Middle class problems: Wine lists
By Flemmich Webb
Fish: white. Meat: red. Didn't it used to be simple? No faffing about with which year was good in the bleeding Rhône. You went to a restaurant, decided what you were going to eat, then chose the relevant colour of house plonk.
These days, wine lists are the length of novellas. People drink red with fish and white with lamb. As for left or right bank, don't even go there. Because, let's be honest, most of us don't really know anything about the stuff.
The friend who opens the wine list with a flourish is usually so overwhelmed by the sheer number of options and the pressure of being responsible for the table's drinking enjoyment, that they quickly fall back on the default option: a mid-priced something should be OK, right?
The bottle arrives. The table watches; the waiter hovers. The raise of the glass to the light; the swirl; the inhale; the sip, the swill, the swallow; the authoritative: "Yes, that's good, thanks." Which is to say, "Yes, I can confirm, that is wine." And the point of all that sniffing and tasting? To conceal ignorance with the distraction of showmanship, of course.
For the pros, though, it's part of the four-stage tasting process: the look, the aroma, the in-mouth sensation, the aftertaste, letting them assess the wine's structure, integration and expressiveness.
So it's a shame that a 2011 survey of more than 500 drinkers found that the majority of us can't distinguish between expensive wine and plonk any more successfully than if we'd guessed.
Maybe it would've been fine to order that bottle of Blue Nun after all…