Kingsley Amis: •
A slugger,s notebook
"Twenty years ago,” asked a friend recently, "what would you have bet that one day, for a fattish fee, you'd write an article on Scotch that would be printed over a colour photograph of a girl's bare bottom?"
I answered him fully, freely and frankly. "Nothing," I said, or words to that effect.
Yet such has been my fate — I call it that in no plaintive spirit, meaning only that it was never any kind of conscious goal: too ,specialised, for one thing. About four years ago I woke up to the fact that, as if by accident, I had acquired a certain amount of information about drinks and drinking. I was not very strong on wine, not having been brought up on it — in my parents' household it was a purely medicinal drink designed for anaemics — and never having had the cash needed to acquire the necessary
But I had in my favour a real interest in drinks as well as in drink, years of experience from Saturday-night-only beer-swilling onwards, and an unquenchable readiness to try new drinks, new brands, new mixtures of others' or my own devising. Especially the last: I am never happier (in a standing posture, that is) than when cocktail-concocting.
So I became launched on a mini-career in what is usually, though in my case not all that accurately, called wine journalism. I considered I had arrived when I was appointed Contributing Editor (Drinks) of a distinguished seminude magazine, with results like the one referred to above. Two or three friends, not including the one referred to above, have got cross with me about this; they allege that some parts of the magazine ought to offend
someone like me. To this I have several answers. One is that I am performing a valuable social function by distracting the readership from those allegedly offensive parts. Another is that if you refuse to write for journals that are not always and everywhere inoffensive to you, then you will very soon find yourself writing for no journals at all. I have a third and much shorter answer for use when I am in a hurry.
Bing paid to drink sounds like jam for money. So it is, a fair part of the time, and I have been able to make some genuine and interesting discoveries. I am perfectly at home when writing about spirits, mixes, liqueurs, beers etc, and booze-reviewing has a great advantage over other sorts. You must, for instance, read a novel to the end to judge it fairly; a sip of Southern Comfort or, at the other end of the scale, Cyprus cream 'sherry is enough for an appraisal. But, when it comes to wine, there is a decompensating disadvantage.
It is simply that translating tastes (and odours) into words is damned difficult, the more so when the gradations are relatively slight. The dilemma is one of adjectives. If you decide to stick to the plain and readily comprehensible, you will soon start repeating yourself. A wine can be dry, not so dry, very dry; it can be light or heavy, thin or, well, full-bodied; who knows but what it might not be fruity, full-flavoured, aromatic, or, er ...? Round? Crisp? Mouthfilling?
A recent article by a highly learned and genuine wine jour nalist spoke not only in such terms but also of what might be robust, delicate, well-balanced, alarming, what might show velvety assertiveness, vigorous style, engaging character, weight, suppleness, and a pronounced smell reminiscent of hot sun on old stones — hot much different from mild sun on newish stones?
Yes: it is, as you can see, easy work pointing a finger or two of scorn at the writer who faces up to the task of going beyond the obvious — much easier work than trying something about as tricky as explaining the binomial theorem by a series of grunts. I do wonder, though, whether the majority of the wine-drinking public, especially its numerous ,recent recruits, might not prefer some simpler and earthier advice that considers pocket as well as palate.
Here is some advice of that sort. I am more than ever convinced (equals "I have said before but am bloody well going to say again") that I have found the final solution to the wine problem. The crying, the thunderously roaring, need is more than ever for a not very expensive tipple that you can offer anybody and also drink yourself in bulk. The answer is to buy a barrel and bottle the contents by your own hand, with a minimum of two assistants.
A hogshead will yield something like 240 or 250 bottlesworth: the quantity is not constant, depending possibly on the temperament of the EEC citizen who poured in the wine in the first place. Anyway, you will clearly have to
have accumulated a lot of empty Wine-bottles: no great hardship. They should have been merely rinsed out with cold water and stored neck downwards. Also required are a corresponding number of new corks, a corkingMachine, a tap, a drill or other device for removing the bungs, any kind of ramp arrangement that will get the barrel high enough (say eighteen inches) off the ground for a bottle to go comfortably under the tap, and a coolish space to keep the endproduct.
This is not so difficult or troublesome. A wine-merchant will not only supply the wine but help you with corks, machine and tap. He will also advise you which wine to pick; at this time of the year he might well recommend the new Beaujolais. This should be drunk with all deliberate speed, so count the mouths in your household and consider clubbing together with a neighbour. After a couple of hours' pretty unskilled labour you will be swigging away, your usual enjoyment enhanced by the twin thoughts that you have personally shared in the production of what is before you, and that you have cut costs by a third or more.