A long late-evening train journey, where dinner is a sandwich and a bag of crisps from the shop at the station, is also the perfect time to grab a small plastic bottle of vino to sup on while trundling through the night. But though the selection is often limited, the choice is not easy. Pay £4 for the privilege of drinking a 17.5cl bottle of something dodgy and it won’t just be the banal phone conversations of your fellow passengers and inadequacies of the British rail network which make the journey drag.
I’ve had my share of sweet, jammy, basically crappy wines in these small packages. They aren’t helped by the preferred method of drinking which is, by necessity, straight out of the bottle. Forget your decanting, forget pouring from a great height, forget letting that bad boy breath. Even the most sophisticated wine fan is reduced to park bench levels by the great leveller that is the mini wine bottle.
Unless of course you bring your own glasses (an impossibly organised idea), or try one of those pre-filled plastic glasses with the foil lid, which somehow seem inappropriate in all social situations apart from the ‘impromptu picnic’, and sadly I haven’t been to many of them.
Consequently, the wine has more hurdles to jump than in a regular context, and must have a rare combination of marketability and calibre to a) be put into a mini bottle in the first place b) be worth drinking.
Thankfully for weary travellers everywhere, salvation is at hand in the form of your local ‘simply food’ outlet of Marks and Spencer. As well as serving their wine bottles in a formidable 25cl size rather than a stingy 17.5cl, they have a decent selection at multiple prices.
My favourite, after irregular bouts of field research, must be the Classic Claret Bordeaux. Unassuming yet strangely reassuring with its faux-vintage yellow label, it houses a drinkable and balanced claret from Paul Sapin in deepest France (though bottled in Chester) which cuts swathes through the unsubtle sweet-treats available in other outlets.
The nose may be lost in the tiny spout of the bottle, but after an initial burst of soft ripe blackcurrant which gradually develops in attack and acidity, it reveals a tasty spicy finish which spreads through the mouth and lingers. Surprisingly well structured, it’s both very quaffable (or should I say swiggable) but with a definite depth of character which makes it a pleasure in its own right rather than a mere stop-gap solution.
Now if only I had a glass….
A 25 cl bottle is £2.85 from the M&S in London Victoria station.