In this entry to our 2023 wine writing competition, writer and former wine-shop owner Paul Shanley writes about his favourite (fictive) wine person: 'Anna Malgam'. For more great wine writing see our competition guide.
Paul Shanley writes I was the co-owner of Prohibition Wines in Muswell Hill from 2013 to 2018. I now enjoy swallowing wine rather than using a spittoon. I am currently writing a novel.
My brand new wine shop had been open a month before she stepped inside. I'd seen her looking through the window a couple of times, avoiding my eye.
She headed straight for the central display, walking clockwise, as everyone does. The savvy B got a brief look before she picked up a Picpoul. I asked if she needed a hand. I could almost feel the heat from her face as she looked down and mumbled "just this, thanks," paid and hurriedly left.
The next Friday she was back for more Picpoul.
"You enjoyed it, then?"
Another blush, but this time her face was more Provence than Rosado.
“I really know nothing about wine,” she said. And then she was gone.
The following Friday was a bank holiday weekend. I asked if I could help. The ice melted slightly. She wanted another Picpoul but maybe also something for Sunday?
“You might like this,” I said. “Northwest Spanish.”
“How do you pronounce that?”
“Rias Baixas,” I said, in my best Sean Connery accent. I swear she smiled. The ice melted a bit more.
The Friday after, she was back. More confident this time. Could she try another Spanish white? She'd googled Rioja and was confused: wasn’t Rioja a red wine?
“What’s this one? Nice label.”
“The Finca Allende? It’s gorgeous, but it's twice the price.”
“It's payday, I'll take it.”
A fortnight later she was back. Could she join the mailing list?
“What’s your name?”
“Malgam. Anna Malgam.”
“Unusual name,” I said. “It reads ‘A. Malgam’”
“I don’t really exist,” she said. “I’m an amalgam of some of your customers, the ones who think they don’t know about wine but want to learn more.”
“They’re my favourite wine people,” I said. “That makes you my favourite wine person.”
“I know. I told you I wasn’t real. Although breaking the fourth wall probably also breaks the rules of the competition.”
And then she glanced sideways, Fleabag-style.
“Better get back to the story, then, before we’re disqualified,“ I said. “What are you looking for today?”
“Something big,” she said.
Anna was back the following Friday. She’d been reading about sulphites. The back of last week’s bottle said “Contains Sulphites”. She’d had a raging headache the morning after and wondered if they were the cause.
“Did you drink the wine with a friend?” I said.
“No, I drank it with a curry.”
“You drank a whole bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape on your own?”
“I don’t think it was the sulphites, Anna.”
I told her about ABVs. And then we talked about better wines to pair with curry in future.
The following week, Anna had done her homework. After the Chateauneuf-du-Pape incident, she wanted a lighter red. She’d had Beaujolais in her first term at Bristol and hadn’t drunk it since.
“Was it around November-time you had it?”
“Nouveau. Don’t get me started. Let’s try something a bit more serious. How about this?”
“Why does it say ‘Windmill’?”
We chatted about Moulin-a-Vent and the other crus.
A week later Anna came in looking guilty. She said she had been unfaithful to me, her face colour back to Rosado. She’d had a bottle of Dog Point in a restaurant and wanted some to bring to her parents in Yorkshire. But we were out of stock.
“You went somewhere else for it, didn’t you?”
“I did. I bought some online. It looked different and when I tried it, it was off.”
“It tasted a lot richer and a bit funky. And that grassiness I like wasn’t there.”
“Did it have a number on the label? A two digit number?”
“It was Dog Point Section 94. It’s very different.”
“What’s different about it?”
“It’s fermented in the barrel. And it uses indigenous yeasts.”
“Shit, I sent it back and ordered a replacement case.”
“That’ll be off as well, then.”
We chatted about yeast and different methods of fermentation.
The next week, she came in on the Monday, looking very confused.
“You remember that Dog Point that I said wasn’t right?”
“I’m sure this isn’t right either. I googled it and read the description and I couldn’t taste any of the things it’s meant to taste of.”
“What did it taste of?”
“It tasted of cornflakes?”
“It smelled and tasted like a cornflakes box. That had been left out in the rain.”
We chatted about TCA. And because she was interested, we also has a natter about reduction and oxidisation and Brett.
The following Friday, she arrived with a box of sushi that she’d bought on the way home.
“I think you’re meant to drink saké with this but I wanted to try some wine. You know, made with grapes.”
“Have you ever tried Sherry?” I said.
We spent half an hour discussing soleras, biological and oxidative ageing and how my favourite Sherry maker was Norwegian. She left with three bottles.
For the next six months, Anna tried my Aglianicos and Zinfandels. She bought wine in halves and wine in magnums and wine in bags. She tried wine that had been carbonically macerated and wine that was unfiltered and wine with a crown cap closure. She compared Tasmanian and Oregon Chardonnays, Uruguayan and Cahors Tannats, and Pinots from Santa Barbara with Pinots from Rully.
Towards the end of November, Anna came in one Wednesday lunchtime.
“Off work, this week?” I said.
“Between contracts. I finished last Friday which is why I bought that Charles Heidsieck. I’ll look for something else in the New Year.”
“Really?” I said.
“Hmmm,” I said.
She bought a bottle of my Idaho Chardonnay, gave me a strange look and left.
Anna came back in two days later.
“What shall I have today?” she said.
“How about a temporary job? I need help over Christmas.”
“But I don’t know anything about wine.”
“What’s another name for Tinta Roriz?” I said.
“Tempranillo. I should know that by now. I’ve bought enough of your Portuguese and Spanish wines.”
“What’s the only AOC in Burgundy producing Sauvignon Blanc?” I said.
“Saint-Bris. You sold me a bottle of that in June.”
“How many grapes are permitted in Champagne production?” I said.
“Nice try. It’s seven. I read it in that copy of Decanter you lent me.”
“Are you sure you don’t know anything about wine?” I said.
“Fair point. What time would you like me in on Monday?”
Anna had been working for two weeks when a face appeared at the window. She looked across and he was gone. The next day, he was back.
“Do you need a hand with anything?” she said.
“Can you recommend a bottle?” he said. “I really know nothing about wine.”
Image: Vectorig via Getty Images.