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?

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In the name of the father: Patricia Lockwood on sex, centaurs and Catholicism

The author of the viral poem “Rape Joke” talks about growing up with her gun-toting Catholic “priestdaddy”.

“Oh my fricking God. It’s a centaur.” The American poet Patricia Lockwood and I are in the lobby of a Whitehall hotel and she is finding the quantity of equine art distracting. I have already been skipped along a corridor to examine the bizarrely detailed rendering of a horse’s anus in a Napoleonic painting (“They made a point of doing him straight up the butt”) that turns out to be a copy of Théodore Géricault’s Charging Chasseur. Now a statue on the mantelpiece has caught her eye, prompting a reverie on what she saw at the British Museum a couple of days ago: “A wonderful statue of a man kneeing a centaur in the balls. It’s the most important thing to me there. It’s so beautiful.”

The confluence of violence, sex, orifices, animals and mythology runs throughout Lockwood’s work in wild and witty poems such as “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer” (inspired by the realisation that “Bambi is a puberty movie”) and “Revealing Nature Photographs” (pastoral verse meets porn spam) – and it also colours her new book, Priestdaddy, a deeply idiosyncratic family memoir in which copulation is a go-to metaphor. Her dad’s frenzied, tuneless playing raises the prospect that he might be “having sex with the guitar”; during Lockwood’s teenage depression, she writes, the only thing she was having sex with “was the intolerable sadness of the human condition, which sucked so much in bed”.

Lockwood (pictured at her First Holy Communion) has dark, cropped hair and elfin features, pearly white nails and sleeping cats on her knees (an effect achieved with decorated tights – “Let this be for the stocking boys,” she says). Her voice is deadpan, frequently dipping into laughter without losing her poise. She is one day off her 35th birthday and has been married since she was 21. Her father, Greg, is a priest and, along with her four siblings in a succession of rectories across the Midwest, she was raised a Catholic – thus ensuring, she says, the permanent sexual warping of her mind.

“We Catholics become perverts because of the way sex is discussed in strictly negative terms. I saw pictures of aborted foetuses before I knew what basic anatomy was.”

As a devout teenager, she attended a youth group called God’s Gang and was given a virginity pledge in the form of a business card. The group leaders had a “very hip and young” approach: “We’re going to tell you every single thing you can do, in explicit terms, and just be like, ‘But don’t do it.’”

The ribald humour of her writing – Lockwood is renowned on Twitter for her surreal “sexts” – often contains a darkness. The poem that made her name, “Rape Joke”, takes her experience of being raped at 19 by a boyfriend and metes it out in discrete, increasingly devastating soundbites and images. It was posted online in 2013 and went viral, leading to a publishing deal for her collection Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals.

After the rape, Lockwood was “absolutely insane” for about five years, but it’s not as if she was entirely happy before: at 16, she had attempted suicide by taking a hundred Tylenol tablets. Her memoir recounts, too, being embedded in a church mired in scandal, a claustrophobic situation that hit home when a priest close to her was arrested for having sex with a 14-year-old boy. Such events led to Lockwood abandoning her faith and escaping with Jason, her future husband, whom she met on an online poetry messageboard.

When Patricia was 30, she and Jason ran out of money and moved back to the rectory, allowing her to observe her parents afresh. The resulting portraits in Priestdaddy are larger than life: her mother, Karen, is a hyperactive generator of mad puns and proverbs; her ex-navy father is a self-mythologising, right-wing whirlwind of talk radio, guns and Tom Clancy novels. Married Catholic priests are rare but Greg, previously a Lutheran minister, got the pope’s permission to convert. Usually to be found in his underwear, he wants for no new expensive gadget or guitar, though the family is expected to make sacrifices. In 2001, two weeks before Patricia – who learned to read at three and was writing poetry at seven – was supposed to leave for college, he told her that they couldn’t afford it. He later “changed the story in his mind so that I had said I don’t need to go”.

“Growing up in my household,” she says, “all of these far-right, retrograde ideas of gender roles and the man as patriarch existed from the very beginning. But I didn’t think of my house as a bellwether of what was going to happen.” It came as no surprise to her that Greg and many like him voted for Trump. When she reported on a Trump rally in February 2016, she “moved like a ghost through the crowd. They saw me as one of their own.”

Anger at her father’s selfishness “would be useless”, and Lockwood respects his sense of vocation, which she feels she has inherited. She has believed in her own genius ever since she was writing “mermaids-having-sex-with-Jesus poems” at the age of 19. Jason is her support staff, licking her envelopes and buying her clothes. His offering the previous day was a T-shirt emblazoned with Justin Bieber’s face: it revealed how much she resembles the singer – “a full 90 per cent overlap” – and is definitely not ironic.

“Do you think we only got irony after Christ was crucified?” she wonders, and then spots two black-clad priests in dog collars who have sat down across the room from us. “Ooh,” she exclaims, awed and delighted, and then, in a whisper, ever confident in her powers of creation: “I manifested them.”

“Priestdaddy: A Memoir” is published by Allen Lane. “Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals” is published by Penguin

Tom Gatti is Culture Editor of the New Statesman. He previously edited the Saturday Review section of the Times, and can be found on Twitter as @tom_gatti.

 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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