A true lover of wine finds joy among the lower shelves

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

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

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.

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