“It has some backbone ”, the sommelier whispered, winking at me. He smiled as if he knew that this was the perfect bottle for a man dining with a lady in a sexy dress. That cheeky nod had to mean something, but those words were as scarce as obscure to me. A wine with backbone, a straight spine. It sounded so meaningless to me and yet so right. He could have said it was a bottle with legs, heart or even raunchy manly attributes, I would have nodded with knowledgeable approval. In fact, if I hadn’t seen a Primitivo or Negramaro on the wine list I would have felt lost. All the Cabernet and Syrah or Malbec were terra incognita to me. Those alluring descriptions on the bottle labels sound like travel memoirs of Bruce Chatwin; they tell of faraway places where the grapes grow, the gentle climate that caress the vines, the specifics of soils, the plates they are supposed to go with. Game, for example. Red wines seem always perfect for game; fact. According to the labels we’re supposed to eat so many pheasants they’d be driven to extinction. But my nemesis was soon to come.
“Occhio che questo vino ha schiena. It’s got backbone” I said, smiling warmly to the people around the table. A big client had invited me to dinner at his place, with his family, a privilege not usually granted to the bothersome investment bank sales people. I needed leverage on that occasion to build up trust, a dash of friendship even. Faux pas. He masterly savoured the wine I had brought, then paused. More seconds went by. I started turning from self-confident to self-conscious. “Hmm. Do you think? It doesn’t seem to me, really”. Oh come on, seriously? Did I back myself into a corner all by myself? Anxiety levels were peaking.
That dinner proved that bluffing about wines is dangerous. With little time, patience and interest in becoming wine obsessed, I needed a bluffer’s guide to give me quick and accurate knowledge when needed. And I found it. Vivino is an app that does just that: you scan the label of the bottle with your phone camera and all the information you need pops up on the screen. Black magic. I recently brought a bottle of a red wine to dinner that had been produced in Bolgheri, and had a good look at my iPhone before. And so I went – Bolgheri is a wine producing region in Tuscany that produces “Super Tuscan” wines that are known for incorporating a high percentage of Sangiovese. Although the area was previously known to produce cheap, bulk wines, it was revitalized in the mid-20th Century by a Tuscan aristocrat, Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta. The wines have been gaining in popularity ever since – Interested comments followed, guests seemed kind of impressed, then I wisely switched conversation towards Puglia rather than Tuscany for the next holiday. Well done Vivino, mission accomplished. In the office it’s a different story. It is customary to organise team drinks the night before bonus day (the day after it might be dangerous for the managers to attend such an event so it’s always done before) and on that occasion I was having a chat with a senior colleague. Once again, the conversation switched to wine. No pressure though. The upside of speaking to the big shots in banking is that you actually don’t speak and they do all the talking, peppered with plenty of me, myself and I. He told me of the time when he went to Sotheby’s and bid for a case of Tignanello 1984 and I cheered inside when he said it had turned to vinegar. True to his job, he explained how he is trying to make money with wine. There are wine merchants that pick the best bottles every year and store them for you in their cellars for a fee, then see you in fifteen years, when your wine will have become something rare and hopefully expensive. Tax efficient even. Final round of drinks. More wine bottles uncorked. I took one and read the label. It said it was perfect with game. I was tipsy. I could see pheasants flying over senior manager heads. Tomorrow is a big day. Get me a Peroni, please.