I caught myself drinking disgusting wine at a party last week. The offending liquid was a cheap red blend from Alentejo, which tasted powerfully of oak chips and little else. At least I hope it was cheap.
It took a few sips before my brain kicked into action. Why am I drinking this? Surely there must be something tastier somewhere? I slunk off to the drinks table when no-one was looking, poured the Alentejo filth down the sink and replaced it with a zippy Austrian Zweigelt – the sort that James Thurber might well have naively presumed upon.
Jettisoning a duff wine and substituting it for something tastier might sound simple, but it can be surprisingly challenging. No surrender, I say. Why? Because life really is too short to poison the system with alcohol if it’s not enjoyable.
I grew up on a tight budget. Wastage was severely frowned upon, when it came to food, money or any other resource. Many of us have this instilled into our heads – “Waste not, want not”, finish your food, think of the starving children in the third world, look after your clothes, money doesn’t grow on trees. After all, to be frugal is to be adult, sustainable and justified.
We intuitively apply the same logic to wine and other alcoholic beverages. Am I enjoying this glass of Bolivian Chardonnay? Not really, but I paid € 7 for the privilege and I’ll damn well force it down. Is this expensive Barolo, painstakingly cellared for two decades, not quite hitting the high notes? Maybe it’ll improve with air, perhaps it needs food – but it wasn’t cheap so we will finish the bottle.
Intuitive maybe, but quite illogical. Finishing a plate of food that would otherwise go to waste isn’t going to leave you with a hangover. Finishing a bottle of Château-de-plonk may well. Alcohol is a poison that can only be processed by the body in limited quantities. Abuse it at your peril. Waste those processing units on cheap Pinot Grigio, and weep when someone opens a transformative bottle of Dario Prinčič but you realise you are no longer able to stand.
Surely fine wine shouldn’t be considered as a poison? Yes, it should. Domaine de la Romanêe Conti’s ethanol content is chemically no different to the supermarket’s budget Chilean Merlot. Sulphite-free natural wines might make you feel more self-righteous, but your head will still hurt the next morning. All wines, all ethanol, can cause cancer.
Thus my ever stricter stance on dumping out sub-standard wine. I encourage you to wilfully toss anything that doesn’t put a big smile on the face. Nothing is more bitter than a sore head sustained from drinking bad wine. There is no rational reason to ingest this mind-altering drug unless one or more boxes are ticked: pleasure, refreshment, enlightenment. So dump freely and dump often. All that stands in your way is the fabric of polite society.
Drinks parties are child’s play when it comes to swapping out your glass, as is any event with actual bar staff. Intimate dinner parties are considerably more perilous (assuming you don’t want to offend the host). Invoking the second trimester only works if you’re willing to go thirsty for the rest of the evening (and is difficult for men to pull off, even in these liberated times).
I favour the “second glass technique”. Linger so long over Crap Wine #1 that you can request an additional glass when Bright Shiny New Bottle #2 is broached: “I’d love to compare these two” or “I’ll finish this later, but can I taste that one too?”. With two glasses at your disposal, you suddenly have a surrogate spittoon.
Restaurants where someone else is paying (or choosing the wine) also present challenges to dumpers like myself. The second glass technique works here too, especially if the somm is on your side. Otherwise you’ll have to resort to dirty tricks such as “I’m so sorry, I discovered this week I’m allergic to Pinot Grigio Delle Venezia/Spanish Pinot Noir/insert-shitty-wine-here, but the doctor says biodynamically grown Blaufränkisch is safe”.
Jettison once and you will never look back. You will, like me, become a serial dumper. It is liberating. When asked that wonderfully British question “What’s your poison? ”, my response is “I have many”. But I expect all my poisons to be delicious, nourishing and pleasurable.