ONE 6 • Tasting Notes: Children of the Grape

Tasting Notes: Children of the Grape

Until recently, my life seemed like a tiresomely enthusiastic New World wine — so stuffed full of flavours that it resembled nothing less than Piccadilly Circus in a bottle. On top of the day job, I’d been burdened with a troublesome trio of additional duties, and frankly, that’s four too many.

First up was my ongoing ordeal entertaining children on behalf of a local smoothie franchise. Parties, galas and school canteens all bore witness to my appearances in a variety of ridiculous costumes on behalf of one of Mrs S.’s valued clients.

Crowds of children forever plagued me, but the second of my extra-curricular burdens — endless favours to “one-hit wonder” Cal Cavendish — found an unexpected use for these Hamelinesque hordes. Desperate to raise his profile, Cal had signed up as a pirate captain in the local panto. When posters featuring his leering features were immediately defaced with the most unflattering and, indeed, libellous graffiti, he reacted quickly by instructing my youthful followers to scour the city and daub “Talent of Tomorrow” around his face by way of counter-propaganda.

This freed me to concentrate on the third and most toxic of my unwelcome responsibilities. Spirited defender of the nation’s alcoholic rights was certainly not a role I sought, but it seems my jottings on the grape have commanded a certain amount of notoriety.

I was soon appearing on Newsnight Scotland, arguing for the defence in our national “Are we drinking too much?” debate. My preferred question would have been “Are we drinking enough?”, but one plays the cards one’s dealt. I had prepared a finely tuned argument culminating with that uniquely Scottish verdict, not proven, but in retrospect, the stone-cold sobriety of my hawkish opponent — Dr Priscilla Chapman — gave her a certain edge.

Dr Chapman is one of those medical sorts who’s clearly run out of sick to heal and has decided to have a bash at worrying the well. She rather reminds me of waking up to an empty bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon: the only words that ever emerge from the pursed lips of that narrow mouth are, “You drink too much.”

Her qualifications seemed to be carrying the argument, so I drew upon my own medical reference: “I’ve heard a leading heart surgeon say that what doesn’t kill you will certainly end up spilt…”

Realizing that aphorisms were not my strength, Dr Chapman took full advantage, correctly sourcing the opinion to my Uncle Charlie: “Who has his own parking space at GMC tribunals, and with whom you woke up half of Edinburgh one Christmas Eve drunkenly screaming about ghouls and phantoms.” With credibility spiralling down the drain like an unwelcome Swiss Riesling, I saw no better escape than to fall off my chair.

Aiming for a favourable cut in the editing suite, I shamelessly invited the crew back to the Palm Court, but the sight of Uncle Charlie trying to hush twenty children proved an unwelcome obstacle. The little ones had arrived looking for my advice on cranberries, but Charlie was persuading them to exercise their natural gymnastic abilities by performing one of our oldest family traditions — the “Fountain of Plenitude”. I was soon dragooned into the lead role of “Neptune”.

Central to the final orchestration, I was poised to pour the first of fifty magnums into the uppermost of the raised Champagne glasses when, out of nowhere, the manager arrived to discuss the unacceptable plastering of panto posters throughout his hotel. Focus lost, it took mere seconds before the “Fountain” collapsed into a mountain of wailing children, each and every one drowning in the Champagne I was unable to stop pouring over them.

Enter Dr Chapman and her sinisterly well-equipped mobile phone, who photographed the whole disaster before calculating both the exact number of units of alcohol involved and what damage consuming them would do to the liver of an average eight-year-old. My role defending drinking liberties was clearly at an end, and within a day, so was my involvement in the smoothie trade.

That was the final straw for Mrs S. and this past month has seen me residing on my sister’s sofa, leading the existence of a Hungarian table wine — simple, stringent and subject to scorn. Plans are afoot, however, and by next issue, I trust the bitter tannins of my current reversals will have softened into something rather more palatable.