Let’s raise a glass to drinking wine in worrying times. For a start the alcohol’s a big help, with its ability to make the graphs and stats and ratios and sad anxieties go a bit hazy. Plus it’s a precious treat of carefree euphoria at Zoom cocktail parties. Until someone points out I’ve got my pyjamas on back to front.
But alcohol’s not what it used to be. Not since its volatile aromas stopped saying ‘party’ and started saying ‘Deputy Chief Medical Officer’. And suddenly we were more interested in getting it all over our hands than down our gullets.
Like many, I’m trying to spend at least part of each day, after the washing up’s done and the empty baked bean cans have been crushed, embracing as fully as possible the staggering good fortune of being alive. Wine is only a bit player in this vast landscape of love and shared human gratitude, but it has its moments.
Wine is, I’ve come to realise, tailor-made for a lockdown. An easily-wiped-clean 750ml care package of sunshine and soil, nature and nurture. A joyful get-together of several thousand organic compounds we’re just not going to meet individually while we’re social distancing.
Any time we start to get fed up with the sameness of the shut-in life, feeling sulky and resentful towards our lounge room furniture for just sitting there like lumps of wood, into our stemware comes all the exuberant complex aliveness we could wish for.
And wine has a lesson for us too. Change can’t be avoided, its slowly evolving sugars, acids and phenolic bits remind us. Change comes with the terroir. As the world changes more than we could ever have imagined, even when we were hungover, we can change as well.
When I was a kid, I’d always save the best thing on the plate till last. Do my duty with the veg first. An earnest but dismal vale of sprouts and turnip until, finally, the glorious arrival at the sausage.
For years I approached my wine cupboard in the same way. Everyday drinking at the front, and if I was lucky, at the back, awaiting a very special or at least very rainy day, a few cool climate care packages that were the full sausage.
No more. Carpe diem. Which I think is Latin for ‘seize the St Henri’. Or in my case, the 2008 Jacques Puffeney Arbois Vin Jaune. But very yummy wine must be shared with friends. A challenge in these times, but not impossible. Visitors, no. Exercise partners, yes. Well, only one, but that’s still sharing.
I fill two glasses and we set off. As we pound the pavement, striding and sipping, holding our breath as we hurry past a socialite house party, I am suddenly dumbstruck at the creativity of the bureaucratic mind, and its sheer heartwarming humanity.
We must stay 1.5 metres apart, we’re told. Two arms lengths. The appropriate distance for personal safety. But also, I now realise, for clinking our glasses. Cheers.