AS chairman of the UK Gooseberry Export Development Board – a Quango that has mercifully managed to evade the swinging budget cuts – I am obliged to attend its annual general meeting held in London in January each year.
This is a tiresome affair which could so easily be transacted by fax or e-mail.
However, meet we must so my good self and a ragged assortment of six other board members spend the best part of half a day in a cramped Whitehall office discussing the minutiae of the gooseberry industry.
Fortunately my role is a sinecure although it does pay rather well.
This year a government geek from the National Audit Office (NAO) droned on for so long about financial awareness and cost justification that I had to stop him mid sentence and, metaphorically, ask him to “put a cork in it”.
It was ironic that the phrase was on my lips again later that day.
The one highlight of my annual trip is usually the post-board meeting dinner, normally in one of the smarter London restaurants.
This year, with the beady eyes of the NAO looking over our shoulders, we decided to eschew the delights of Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, both Michelin starred, and adopt a slightly lower profile in a
discrete establishment just behind Claridges in Mayfair.
I have to say that the food was delightful.
However, I was shocked to the core when, having ordered two bottles of decent Chablis Premier Cru with the starter, the waiter proceeded to open them as if they were nothing better than Tizer!
No flourishing a double-action cork screw, no ceremonial drawing of the bung, no sniff of the plug as it was laid next to the wine cooler.
It was simply a twist of the wrist and the screw top deftly disappeared into the pouch of the waiter’s apron.
It was at this moment that the phrase “put a cork in it” came back to me with added significance.
What on earth is going on that allows beautiful wines to be treated so contemptuously?
I am aware that cork forests have been depleted and that wineries, especially those in the New World, believe screw top bottles are more effective in preserving the wine but where is the romance, the ceremony, the ritual in twisting a screw top?
One might as well drink Californian chardonnay in a plastic beaker if this is the way that the vintage will be handled.
Fortunately the restaurant had ample stock of Louis Roederer Crystal champagne and that still opens with a reassuring “pop” so all was not completely lost.