My mother, Margaret, died last December after complications from Alzheimer’s following a broken hip operation. Watching her decline has been truly awful, as anyone who has seen a loved one cruelly fade through dementia knows. I wrote this in 2016, when she was still able to enjoy a little bit of wine. It was meant to be a lighthearted piece about drinking the cheaper more commercial stuff, and trying to keep in touch with reality. I just couldn’t post it at the time. Now, I see it as a fond memory of how an average bottle can become quite special when it creates a connection with someone you love.
I’ve done it again. I’ve arrived at my mum’s house without wine.
A staggering oversight for a wine merchant, you might think. But I’ve trekked from West to South East London by train and it’s a 15 minute hike from the nearest station. Today, I just couldn’t face lugging a bottle along with my overnight stuff and thought perhaps we could do without. Take advantage of an essential night off the booze. I was wrong.
My mum may be a little confused as to who I am when I arrive – she has Alzheimer’s – but once she’s established that I am related and am here to have dinner with her, she makes a sign with her hand as if she is holding a wine glass. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…
When I confess that I haven’t brought a bottle to go with dinner, she looks a bit crestfallen. “Would you like me to get some?” “Yes please!” she says, enthusiastically. She’s obviously having a good day. She offers to pay and I ask for a tenner – “buy two!” she adds. She’s still on 1980s prices.
So off I trot off to the local offie as walking to Oddbins in Blackheath Village will take too long. A bottle shop has been on this site since I was a kid and in recent years, became pretty dismal. Perched on the edge of what used to be Ferrier estate (and now glossily rebranded as “Kidbrook Village”) it always looked gloomy behind its caged windows.
But now someone’s having a go at brightening it up and increasing the wine offering. It’s an altar to the big, safe brands: entry-level McGuigan, Gallo, Barefoot – not wines I really want to waste my alcohol units on. On the other hand, I tell myself, it’s good to drink these now and again, so I can keep a handle on what wines most people drink and not disappear up my own wine-geek arse. And I do rather enjoy the challenge of picking out a wine that we might both enjoy.
I scout around the offie and, under the strip lights gathering a bit of dust, I spy a Yalumba Y Series Shiraz Viognier 2013. I worry it’s been sitting under the lights for a while and that it’s getting a bit old. My hand flirts with a more pristine Torres Sangre de Toro (that little plastic bull!), but I decide to go with my first choice.
Now, I don’t know how much Viognier is added to this Shiraz-dominated blend (annoyingly, an online search reveals nothing) but there’s enough to give it a whiff of florality. In my mouth though, it’s licorice a-go-go. The juicy fruits are a tad cooked but not unpleasantly so. It is balanced with a reasonable finish and makes a decent drop with which to wash down a simple bacon and veg pasta dish. Job done.
More importantly, my mum (who has a limited sense of smell) likes it and says so. She drinks very little – it’s the ritual she enjoys. I’ve drunk a generous glass of it, I don’t have a burning desire to crack into the rest of the bottle. I leave the rest for my sister to have with my mum later in the week. I’ve since seen several bottles of this appear in the house over the course of a few months. Tonight, I try the 2014. It feels a bit neutered compared to the earlier bottle I had, and hangs around my mid-palate before petering out. Is it inferior to the 2013? Or is it my memory of the latter – at my relief at finding something I consider drinkable? I’m not sure. But hey – I’ve not brought any wine myself (again), the Yalumba Y Series Shiraz Viognier is there, it’s drinkable and you know what? It’ll do just fine.