Regular readers of this column will recognize that its scribe places a premium on modesty, and so will be surprised to discover that I found myself marketed as an Edinburgh Fringe show throughout this last August. I can assure all such readers that they would have to multiply their own half-bottle of surprise by at least a jeroboam before they could approximate mine.
Cards on the table time: my attitude to this Fringe hoopla is ambivalent. Like a crate of Bordeaux, it develops with age. When freshly bottled—week one, perhaps?—it’s a characterless item with no distinction of its own, albeit packed with potential. With maturity—that second-last weekend?—the tannins soften and genius can appear. But those peaks are flattened flavours when the Bank Holiday rolls round and leave a sorry hangover.
My inclusion in this year’s Fringe programme was, of course, the brainchild of our accountant, Mr Asquith Royal. An uncomplicated bouquet, ideally matched with fish, he has a bat-like ability to hear a penny dropping at a hundred yards.
“Sit, amuse and do the wine chat,” was the proposition he framed for me at my usual perch in the Palm Court Bar of the Balmoral five minutes before the first paying guest arrived. Asquith and my ever-so-influential wife had conspired to keep me in the dark so that my lack of preparation would add to the performance.
“Every tenner paid is ours!” he laughed, with the proviso that those such as his Aunt Tabitha enjoy my company gratis as “a tribute to our wartime generation”.
With a keen eye on his percentage, Asquith had supplied a crate of dubious Hungarian “hock”, but honour could not bear it, so I dipped into expenses. A reasonably cheery Syrah greeted robust guests, whilst a fruity Sauvignon Blanc welcomed those flirtatious types preferring white. In either case, if truth be told, I rather enjoyed the company.
Only one fellow proved a challenge. Asquith had placed a one-star review of my efforts in the press as, he explained, “a publicity scam written by an obviously phoney Yank critic who couldn’t understand why you didn’t cover Scottish wines”. That night, a roaring personification of Asquith’s ruse stormed in, slammed his fist on the bar and demanded that I buy him the finest Scottish vino available. I ordered a large wine glass of fiery Islay single malt and prepared to bluff.
Not a man willing to entertain the full tasting process, my nemesis skipped the observations of eye, nose and mouth, going straight to a complete swallowing. A forceful reaction saw his hand slam Asquith straight over a cream-tea-laden table and into the lap of my next guest, Aunt Tabitha herself. I could perceive the grande dame’s fury through her meringue-coated face, but even with Asquith prostrate in her skirts, she clearly felt it necessary to slowly pour her remaining tea over him as confirmation that the hoped-for advance on his inheritance had again slipped.
Regrettably, there seems scant room left for the business end of this column. Let me swiftly recommend the 2006 Muscadet Sevre et Main: a showy little economy buy displaying a citrus nose shaved off a lime with spring-picked apples in the mouth. A perfect reminder of the summer of 2007—sour, green and very, very wet.