WHAT TO DRINK DURING A FINANCIAL CRISIS

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As a wine consultant, Tom Harrow is often asked by clients in the City what he recommends after a hard day at work. "Which wine is best to numb the pain and transport you most effectively from your woes?" ...

Special to MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE

Many great personal revelations, those Damascene moments of clarity, have resulted from hitting the bottle. The problem is remembering these profound solutions once you have awoken on someone's sofa in a strange part of town. Of course most damaging incidents--physically, financially and emotionally--have also occurred while under the influence, but here one's lack of recollection is more of a reprieve. (The problem then becomes the more reliable memories of your drinking partners, those friends who consider it a duty to recall each excruciating detail of your wayward behaviour. The obvious answer here is: drink alone.)

Alone or in company, maudlin or ecstatic, drinking good wine should be a fundamentally intellectual experience--particularly with a red Burgundy or the Nebbiolos of Piemonte. The effect should be to inspire you to engage with the issues of the day, with added vigour and originality.

As a wine consultant, I am often asked by clients in the City what I like to drink after a hard day at work. I imagine they are looking for pointers as to a suitable Puligny Montrachet or 4th Growth St Julien to uncork after unsuccessfully securitising bad debts from 6am until midnight. But my own schedule is different, though no less gruelling: trade tastings from 10am, hosted by various merchants or public-relations companies; then a long lunch (three-course minimum) with a Bordeaux broker, say, whereby splitting a full bottle of Sauternes for dessert is not an uncommon, followed by a cognac, naturally. The afternoon (and any fleeting moment of sobriety) usually segues into evening events of press dinners, wine- and food-pairing masterclasses, restaurant or product launches, etc. Is it any wonder that my tipple of choice, while collapsed on the sofa feeling like human foie gras, is more likely to be orange squash or milk? (I avoid water, mind you, as it dilutes life and steals the intensity necessary for a memorably sensuous experience. My reliance on moisturising cream is therefore conversely intense.)

Earlier this year, largely to counter accusations of softness, both physical and moral, I took up boxing--by which I mean being boxed at. The All-Stars Boxing Gym (all but one, now) is a proper spit and sawdust joint in a suitably gritty locale of West London. (I figure it is better to get beaten up in the ring than to face the same punishment outside, without gloves or my wallet afterwards.) This is a refreshingly different method of dehydration than the one to which I am professionally inured. After a two-hour pummelling every Monday evening, there is much more temptation than usual to punish a bottle of burly Pommard back at home.

This experience has made me re-consider my clients' enquiries: "Which wine is best to numb the pain and transport you most effectively from your woes?" What, for example, might the chief executive of the world's fourth-largest investment bank pull up from his cellar, dizzy, reeling and nauseous, knowing that the jobs of 24,000 employees, a proud 158-year commercial history, over $600 billion and the reputation of an entire profession were about to go up in smoke?

A modest but thirst-quenching Provencal white, gulped down a la Gérard Depardieu in "Jean de Florette" as he hacks desperately further and further in to the unforgiving earth to locate the wellspring to regenerate his land and save his crops; literally digging a hole for himself. Or, perhaps feeling the sword of Damocles hovering above, and realising that €7,000 is a drop in the ocean by comparison, he might uncork a treasured bottle of 1945 Mouton Rothschild; a wine as uniquely affecting and memorable as his own actions. Its length and breadth in the mouth persist in a manner as similarly resounding (but without the bitterness) as the resultant impact across the world of high finance.

I can't claim to be a regular golf buddy of Dick Fuld, the man at the helm of Lehman Brothers' sinking ship. I probably wouldn't recognise him on the street (or as he glides by in his limo). By all accounts a bit of bruiser, a tough, scary super-middleweight of Wall Street, cashiered from the military for punching a superior officer, Fuld would have laughed me out of the ring I'm sure. But if we discussed that post-work drink, considering the options in his wine fridge, I would have recommended that he hit the bottle during the working day rather than after (and preferably a magnum, or two). Then at least he would have had a delectable excuse for Lehman's spectacular meltdown. But now against the ropes and panting heavily, Fuld can merely echo Oscar Levant's quip: "I envy people who drink--at least they know what to blame everything on."

Picture credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com/flickr

(Tom Harrow is an independent wine merchant specialising in wine-tasting events, cellar consultancy and vineyard tours through his company A Moveable Feast, Ltd. He is the author of a regular column for Urban Junkies and his own wine blog.)