Novelist and column writer Auberon Waugh (1939-2001) wrote a wine book in 1986, that albeit is very dated when it comes to specific wine reviews, shows great wit. I found this interesting as my wit has all been drained from me after completing the Wine & Spirit’s Education Trust Level 2 course, that trains sommeliers to use wine descriptors that people understand. So I had to stop saying “cherry lifesaver candy” and instead use “ripe cherries”. I miss being caustic, and Waugh’s attitude is helping me regain my old self.
“Waugh On Wine” served to give me several anecdotes of wit and wine:
“…hosts that skimp on their wine should be exposed, ridiculed and humiliated.”
In complaining about using descriptors such as “cherries” and “smoke” in regards to Pinot Noir, Waugh said “…When describing tastes, one is bound to use some sort of shorthand, in any case, unless one is to embark on some baroque poetic fantasy on every occasion” and “I have been eating cherries all of my life, and breathing smoke for much of it, but I have never found a Burgundy which tasted of either – let alone tobacco, perfume, rose petals or lavender. If I found one of my wines tasting of any of those things I would send it back and demand an explanation. It is true that I once thought I detected a hint of cigar smoke in a Joseph Phelps Chardonnay I was given at a British Academy of Gastronomes lunch. But I had been told to look for it, and decided eventually that the smell probably came from my neighbor, a nice fat Sunday Times journalist…who was smoking a cigar.”
In his chapter on Aperitifs I love that Waugh wrote, “The general effect of cocktails is to anesthetize the brain, drive out the worries and preoccupations of the day and prepare men and women for each other’s company.”
In the Summer Wines section, Waugh makes a reference to illegal drugs that I would never dare write, “For those readers that are still old-fashioned enough to smoke pot, the only wine I ever found that went well with it was Deinhart’s Hochheimer Konigin Victoria Beng Riesling Kabinett.”
In writing about the Rhone wines Waugh gets more serious. He contends that the increasing prices in for Bordeaux and Burgundy have driven consumers over to Rhones: “Suddenly, wine drinkers are beginning to take the wine of the Rhone very seriously indeed. They are discovering virtues in the Syrah and Grenache grapes which they had quite forgotten about. Wines of the Rhone Valley have quite simply come to represent the best buy from France.”
In attesting that vintage port is by far better than any other type of port, Waugh wrote, “Those who cannot afford vintage port, or who cannot be bothered with all the business of storing and decanting it, should find a good tawny. Ruby is nothing but an inferior, younger form of tawny and generally comes under the heading of a low taste, although it is much favoured in certain quarters as a flavouring for surgical spirits, when it is called Red Biddy, and it is said to drive you mad, then blind, before killing you…all other ports…are inferior versions of the vintage port experience and proclaim your poverty to the world – which is not, really, the purpose of serving port.”
In describing California winemaking Waugh wrote, “I had thought to polish off Californian and Spanish reds in a single section with a little faint praise and some sneering remarks about the poor. No doubt they would taste quite nice but so does ginger beer. Who could be expected to pay attention to bottles with names like Firestone, Inglenook, Stony Hill or X-D Wines, let alone hold a serious conversation with them?…I find myself facing a personal crisis with roots in the cultural identity of us all. There can be no doubt that the Californians, for all their psychobabble and personal hygiene, are producing some very good red wines indeed.”
And my final, favorite, Waugh-on-Wine-ism: “According to Michael Broadbent, who is a Master of Wine and supervises Christie’s Wine Department, the best wine really only begins to develop – open out, show a leg, whatever – once it is in the glass. Within a space of two hours a wine which has lain undisturbed for twenty or thirty years will turn the gamut through tight, unsuspicious puberty, vivacious adolescence, joyful awakening, sensuous maturity, fat and crumbling middle age to sour, crabbed old age.” Funny, the way Waugh writes makes me want to drink, and write, many more joyful awakenings.
Here’s one last funny story about this book: I requested the book Waugh on Wine from a library in Temecula to be delivered to my local library for me to pick up. It comes in and the flyleaf has a sticker that reads, “Donated from the collection of Bob Foster”. I Google Foster, find him on Facebook, friend him, and then learn more about the former lawyer turned wine judge’s collection: 1400 books.