Some years ago, my body informed me in no uncertain terms that it had had enough of my nonsense. I raced out of the house and went straight to my physician at the local hospital, elbowing less critical patients out of the way. “Help me, Doc,” I gasped. “I don’t seem to be able to drink anymore.”
She looked a little more pleased than I thought was strictly necessary. Then she told me that sometimes, the body just stops producing the enzymes that help digest alcohol. “It can happen overnight,” she said, fairly gurgling with satisfaction, “to anyone,” she added happily, and then delivered the coup de grace, “but it happens more often to women. Just like that, simply, you wake up one day, and you can’t digest the stuff.”
So just like that, overnight, I took to drinking nothing but wine, and almost exclusively red wine, since everyone knows that that’s positively good for you, bursting as it is at the seams with resveratrol, anti-oxidants, bioflavonoids, vitamins, minerals, and quite possibly an oral form of sunscreen as well as hot stock tips.
But to start drinking wine is to enter shark-infested waters, especially if you think you might belong in the sad quarter of the world’s population called ‘non-tasters’ because their three or four taste buds were long ago beaten to death by cigarettes and green chillies—as opposed to the quarter who are ‘super-tasters’ and can’t open their mouths for fear of having their millions of eager beaver taste papillae leap out and start exploring.
I was at a winery in France some weeks ago, undergoing my first lesson in wine tasting, which was really a simple guide in how to observe the colour and opacity of a liquid, and gauge the general pleasantness or unpleasantness of its smell and taste, but felt a lot like being tutored on how to do long division in your head and then being asked to calculate the trajectory of the space shuttle while a NASA scientist looked over your shoulder.
The world of wine connoisseurship is very rarefied, and can be horribly snotty. The real pros have a truly amazing ability to identify a wine and its vintage by taste alone. But it’s when people start reviewing wines that you can microwave some popcorn, sit back, and prepare to be entertained. I can quite understand that one might detect vanilla and blackcurrent and honeysuckle and chewiness, but when people reach for metaphor, things can get absurd.
There’s nothing quite as personal as taste, particularly when it’s in your own mouth, so I just decide whether I like a wine or not, and that’s all. The Japanese have invented a robot sommelier that analyses food and drink by infrared analysis, and can correctly name the grape variety of a bottle, and add that it’s full-bodied. That sounds like the sort of basic thing I could use, even though the robot once identified a cameraman as bacon. In its defence, we have the word of several competent cannibals that people do taste quite a lot like pork.
The robot can’t be deeply descriptive, of course, but I feel much more persuaded by a review that says “This is a totally excellent wine, try it!” than by one that pinpoints, say, hints of marsupial sweat on the skin of an arabesque, or the prudery of satin slippers languishing in a light winter snowfall. I just won’t pay money to taste hot koalas and wet shoes.
Call me boorish, but for now I’m just going to stick with “I like this one” or “I don’t like this one”. If someone really pushes me, I can always make up something about notes of creamed swan feather marinating in a tragic rhombus.