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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Why does food taste better when we Instagram it?

Delay leads to increased pleasure when you set up a perfect shot of your dinner.

Been on holiday? Take any snaps? Of course you did – but if you’re anything like me, your friends and family didn’t make it into many of them. Frankly, I can only hope that Mr Whippy and I will still be mates in sixty years, because I’m going to have an awful lot of pictures of him to look back on.

Once a decidedly niche pursuit, photographing food is now almost as popular as eating it, and if you thought that the habit was annoying at home, it is even worse when it intrudes on the sacred peace of a holiday. Buy an ice cream and you’ll find yourself alone with a cone as your companion rushes across a four-lane highway to capture his or hers against the azure sea. Reach for a chip before the bowl has been immortalised on social media and get your hand smacked for your trouble.

It’s a trend that sucks the joy out of every meal – unless, that is, you’re the one behind the camera. A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that taking pictures of food enhances our pleasure in it. Diners at the food court of a farmers’ market in Philadelphia were asked either to photograph their meal or to eat “as you normally would”, then were questioned about how they found it. Those in the photography group reported that not only did they enjoy their meal more, but they were “significantly more immersed in the experience” of eating it.

This backs up evidence from previous studies, including one from this year in the Journal of Consumer Marketing, which found that participants who had been asked to photograph a red velvet cake – that bleeding behemoth of American overindulgence – later rated it as significantly tastier than those who had not.

Interestingly, taking a picture of a fruit salad had no effect on its perceived charms, but “when descriptive social norms regarding healthy eating [were] made salient”, photographing these healthier foods did lead to greater enjoyment. In other words, if you see lots of glossy, beautifully lit pictures of chia seed pudding on social media, you are more likely to believe that it’s edible, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
This may seem puzzling. After all, surely anything tastes better fresh from the kitchen rather than a protracted glamour shoot – runny yolks carefully split to capture that golden ooze, strips of bacon arranged just so atop plump hemispheres of avocado, pillowy burger buns posed to give a glimpse of meat beneath. It is hardly surprising that 95 million posts on Instagram, the photo-sharing site, proudly bear the hashtag #foodporn.

However, it is this delay that is apparently responsible for the increase in pleasure: the act of rearranging that parsley garnish, or moving the plate closer to the light, increases our anticipation of what we are about to eat, forcing us to consider how delicious it looks even as we forbid ourselves to take a bite until the perfect shot is in the bag. You could no doubt achieve the same heightened sense of satisfaction by saying grace before tucking in, but you would lose the gratification that comes from imagining other people ogling your grilled Ibizan sardines as they tuck in to an egg mayonnaise at their desk.

Bear in mind, though, that the food that is most successful on Instagram often has a freakish quality – lurid, rainbow-coloured bagel-croissant hybrids that look like something out of Frankenstein’s bakery are particularly popular at the moment – which may lead to some unwise menu choices in pursuit of online acclaim.

On the plus side, if a diet of giant burgers and salted-caramel lattes leaves you feeling queasy, take heart: if there is one thing that social media likes more than #avotoast, it is embarrassing oversharing. After a week of sickening ice-cream shots, a sickbed selfie is guaranteed to cheer up the rest of us. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser