Serendipity and the white, white world of wine

Jug Suraiya describes the eureka moment when he discovered a whole new, unexplored landscape of white wine

It was pure serendipity.

The word means the making of delightful discoveries by chance, and was coined in 1754 by the English novelist, Horace Walpole, in a letter to a friend.

It is derived from a fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip, which was the old name for what is called Sri Lanka and which means the Golden Isle.

Walpole borrowed the word from an English translation of the Italian version published in Venice in 1557, which itself is said to have been derived from a Persian folk story the origins of which are lost in the mists of fable.

Serendipity must have been working in the wings when, some weeks ago, I went to our local liquor store to pick up a few bottles of wine.

I selected four bottles of Grande Noir, a French Pinot Noir that Bunny and I are partial to. The helpful shop assistant fetched them for me and put them in a box for easy carrying. When I got
home, opened the box, and took out the wine I discovered that what I’d got was not Pinot Noir, but Chardonnay, made by the same winery which makes the Pinot Noir, with the same label showing a fat, black sheep which gives the brand its name.

My faux pas was the cause of some consternation. The reason being, that though both of us are enthusiastic wine drinkers, our tastes for it are metaphorically Marxist: we drink only reds. Malbecs of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your Chablis.

It’s not that we’d never tasted whites. We had, on rare occasion, when that was all there was on offer, and generally at lunchtime when, as a rule, we try and avoid, or minimise, drinking anything alcoholic.

Le Grand Chardonnay, full-bodied white wine from France

On the basis of this scant acquaintance we had dismissed whites, all whites, as being anaemic impostors in the vinous world. In the musicology of wine, for us reds were resonant, rich baritones; whites the tra- la-la background chorus, piping soprano verging on falsetto.

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So, should I go return the Chardonnay, admitting my gaffe, and revealing myself to be a naif bumpkin who didn’t know his Amarone from his elbow? Shuddersome to think what Robert Parker would have to say about such scapegrace gaucherie. We decided to bite the bullet, or imbibe the Chardonnay and uncorked a bottle that evening at dinner, which was fish.

And that was when we had our Eureka moment of serendipity. Or, as Bunny aptly amended, our seren-sip-ity. It was like discovering a whole new, unexplored landscape of libation, a liberation from potational parochialism. It was like a Shakespeare lover or Bardologist who for long had persisted in reading only Shakespeare’s tragedies, studiously ignoring the comedies, and all of a sudden encountering a Falstaff or a Festes. Or like a Mozart lover who listened only to the symphonies and then chanced upon the operatic enchantment of the overture to “The Marriage of Figaro”.

Keats likened his experience of coming across Chapman’s celebrated English translation of Homer to that of “stout Cortez” (the famed Spanish conquistador)gazing upon the Pacific for the first time, the immensity of his discovery rendering him speechless, “silent upon a peak in Darien”.

We felt a bit Cortezish and speech, “silent upon a palate of Chardonnay”. Since then, we’ve expanded our wine alphabet, so that ABC doesn’t stand for Anything But Chardonnay, but Also Besides Chardonnay, and learnt that we can enjoy our Pinot Grigio, and have our Pinotage too.

And we thank that Felix Culpa, the happy fault, which on our wine list helps fill in the blancs, Sauvignon, Chenin, take your pick.