail.

Over the almost two years since he went to America, I'd slowly dispersed quite a bit of it. Most of the port had gone, gifts and rewards for people who like port considerably more than I do. At first I'd tried giving the wine to people but after the first bottle, I started bringing an extra bottle of new wine, just in case, and after the third bottle, I gave up; every single one had been ruined, a bottle of mouth-puckering, corked, wood-stenching vinegar. Plus, a good half of it was dessert wine, which is a gift that needs matching to individual puddings. One bottle I saved for my 30th (as it was from 1971, just like me) but it, too, was wrecked; I braved a glass before pouring it away. The cork had crumbled as I pulled it, spattering my white sink with sticky red and black fragments.

Maybe it was that time his flat flooded while he was abroad, or maybe the cupboard at the house we shared was just that bit too warm and damp, but mostly, I think, it was just neglect; bottles that should have been disposed of long ago, still hanging around. The problem was that he would impulsively buy, but once the joy was faded, he didn't want to see it any more. It isn't the he always wanted the new wine; it's just that once he'd grown beyond the wine in question, he just couldn't be bothered with it any more.

I found the wine, little dim dust-shrouded ghosts lost in the shadows in the corner of the room, and decided it was time for it to go now. I broke up the wine racks and took the bottles downstairs. I invited my friends round (though most wanted to know if there would be anything else to drink) and bought in cheese and olives. I tidied the table, and swept the toys out of the way. At around about five, my first guest came round and we started to drink.

tasting notes

1984 Hermitage La Chapelle Paul Jaboulet Aîné

The first opened, but not the first drunk. Opening with a soggy thnk, it smelt of earth and damp forests, wine spills and briony berries rotting on the vine. We poured it out in the hopes that a breather might take some of the edge off, and turned instead to:

1988 Renaissance North Yuba Select Late Harvest White Reisling

Sticky apricots underlaid with a stiff, tinny, grape-rot flavour, sulpherous yellow in colour. Colin was always very fond of the idea of pudding and dessert wine, and sometimes we got as far as making (fantastic) desserts, but two bottles down, suddenly the idea of decorating chocolate mousse with shreds of orange zest loses its attraction, and you end up with cheese, cheese, cheese. Contains sulfites; 11% residual sugar, it says on the label. Honesty in advertising. And then we drank it. After that we tried to go back to:

1984 Hermitage La Chapelle Paul Jaboulet Aîné

But it had gasped its last. We managed half a glass each (ashes, sawdust, black fungus) and poured it down the sink. The consensus was that they wanted red, so I opened:

Chiltern Valley Private Bin 10 English Table Wine

Even fresh, this is one of the more repellent wines ever made. I passed around a glass for people to marvel at the thin greyish-brown colour and the distinctive nose of wet dog and mouldy blanket, before pouring it down the sink. No more red. Feeling that I might as well get it over with, I then opened:

Chiltern Valley 1998 Special Vintage Madeline Angevine

The whites are about drinkable if you catch them as soon as they're bottled. They taste like mildly alcoholic grape juice, with an appley overtone. This one tasted like a carton of white grape juice forgotten at the back of the fridge, and the apple flavour had gone sour and harsh, like an unripe orchard apple rotted on the ground, with the distinctive Chilten Valley wet dog blanket aroma over it all. After a little discussion, this, too went down the sink. For consistency's sake, I then opened:

Chiltern Valley Luxters Dessert

A rather greyish rosé. The Chiltern Valley wines were the fruit of a wonderful day's cycling; Colin had set off on one of his funky bikes for a jaunt across Oxfordshire, had cycled through the sun all morning, eaten lunch at some country pub, and then descended on the Chiltern Valley vineyard, to spend the afternoon chatting, tasting, being shown around, and staring at the novelty that is English wine making. At the end of it, he bought a mixed case. Most of it was left behind when he went to America, and everything left ended up, like this bottle, down the sink. Next up:

Cloudy Bay 1994, 1995 and 1997

Some wines Colin bought in bulk. He'd usually drink them all, too, but not these bottles of Cloudy Bay. Why? It was, I suppose, a bit too fashionable. I can see him pulling out the bottles, thinking, boring! and putting them back again -- and after a few years, even opening it would be a risk; this isn't wine for keeping. Or perhaps it was an experiment, to see how it would keep? It was (all credit to New Zealand winemaking) all drinkable, though grown thin and harsh with age. We drank it out of order (1994, 1997, 1995). The 1995 was marginally better than the other two, but that might have been because we were getting drunk by then. Continuing with the "what happens if you keep table wine" experiment, I then opened:

1994 Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Sec

There's a certain type of mould grows on wet straw. It causes a debilitating condition called Farmer's Lung. This smelt like that. I have an aversion to such things, as when I breathed near wet straw as a child, I was shouted at. I disposed of it. Next up, the second bottle of:

1988 Renaissance North Yuba Select Late Harvest White Reisling

It hadn't fared as well as the first, though I was still choking my way through half a glass of Cloudy Bay, so at least a glassfull was drunk (with an accompanying commentary about how bad it tasted) before I got my hands on it. The overpowering flavour of rotten satsumas and partly-composted bark chippings was quite incredible. Hoping that no-one was actually poisoned, I discretely removed it, and instead brought in the first of three bottles of:

1962 Special Reserve Late Harvest Pinot Gris Botrytised dessert wine

Produce of Romania, believe it or not. I went to a Good Food Show with Oxfam, and spent all my breaks touring the wine stalls, and (having no money) brought Colin back a small heap of leaflets, notes and lists. This one's a weird item; perhaps he was intrigued, or perhaps it was one of his extravagant presents, but he bought half a case. Unfortunately, after that we started to argue, and anyway, you never want to drink too much dessert wine, and so these bottles saw about as much use as Colin's chef's blowtorch. The years in Colin's cupboard hadn't been kind, and it had picked up a hard edge, like water stood too long in metal, and the beginnings of a pale, neglected staleness, and gods, it was sweet, a sweetness that was beginning to cloy and condense. Still, inside it was the remnant of the wine it had been, and I fetched out some cheese to counter its sweetness, and we drank it. We drank it all, and it wasn't bad, in the end.

Thank you to everyone who helped me to finish the wine. Your sacrifice is greatly appreciated.

*People of Awkward Sexuality

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