This story is about wine.
And the perils of drinking unidentified wine.
The story starts with Uncle Les. Not the same Les in the first story; that’s just a coincidence that appeared as I started writing. But it makes you wonder if good stories have a Les in them somewhere, doesn’t it?
This Uncle Les was a pretty interesting bloke.
His was a dentist, a collector of artworks and a majorly useful cellist who played in orchestras in the days before playing in orchestras was a “real job”.
And a wine maker.
As a wine maker, he was fortunate to have ready access to a wide range of seasonal fruits and vegetables, all completely suitable for fermentation.
The product of his endeavours was stored for maturing and future attention in screw top jars called “flagons”.
The flagon is a glass jar that holds half a gallon (approximately 1.9 litres).
These days flagons are not easy to come by. But back when licensing laws required bars to close before the street lights came on, flagons were common for transporting beer and similar refreshing liquids from the hotel bottle store to your place of residence. Or anywhere else where the refreshing contents might be consumed.
Once emptied of beer, the versatile flagons became containers for other liquids: home-brewed beer, mineral turpentine or kerosene (sometimes difficult to distinguish from home-brewed beer), engine oil (ditto), or lawn mower fuel.
Les’ wine output was decanted into flagons. Sticky-backed paper labels were attached that advised the year of manufacture and defined the origins – parsnip or nectarine or peach etc.
In the best French tradition, the labelled flagons were then stored in the cool underneath the house while the wine matured.
When Les passed away, the wine stock got sort of forgotten and no-one went to see how it was getting on.
Some years later Les’ wife also died.
Aged now in their mid to late 50s, the children all returned for their mother’s funeral. Bringing their children with them.
After their grandmother’s funeral service the more adventurous grandchildren went exploring in the cool and spider webs under the house to see what might be there. And found the stash of wine-containing flagons, which anecdotally had been there for nearly 20 years.
The flagons were brought out into the daylight, and the general consensus was that the contents should be sampled forthwith.
Over time, as well as wine storage and cobwebs, the area under the house had become a habitat for silverfish. And, as book-lovers know, silverfish have a diet heavily biased towards paper.
Remember the sticky labels?
The flagons had been stored in the silverfishes’ dining room and the silverfish had passed the time by eating all the sticky labels off the flagons.
As a consequence of this silverfish banquet, identifying the contents of the flagons had become a lottery. The only guide to wine type, age or strength was the colour of the wine, which was not at all a reliable measure!
Restraint is not often included in the psyche of the young, and present company did not disappoint. Regarding the labeling limitations as mere inconvenience, sampling began.
The word “sample” has different meanings for different people. In the more cautious, it involves trying just a little tiny bit to test what it’s like; in others, sampling is pouring out a tumblerful and drinking it as quickly as possible to see what the effect might be.
The day was warm and sunny. Samples from flagons were being poured and consumed with increasing enthusiasm and carefree abandon. There may even have been an informal “guess the wine” competition going on. The company had become quite vocal. And generous.
About this point, my wife and I arrived at the gathering. We were greeted effusively and offered our own samples to taste. Not wishing to appear unfriendly or nervous, we took a little sip of the offerings.
Age and previous bad experiences quickly led us to conclude that it might be wiser not to consume anymore, and that it would be more entertaining to just sit and watch. And wait.
A reconvening had been planned for the same venue the next morning. Most of the previous day’s attendees were present, although some were reported as “missing”.
The enthusiasm for sampling had waned with the night. A lot. The noise level and bonhomie was also lower than previously, mostly consisting of low-pitched groans and requests for quiet.
The wine had won!
After the event, one of the braver grandchildren had secured a selection of the flagons and taken them home. He very generously offered me the chance to select one for myself from his haul. In the interests of science I accepted his kind offer, thinking I might get the opinion of some unsuspecting friends who were knowledgeable about wine.
When we got the unlabelled flagon home, close inspection revealed an appreciable quantity of sediment present in the flagon.
The contents were promptly decanted with the aid of a kitchen funnel, a pair of ladies’ pantyhose (freshly laundered), and four empty bottles with good tops. They were then laid to rest in a kitchen cupboard.
And there, five years or more later, they still sit.
Unlabelled, untried and untested.
And they will remain so until I pluck up sufficient courage to open one.
Or I die and my grandchildren come exploring.