Low life

My initiation into the fellowship of wine (I swallowed)

Things got off to a frosty start but by the seventh sampling the spirit was moving

7 February 2015

9:00 AM

7 February 2015

9:00 AM

This month’s wine club lecture was on red burgundy. The members were settling themselves at two large tables when I arrived, about ten to each one. I took an empty seat at the table farthest from the door and looked diffidently around, hoping to meet a welcoming eye. Not one. Presumably members were tired of sharing the mysteries of their deity with people who came only once, and they had evolved a wait-and-see policy.

Everyone had brought their own wine glass. There were glasses of every size and shape. Most had a notebook and biro also at the ready. The woman sitting directly opposite me now spoke to me accusingly. ‘Where’s your glass?’ she said. I shrugged at her. ‘Didn’t you read the flier? It clearly says to bring a glass and knife. You’ll have to go and ask that man over there if he can find you one.’ So I humbly went and asked the chap she had pointed out if I could borrow a wine glass. Without a word he went and got me one and handed it over in a deliberately non-judgmental manner.

I retook my seat and placed my borrowed wine glass on the table. For a wine glass it was very small. Beside the woman on my right’s gigantic goblet, it looked ridiculous. The lecturer, standing beside a counter with bottles lined up, then commenced to talk about our first red burgundy of the evening, and those with notebook and pen began scribbling. About the first wine I can remember only that it was a 2012 village burgundy. The lecturer was extremely knowledgable and spoke eloquently. He seemed to know the 2012 harvest grape by individual grape. Once, he became emotional and his speech faltered. After stretching the majority of attention spans to well beyond breaking point, he finally came around the tables and tipped a couple of blood-red mouthfuls into each glass. At last the wine club could begin their worship with nose and palate.

Self-consciously, I buried my bugle into my wine glass and with bulging eyeballs sniffed fanatically at the liquid in the bottom. I lowered the glass and pondered. I sniffed again at the wine, more delicately this time. Then I slung the contents of my glass down my open throat, tilting my head back until the glass was upside-down, afterwards straining my head back as far as it would go to let fall that last recalcitrant drop. Yes, it was red wine, and without a doubt.

Centrally placed on each table was an aluminium spittoon. My neighbour with the big goblet took this spittoon in both hands and carefully dribbled rather than spat her wine into it, the only one on our table to do so. We were swallowers on our table rather than spitters. With nothing to compare it with, members were loath to commit themselves to a forthright pronouncement on this first village red. They were keeping their powder dry. A watery-eyed old gentleman, however, ventured the opinion that it was his favourite wine of the evening so far.

By about the sixth or seventh sampling, the members were loosening up noticeably. The spirit was moving among them. Opinions were being bandied and there were amiable controversies. The woman opposite, so impersonal and legalistic to begin with, was now euphoric and couldn’t care less about anything. ‘What year did he say that last one was?’ she said, biro hovering. ‘Eighteen-nineteen,’ I said. She had started to write it down then realised it was a joke and fell about, delighted by her gullibility. The watery-eyed old gentleman was now saying after each and every wine that it was his favourite wine of the evening so far. And everybody confessed that they felt exactly the same way, even though it was silly.

The woman with the big goblet then put me on the spot by asking my opinion of the wine we had most recently tasted. I said that they all tasted more or less the same to me. She corrected me, saying that it was on the nose rather than on the palate that wine distinguishes itself. I said I’d had two lines of coke before I came out, so was probably at a disadvantage. For a split second she wasn’t sure if this was a joke or not, decided that it was, that it had to be, and laughed. Now such a hubbub of conversation and laughter arose during each sampling that the lecturer had to rap repeatedly on an empty bottle with a knife to restore order.

We sampled ten red burgundies altogether. I was quite pissed by the end. And in the end, too, I had a mysterious sense that I had unknowingly passed a test, had been recognised as a co-religionist (though a rude one), and been welcomed into the fellowship.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • eric try

    this man is an ignorant fat git so who wishes to hear his opinions anyway and to be able to judge wine expertly you are required to have a brain, that lets Jeremy out