Thursday, December 22, 2016

Waverley with Claret

When I was reading the introduction to Buchan's 'John Macnab' there was something about Buchan writing in the tradition of Stevenson rather than Sir Walter Scott. It's not the first time I've seen disparaging comments about Scott and how readable he is, and I'm not having it.

I won't deny that he's a man who will happily use 20 words where 2 might have done, sometimes he even makes a joke out of it, and I'll also admit that some of his books are nowhere near as good as others - but the good books are great.

So far my favourite has been 'Waverley' (so good they named a train station after it), which was thoroughly entertaining, still relevant for the sidelight it throws on British history with reference to the 1707 Act of union, and the Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1745, and in every way a tremendously influential novel. It's long enough to take a bit of time to read, and Scott's loquacity demands a bit of patience whilst you adjust to his pace, but it's worth the small amount of effort it takes to do that, and holidays provide the reading time to do him justice.

After spending yesterday considering the best clarets I've had, or can still afford, today is about the other end - the sort that are often labelled 'Good Ordinary' and come in under £10. Sometimes it's possible to find something that punches well above it's weight in this bracket (in which case buy a couple of cases) but the key thing to consider is that 'Good Ordinary' title. They're not meant to be special wines, but they should be pleasant drinking, smooth, soft, fruity, discreet (no blockbusting new world Cabernet fireworks here) and food friendly.

I'm wary of anything to cheap because of the way wine is priced in the U.K. Duty is a flat rate on each bottle, though the percentage of alcohol by volume will effect the amount that is, VAT goes on top of that - so if you buy a £5 bottle of wine at 13% abv, £2.91 of that is going straight to the inland revenue. After that there are bottling, labelling, boxing and transport costs to consider. And you haven't even paid your wine producer or merchant yet.

Pay a couple of pounds more and the duty and other fixed costs stay the same (the VAT doesn't, but you can't win them all) so the wine in your glass is likely to be much better, and at least there's the chance the wine maker will be able to make a living out of it (and the wine merchant too, we work hard, we deserve it).

Scott, who seems to have liked his wine (he certainly bought a lot of it) would, wars with France allowing, certainly have drunk Claret, and French wine is fitting to celebrate the auld alliance with Scotland (which seems to have worked rather like the special relationship we currently enjoy with America). There's something about these wines - for want of a better description it's maybe best called an old fashioned charm - which really makes me think of Scott too. The important thing is that he's worth having a go at, set aside a few hours, get comfortable, and give him a chance.


  1. We Scots hae a problem wi loquacity.
    A gless o' Claret can settle our dule, but efter three or fower, weel noo...We get ...
    Disjaskit is the word I'm lookin' fur.
    The Claret, ower indulged in, leaves us dwaibly in the heid, ken.
    Ma Ne'er Day resolution will be tae read guid Sir Walter.
    No his wee feedbacks like yon Neil Munro, tho' I must say, his gai racy novelette, The New Roads, had me readin' till skreigh-o'day -- dae ye no think Neil could hae taught Walter a trick or twa?
    An tae be honest wi ye, dae ye really think Oor Neil's Para Handy could hae wrestled wi Sir Walter's namby-pamby prose style?
    I mean it was written for lassies o' leisure and bonnet lairds an the like.
    Naw, Para Handy liked a guid Mickey Spillane, if I'm honest...aa sailors dae.
    But come the New Year, when we're aa back tae auld clothes an purridge, I'll be loupin' through the pages o' Auld Mortality.
    As Goad's ma witness I wull.
    Then, come 2018, Ill stert on your Waverley like.
    Ye may weel jalouse that I'm a slaw reader.
    I am that, Milady.
    It's the years o' drinking the Claret.
    Sins o' ma debauched youth, ken.
    Jock Heygerty

  2. Thanks for explaining the pricing of wine. I shall bear that in mind the next time I go shopping.