One of the charms of Brideshead is the free run the two young men occasionally enjoy of this vast, rambling pile, including its copious wine supply. Left to their own devices, they decide to ‘study’ wine-tasting, following the book until it all becomes a blur.
This is a joyous, carefree prelude to Sebastian’s later battle with the bottle, when the servants were instructed not to let him have access. I loved the escalating flights of imagination in their appraisals.
We would sit, he and I, in the Painted Parlour with three bottles open on the table and three glasses before each of us; Sebastian had found a book on wine-tasting, and we followed its instructions in detail. We warmed the glass slightly at a candle, filled it a third high, swirled the wine round, nursed it in our hands, held it to the light, breathed it, sipped it, filled our mouths with it, and rolled it over the tongue, ringing it on the palate like a coin on a counter, tilted our heads back and let it trickle down the throat. Then we talked of it and nibbled Bath Oliver biscuits, and passed on to another wine; then back to the first, then on to another, until all three were in circulation and the order of glasses got confused, and we fell out over which was which, and we passed the glasses to and fro between us until there were six glasses, some of them with mixed wines in them which we had filled from the wrong bottle, till we were obliged to start again with three clean glasses each, and the bottles were empty and our praise of them wilder and more exotic.
‘… It is a little, shy wine like a gazelle.’
‘Like a leprechaun.’
‘Dappled, in a tapestry meadow.’
‘Like a flute by still water.’
‘… And this is a wise old wine.’
‘A prophet in a cave.’
‘… And this is a necklace of pearls on a white neck.’
‘Like a swan.’
‘Like the last unicorn.’
See another wine review, as colourful though less poetic, by Hemingway.
Source: Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968 (1945)), p. 81-82
Photo credit: MonicaVolpin at pixabay.com