I’ll never regret the Monday I cracked open a £200 bottle of wine with my chicken liver pasta

 My wine is, in a sense, constructed from memories – just as I am.

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In my imagination, memory has its own room: a comfortable den inside my head, with thick rugs and squashy seats and lots of coffee-table books full of old photographs. The shelves hold wines I inherited as well as some I bought, and great bottles I have been lucky enough to try in good company. The fine wines I have swirled and spat at tastings aren’t present: for those, I must check my notes.

And then there are the wines whose fitness for the time and the occasion counted for more than price or prestige. Their names I may not have retained, but I can tell you where I drank them and how happy they made me.

There is a delicious rosé Cinsault, from Château Heritage in the Beqaa Valley, that fell down my throat in the Lebanese sunshine, a perfect accompaniment to enormous, juicy tomatoes and pillowy bread; or a pleasant white, in a tall, droop-shouldered bottle, suggesting Alsace, that washed down cold meat and salad by the pool on a family holiday.

Memories are a blend of many elements, just as every wine, fine or otherwise, consists of the rain the vines drank, the crumbled history in which those vines rooted, and the yeasts that alighted on the plucked grapes and started their transformation. My wine is, in a sense, constructed from memories – just as I am.

Sometimes it’s wonderful to splurge on fine wine, to drink something fabulous for an occasion. I treasure the recollection of the 1999 Gaja Barbaresco I drank, because it would go perfectly with chicken liver pasta, on an otherwise ordinary Monday night. It was wonderful – mushroomy and aromatic – and it needed drinking: I had almost kept it too long, for fear of opening it inappropriately. It was bought long ago and I did not check its market value before I pulled the cork, thank goodness, but Wine-Searcher tells me it is now worth £200. I have no regrets: the hedonism of an occasion that was no occasion at all will stay with me, and the memory is worth it.

Still, mainly I drink more realistically, and those cheery daily wines are memorable, too. Recently, I tried a clutch of Spanish wines that the Wine Society has gathered into a special offer (£79 for a mixed dozen until 9 April, though these wines won’t be dear after that, either). The two Garnachas (the grape better known as Grenache) are a Salvaje del Moncayo Garnacha, from Aragon, and Bajondillo Jiménez-Landi, from Méntrida, near Madrid. Both are fragrant, earthy and red-fruity, made to please both mouth and wallet.

There’s a decent Carignan, 3C Premium Selection, from Cariñena, which claims to be that grape’s original home, and Sabina, an unoaked Tempranillo (the dominant grape of Rioja) from Rioja’s far less famous neighbour, Navarra. Most of these wines are young – several come from the bountiful 2015 vintage – which helps to keep prices low. The Society’s Rioja Crianza can’t take advantage of that, as Crianza requires at least a year in oak and another in bottle.

Ageing wine is expensive; the best Riojas, the Reservas and Gran Reservas, are held in the cave for far longer than two years. Still, this Crianza 2012 is good: cheap wine should not be mediocre, any more than outstanding wine should be drunk every Monday. Much as I wish I could afford more top wine, I would still drink such tasty basics. A memory stocked with nothing but superlatives would be a poor place indeed.

Next issue: Felicity Cloake on food

Nina Caplan is the 2018 and 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and the 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman, and the author of The Wandering Vine: Wine, The Romans and Me, published by Bloomsbury. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

 

This article appears in the 06 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Spring Double Issue