A true lover of wine finds joy among the lower shelves

"Wininess", unlike snobbery, needn't be expensive.

Many foodies hate the word “foodie” – I’ve never quite worked out why. Granted, it’s an ugly word, if it’s a word at all, but the state it describes – of being obsessed with one’s dinner – is not in itself a crime. It depends on how that obsession manifests itself: foodism runs the gamut from gourmandise to snobbery. At one end squats the great god Michelin, white rubber rings plumped with foie gras, truffles and first-growth Bordeaux; at the other sits the elegant figure of the cookery writer Elizabeth David, acknowledging that, despite the opinion of some that wine and egg dishes don’t go together, she regards “a glass or two of wine as not, obviously, essential but at least an enormous enhancement of the enjoyment of a well-cooked omelette”.

For lack of a better epithet – and in support of the kind of foodiness that is not about prioritising sustenance above a point that is reasonable or even credible but about nourishing one’s life – I am coining the term “winie”. Wininess, unlike snobbery, needn’t be expensive. If I had received a pound every time the epithet “wine snob” was hurled at me, I could have bought the Balthazar of Château Margaux 2009 I spotted – it was quite hard to miss – in a fancy wine shop in Dubai Airport recently. (A Balthazar is 12 litres; the only bigger bottle is a Nebuchadnezzar, at 15 litres. Why, one wonders, did Margaux hold back?) Only six were made, apparently, and this one’s a snip at $195,000, if anyone out there fancies a duty-free acquisition the size, in every sense, of a house. But I wouldn’t have bought it if I could, because I don’t believe the wine will ever be made that is worth that kind of money. That’s why I’ll always fail the wine snobbery exam.

Being a winie, however, is an enviable occupation. In Dubai, it enabled me to bypass all the so-called icon wines – the bottles of Castarède Armagnac 1888 and the magnums of Ridge Monte Bello 2005 – and head for the lower end of the shelves, where I knew that $32 for a bottle of Allegrini’s La Grola 2010 was an excellent price and that the wine – a ripe blend of Corvina, Syrah and Oseleta from a family of north-east Italian winemakers, full of tobacco, berry and espresso, like a smoker’s morning fantasy – would make a group of exhausted colleagues on a work trip lose their slump and regain their sparkle. A winie cares more for context than for price tag because, while good wine can enhance any occasion, up to and including breakfast (try Clos Vougeot 1959 with your croissant and tell me it doesn’t improve your day), that’s all it can do. The occasion is the point.

Circumstances can make nectar of bad booze – the boring prosecco opened to celebrate a long-awaited reunion can sparkle like a dull person lit by love – but good wine can do no more for a lacklustre evening than help drown it out. This is why I want to lob a Balthazar at people who call me a wine snob. Knowledge of wine helps me to live well. I’d rather drink water with a wit than Margaux with a moron, although I hope you won’t oblige me to make that choice.

When the great gourmand American writer A J Liebling arrived in Paris to cover the Second World War for the New Yorker magazine, the director of his bank invited him to a lunch that “turned out to be just Marennes, Pouilly-Fuissé, caille vendangeuse and Grands Échezeaux” – that is, some of the world’s best oysters from France’s Atlantic coast with decent white Burgundy, followed by quail potted with grapes and grand cru red Burgundy. That “just”, to me, is the word not of a wine snob but of a winie: the nourishment was marvellous but the company substandard, or at least the conversation flawed. The director had shouted him the meal to let him know he was too late – “There’s a strong tip on the Bourse this morning that the war’s going to be called off.” The month was October 1939. Eggs don’t ruin good wine – but waffle will.

Simple pleasures: an obsession with wine doesn't have to be expensive. Image: Laura Letinsky/ Gallerystock

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 06 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Are cities getting too big?

Show Hide image

The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.

 

Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.

 

May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.

 

Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.

 

Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor


John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump