The old vine Mallorcan
wine that helped me
make it through the
night.

What do you do when you are alone in foreign land and you’re trying to make sense of the fact that, a few hours earlier, you’ve watched a coffin containing your mother’s body slide into a crematorium furnace?

This, as you may have guessed, isn’t a hypothetical question. I’m writing this at 10pm in Palma de Mallorca, the island where  my mother lived for three and a half decades before falling victim to Alzheimer’s and a cruelly slow descent into death.

To be honest, my first thought was whisky – good Islay malt most probably – and that’s almost certainly what I’d have resorted to if I were at home. But I’m in Mallorca and good malt is less readily available. So, I’ve walked through the town in search of inspiration and happened upon a cafe-restaurant serving Galician diced beef, pimientos del padron  and a local red – Jose Ferret Veritas Vinyes Velles (old vines) 2010 – that boasts both a Mundus VinI gold medal and 15% alcohol. I was offered the choice of a glass or a bottle. I opted for the latter.

The food is fine – everything you might want from beef and pimientos and when I first tasted it, I could easily see how the wine earned its medal. It’s rich, fruity, and nicely supported by oak. Now that I’m three quarters of the way through the bottle, I’m not so sure. There’s a sweetness I could do without and the oak is a little showy. But – and this is an important ‘but’ – the thing I’m really appreciating about this rich, fruity red is the alcohol.

To be honest, I’m not 100% convinced by the 15% on the label. The actual strength might actually be a tad higher. But, in the mood I’m in tonight, that’s not something I’m going to worry about. (Don’t forget that this Mallorcan red is performing as understudy for an absent 40% malt whisky).
The point of this post as I’m still unfortunately sufficiently sober to appreciate, is that even those of us who love wine (and whisky) sometimes drink it for reasons that are not directly related to subtlety and complexity. Would I be happier, sitting here  tonight in a Palma restaurant, with a 13% Rioja? I very much doubt it.
To be blunt, whether I knew it or not, what I was looking for when I left my hotel was the slow slide towards oblivion that alcohol can offer more effectively than any other narcotic I’ve tried. This raises all sorts of questions about alcohol-in-moderation messages that I’m frankly not in the mood to discuss at this precise moment. All I can say, now that the bottle is almost empty and I’m asking for the bill,is that people who cavil at high-strength wine are like the people who cavil at the speeds attainable by Ferarris and Harley Davidson bikes. Sometimes, whether we like to admit it or not, the alcohol is what it’s all about.

************************
I did in fact write the above post while sitting at my restaurant table with the bottle in front of me as I drank it. Rereading it now, I think I might change the last line to read “a lot of what it’s all about”. I do care about what I drink; if alcohol was all I wanted I could simply have lined up and knocked back a few vodkas.I don’t actually have a problem with doing that either, but what I appreciated was something that tasted good, and packed the punch I sought. Getting 15% (and stronger) wine right isn’t easy, partly because of the apparent sweetness that goes with the territory, but it can be done, and done brilliantly – as the people who dismiss such wines out of hand ignore.. It’s worth remembering too that getting lower-strength wine isn’t simple either, especially as temperatures rise; I’ve had plenty of horribly unbalanced 12% wines.

  1. All producers in warm places thank you for this, Robert. And yes – there are better 15% wines than Ferrer in Mallorca!

  2. I think my main question after reading this is how come you can write so well when you're not only stressed, but you've had half a bottle of rich red wine? My typing errors begin at 150ml of white wine…

  3. Thank you Simon for the thought, but in my case, as I said, the Islay malt or the big red would have been interchangeable. I don't do beverage apartheid. I don't actually believe that wine is innately 'nobler', or destined for different usage than a spirit nor indeed a great ale. (Though of course, some wines do have a unique nobility of their own).

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