Wedding wine

I invited my friends to celebrate three November birthdays, among which mine, and I prepared a genuine Moroccan dinner because of my recent visit there: harira with dates and chicken tajine. On another occasion I had tried out this particular harira recipe which had turned out above my best expectations and had gathered the unanimous praise of all my guests. I was glad that the flavours resulting from the mix of coriander and unfamiliar spices did not taste too strange to my more conservative friends, and therefore I listed it among the dishes that deserved being offered again. As for the main course I went for something blander that the previous time and prepared a chicken tajine.

Only an Arab sweet was the great absentee, and this lack was especially felt when a friend admitted thinking of getting one ready. She had surfed the net to find inspiration, even set on a recipe, but finally given up the plan because of a busy day. Never mind, she said, she had brought some wine, directly from her father’s cellar. She knew nothing about that bottle, but relied on her father’s good appreciation of wines. I put it in the fridge to cool while we chatted and I warmed the dishes up.

When all the guest had arrivedwe wanted to start with an aperitif. I thought the sparkling white would be ideal for the job. So I made sure it was chill enough, and took it to the dining-room. Before I set out to uncork the bottle, I warned my friends who were standing around of a possible bang, but the noise was only disappointingly dim. I then poured the wine into the glasses and I saw that the supposedly sparkling wine looked more like a still one, with a colour that bordered on amber. A bad sign…

Not wishing to be the one starting a diplomatic incident, I went ahead and handed the glasses round. I had outright ignored the problem, because the wine was indeed quite unpalatable. Not only had it lost practically all its refreshing bubbles, but it was altered in its flavour and had acquired a corked taste. I couldn’t expect anyone else but L. to raise the issue, rather heavy-handedly as his custom. He hasn’t got the gift of tentativeness and often comes up with remarks that he thinks are funny, but make others cringe.

I felt a chill spread in the room. I interpreted that those who hadn’t said a word weren’t going to drink anyway, but were just waiting for the right moment to get rid of the wine discreetly without disgracing our friend. She apologised, but I minimised, saying nothing was wrong after all. I waited a few seconds and said something casual to change the subject and save the situation. In no time we were drinking something else and then tucked into the food.

The next day I was busy doing something when the phone buzzed for a text message. I didn’t read it until late in the evening, nearly on the point of going to bed. It was from the friend who had brought the wine and she sounded rather desperate. She’d obviously told her father about the wine, and as it turns out, that bottle was one he had kept from his other daughter’s wedding banquet, nearly 15 year ago. All that time stored on the cellar shelf to commemorate the day, and we had carelessly thrown the liquid down the drain! The wine was indeed rather poor, but the sentimental value was what made the bottle so special. I was begged to take it out of the rubbish bin and give it back to her at the first opportunity. The bottle with its peeling label was still there, only it was hopelessly uncorked and empty. I only hoped my friend’s father didn’t attach any superstitious belief to the bottle, or the event may be interpreted as black clouds on the horizon…