Tim James: Lockdown drinking and buying patterns

By , 27 April 2020



I suspect I’m not alone amongst Winemag readers in wondering how other winelovers – as opposed to mere suipers, which of course we are not – are dealing with their drinking in these strange times. The emailed letter from James Bisset that the editor published recently was a welcome new perspective on things, and reminds me what a pity it is that we don’t have a reader’s forum. It’s all very well having tasting notes on wines that who-knows-when anyone else will get a chance to taste or buy … many of us are looking to find some communality, or some freshness of view. I for one would be grateful to have more “letters to the editor”, or more-or-less-lengthy comments appended to columns like this one.

Off limits.

My own lockdown wine experience has not been radically different from my customary one. Firstly, I suppose, because my present home-stuck, solitary way of life has merely been a shrunken version of the usual, rather than something radically new. Though I look at the blue skies over my Cape Town suburban hedge and think of those empty motorways leading out to the winelands, and I feel imprisoned, and those places seem like freedom…. How easily I used to set off on a trip to the vast spaces of the Swartland or the mountains of Stellenbosch, on a whim or for an appointment!

But in terms of wine (as in most other terms), I have it very easy, with enough good stuff in my wine-fridges to keep me happy for a year if need be.  And though I can sympathise with James about the inadequacy of one’s own company for those special bottles, I am, as I’ve said (confessed?) before, used to much of my wine drinking being done alone – wine as, ordinarily, a beverage of delight and satisfaction rather than an aspect of social interaction. It’s been quite a while, also, since I’ve taken any part in social media, so that dimension is also absent.

I’ve previously been a bit scathing about some rather Puritan ideas of what it means to drink too much. But I admit that I was a trifle worried than a long period of self-isolation might stretch my own tolerance too far. In fact, I’m relieved to note that I haven’t drunk any more than usual – and, even, perhaps a bit less, especially as those convivial lunches, daytime tastings and occasional communal binges are no more. I never pour myself a glass before I start preparing my evening meal.

The fact that I’m certainly not entirely complacent about my alcohol consumption can find testimony in my carefully ensuring that I entered the period of sales-prohibition without any spirits in the house. (Apart, that is, from my last 500 ml bottle of green Chartreuse – sublime stuff of sweet power! – with which I managed to eke out my evenings for the first week of lockdown.) Brandy in the house is pretty fatal to the comparative respectability of my total alcohol intake; I enjoy it so much and so unwisely that it’s best if I severely control its presence and abstain entirely, if possible.

Another thing that has characterised my wine-life over the past month-plus of lockdown is online-purchasing quite a bit of wine. Wine-futures, in a sense, in that I’ve ordered and paid for the stuff, but won’t get to see it until, well, no one knows. All of those purchases are entirely rational, I think, rather than just the expression of lockdown-fever. Especially the foreign wines (fairly moderately priced ones from Tuscany, Mosel, Bordeaux, Provence, Jura): I saw the rand plummeting with its broken wings and thought I’d better do something now, as future stock from Europe is going to be rare and even more expensive.

There were also a few offers from local wineries that were in themselves most desirable (a new uniquely red blend from Alheit not destined for wide release I think; the 2019 vintages of Sons of Sugarland Syrah and Patasfontein from the wonderful Reenen Borman; and Sadie-Niepoort Cape Tawny 2008 and a bottle – just one, given the price and the temptation – of Sadie Blitsem witblits. All wholly desirable, yes, but I’ve told Sadie and Borman that I don’t want the wines eventually delivered: I will come to collect them. Perhaps it’s the prospect of driving out to those realms of freedom and openness in the Swartland and Stellenbosch that was the deciding argument in the internal debate over the purchase. Each day that its realisation remains denied, the prospect seems more and more wonderful.

  • Tim James is one of South Africa’s leading wine commentators, contributing to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013

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4 comment(s)

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    Pukka.Ltd | 29 April 2020

    Thank you for the article, and responses, I thoroughly enjoyed the reading thereof. Whilst enjoying a glass of red, in the Black box…with no Hole in it, accept a tap.
    Gave away my taste of wine (and budget) non-essentially, but with the current economic climate in ZA, I shall adhere to the the rule, that any More will be an Exuberance, to my already exasperated appetite for Red, red wine!
    Cheers to the non-cellars!

    Keith Prothero | 29 April 2020

    I must confess that I have rather enjoyed the Lockdown so far. We are very fortunate to live on a golf course,which is of course closed to golfers and maintenance people,so we basically have it as our back garden .
    And after a long walk round the course in early afternoon,there is nothing I like more than searching through my cellar for the bottle of the day. No question that my wine consumption has increased during the Lockdown,as often a second bottle seems to get opened. Of course,that’s because my wife happens to really like the first bottle of the day !!
    It’s so peaceful and beautiful at this time of the year,especially with no noise other than the chirping of birds and it’s wonderful to enjoy a lovely bottle of Cape wine looking up at the majestic Helderburg .

    Jan Marshall | 28 April 2020

    We luckily have a reasonable collection of wine so the daily glass or so is not out of the question. Actually we have been dipping in some of the really good vintage wines. But I guess after the lockdown we will have to go wine hopping to stock up agaon

    Tania Horne | 28 April 2020

    I learned to savour and appreciate every fulfilling sip of red wine I had in my pantry which I actually saved for the colder months I believed to start at the onset of the Easter weekend….haha, not sure if I lost out with the weather still very summery or if I got lucky, seeing as I ran out of whites!

    Now I make every sip count. I used to open a bottle, sit back and enjoy its contents. Now, getting closer to my final batch of stored red beauties, I open, smell and sip and really enjoy every single sip and while doing so, I read up on the vintage, the wine producer and the tasting notes. This lockdown has taught me to appreciate wine much more. Don’t get me wrong, I love a neat good vodka and look forward to having one with friends, but in the meantime, I will keep on enjoying the thrill of opening a new bottle of red.

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