On the table before the wine critic, seventy-six bottles of red wine left no room for anything else. Not that he was going to take notes anyway. He considered the bottle glass, thick and tapered, and could not help imagining a bowling ball plowing through every one.
Capsules, maroon and gold and black, looked up at him like one of those sophomoric Damien Hirst spot paintings his financial planner had urged him to buy years ago as an investment.
No regrets, ever.
He realized the assistant had not pulled the corks. The wine critic swore softly and began looking in the desk drawer for a corkscrew. He clawed with increasing anger through the pens, rubber bands, paper clips, and crumbs. He was sweating now, and his hangover came back. When he stopped to catch his breath he saw what he was looking for on the edge of the desk in a sticky patch of dried wine.
He tried to relax but was despairing at the reality of having to open all these bottles himself. A drink would help. He grabbed the nearest bottle and began cutting the foil. His hands were shaky and in the early stages of arthritis, or maybe gout. It hurt to twist the worm into the sturdy, premium cork and he did not get it in far enough before trying to pull. The cork broke in two, half of it still in the neck of the bottle.
The wine critic slammed the bottle down, and the mylar bag that was supposed to ensure "blind" tasting fell off. The wine was a Chapoutier Hermitage, "Le Pavillon", which he pretty much knew already. He knew which wines were on the table, he had requested each one specifically, and the assistant at least knew the order--expensive to cheap--that he liked to taste in.
It was not going to be possible to pull the remaining cork half out with the corkscrew. He took a pen off the desk and pushed the stubborn half down into the wine.
Finally, he poured. He took a large drink, swallowed, and choked a little on one of the cork chunks that had made it into his glass. The wine was still a 98.
The wine critic was flushed with a sudden desire to finish the afternoon's work as quickly as possible and have a gigantic gin and tonic. He grabbed the next bottle, attacking the capsule with the corkscrew. This time he gritted through the pain of turning the worm, and got the whole cork out. This was a Cornas, probably from A. Clape. Hell with it, he thought, and pulled the mylar off. He was right. 99.
He spit some of the wines and swallowed most of them. The scrap of paper where wrote his scores became dappled with purples and crimsons. As far as the tasting notes, he would write them up later, from "memory" and from his own improvements on the marketing copy he got from the importers.
He was on a roll now. 92. . .94. . . 97. . . 91. . . 84, hah!. . . 99. . . 90. The feeling of working fast was great. But a problem was emerging--he realized he hated the taste of these wines. On a level far beyond scores, this liquid in his mouth and throat was syrupy, tedious...invasive. It tasted like labor and he was very tired.
There were maybe thirty more wines left to score. The wine critic pressed on, unambiguously drunk. As unpleasant as the wines had become, he continued swallowing. He wanted numbness. The spit bucket contained less than a half-inch of liquid.
Then a funny idea occurred to him. He gave the next wine 100, and the one after that 99. 98. . . 97. . . 96. . .95. . .94. . .93. . .92. . . He laughed and was uncorking and tasting so fast that he spilled wine everywhere.
When he finally reached the last bottle he was at 72. The wine critic pulled the mylar off, and saw he had given the score to Beaucastel "Hommage a Jacques Perrin" Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This should have been at the front of the table, the assistant had screwed up again. Tomorrow he'd fire the moony-eyed little twerp.
Or maybe he'd retire and promote the assistant to his position. Put an end to this charade and let someone else spread the lie of "100" for the next few decades.
No, thought the wine critic. I'm all in, no turning back. No regrets. A familiar twisting began in his stomach and he got ready to vomit.