Hammered

The noise from a construction site brings back memories of wine auctions past.
Words
Morris Gleitzman
illustration

For the last 10 months we’ve had a building site next door. I know, I know, I mustn’t be selfish. Up to 14 homeless multi-millionaires will be housed, and that’s a good thing.

Thank you to my friend from Sydney, where there’s a building site next door for most of each decade. His advice (buy the best Old World wine you can afford, put the corks in your ears and drink the contents) was a big help.

And there’s been yet another good thing in this whole purgatory period. I’ve spent countless hours enjoying happy memories of past wine auctions, which you can’t help but do when several thousand times each day you hear the fall of a hammer.

Hammers rarely fall at wine auctions today, of course. The sound is mostly white knuckles furiously clicking online as their owners curse J.C. of Potts Point. How that wastrel can justify squandering $74 on a single case of wine is beyond me.

Back in the golden days, one had to front up in person. Which had a number of benefits. For a start you could inspect the wine. OK, heavily tinted glass can hide a multitude of sins, and some say a hi-res website photo can reveal more. Which is probably why they call it fifty shades of Grays Online.

But in the old days you could hold a bottle up to the light and really eyeball the ullage. And decide whether the low wine level was due to either a tragically leaky cork and storage next to a blast furnace, or the wine being so sublime that the recently deceased owner had restricted themselves to a sip each night in order to prolong the pleasure. Or both.

And you could inspect the auctioneer. Common in those days were lots comprising 11 bottles. The supposition being that the previous owner had tasted the other bottle and was still in casualty. Some auctioneers dealt with this likelihood honestly with frank details of bad vintages and pathology reports. Others arrived at the podium with red stains on their ties, implying they’d sculled the missing bottle out the back.

The greatest benefit of the flesh and blood auction was that you could also eyeball the opposition. No matter how tempting the look of a particular mixed dozen (all labels intact, and most of the bottles; some legendary names among them, only slightly misspelt), one could hold fire until one had scoped the room.

And if J.C. of Potts Point sauntered in and started waving his paddle around (so he owns a dingy, big deal), one could sit on one’s hands and one’s dignity.

The truth is though, in these days of pallid cyber-jousting, I think a lot about J.C. I miss the thrilling opportunity of face-to-face confrontation, the chance to acknowledge a noble adversary. Sometimes I even fantasise that when the building noise finally stops and the apartments go on sale, he and his huge cellar of wine will move in next door.