Photo by Candia Dixon-Stuart
Carissima’s nose had developed. Not in a Pinocchio sense, but as a metaphorical wine calibre detection proboscis. No more Jacob’s Creek for Carrie and her family, though it had served Gyles and herself well, as upwardly mobile thirtysomethings. Now that she was moving inexorably towards the Roaring Forties, she wanted all her neighbours to note that she was a customer of Pop My Cork! which was the Suttonford wine merchant of choice for Yummies who followed Jancis Robinson. That was not to say that she didn’t sometimes backslide and buy in bulk in the Co-op, hastily transferring the bottles into her all-concealing jute shopper with its slogan: Suttonford- no plastic here! Yes, Carrie was very concerned to re-use her husband’s plastic card as much as possible and she congratulated herself on her eco-friendliness.
Every month or so there would be a wine-tasting at Pop My Cork! and rare roast beef rectangles the size of postage stamps would be arranged on metal platters alongside Matzo crackers and, if one was lucky, a local trout which had been cooked in a fish kettle. Everyone would gather round the sawdust-filled spittoons, looking knowledgeable, even though it hadn’t been so long since they were draining the old Mateus Rose, Buckfast and Asti Spumante, not to mention Liebfraumilch, as if their student days would never end. It was amazing what a few package holidays to the Med. had inspired. Now they were frowning and ticking every third variety on the comment sheet provided.
The local red-beaked vicar strode in, still wearing his collar, like an appellation endorsement, rather than a vocational symbol.
Saving the best for last, I trust! he guffawed, helping himself to the largest piece of roast beef he could spot and temporarily stationing himself beside the door where the plonk was placed for the non-aficiandos. I suppose I might be asked to come up higher, he laughed, rapidly working his way along the trestles to the rare spirits and expensive liqueurs and forking a generous portion of trout onto his paper plate. It’s the Wedding at Cana all over again.
Just like the viticulteurs in deepest Charente, Carrie intoned, polishing off a VSOP cognac. When we visit Gyles’ sister, we take an empty plastic container and have it filled up via a siphon by a relative of the Hennessey family who is practically her next door neighbour. It’s what the locals do and it only costs eight euros.
Yes, and six for the locals, muttered Gyles. Sometimes he found his spouse a tad pretentious. How much is this one, Carrie? He swirled the nectar round and swallowed it, instead of expectorating it as he should.
Twenty pounds a bottle- thirty eight if you buy two or more.
Put me down for a dozen, he said, nodding at the sales staff and moved on to the harder stuff. Christmas is coming, so maybe we should stock up on some of the less usual post-prandials.
What about your mother? Carrie asked. Look at this: ‘Jane Austen’s Secret Tipple.’
Rather tame for the old bird. Probably too old-maidish and somewhat acidic. And I’m not talking about the booze! Anyway, you know she favours ‘Dewlap Gin- for Grandmothers with Attitude.’ But I’m not keen on encouraging her, ever since she called out the paramedics because she couldn’t get the top off a bottle. She was reprimanded and told that she shouldn’t be calling the services out, unless it was an emergency. She replied that it had been and, anyway, if she had fallen while struggling to open the bottle, she might have broken her hip, which would have cost the NHS an awful lot more.
She’s evil, said Carrie, running her finger lingeringly round the neck of a fine claret. But at ninety three, she’s probably entitled..
..to what? Cirrhosis of the liver?
Well, she doesn’t need a spare one now, does she?
Oh, okay. I’ll take a case of ‘Dewlap’ too, Gyles said, indicating that it should be added to his growing cache. Who knows? It might finish her off.
I’ll drink to that! Carrie slurred her words a little.