Mike Slinn

A Sobering Experience

© Copyright 1986 Michael Slinn.

Perhaps we do not realise the extent to which people trust appearances and disregard their own senses. Certainly we did not expect to fool a room full of self proclaimed wine connoisseurs. Yet the affair lies heavy on my conscience, and I wish to expunge it by writing about it. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The whole affair was my idea. During a recent business trip from Vancouver to Toronto, my good friend Bob invited me to a small gathering of friends. “There will be a dozen people there to celebrate Mitch's birthday,” he said. “Most of them have studied wines over the years.”

About 7 p.m. I suggested that we pick up a bottle of wine to take to the party as is customary. Bob replied that the liquor stores were closed. “Well, have you got anything?” I queried. Bob was firm – he had no wine at all.

“But yesterday we finished off a really nice wine, a bottle of Mouton Rothschild 1983 at $136.”

Simultaneously impressed and depressed, I went to the refrigerator, and looked inside. It was completely empty. Completely empty, except for a single bottle of Andrés Crackling Rosé. “What's this?" I cried. “You said you have no wine! How did this get here?”

Bob was scornful. “Someone brought this stuff to my last party, and no-one even opened it. It's rotgut. Only derelicts drink it, because it's all they can afford.”

Right there I put the pieces together in my mind: we could take some wine with us, after all. At first, Bob was reluctant to bring the Crackling Rosé to the party. When he realised that I was actually proposing to re-label the Crackling Rosé with the Mouton Rothschild's label, he became obstinate. “Do you think that these people don't know the difference?” he asked me with a withering stare. “Mitch and I learned about wine together. We used to go hungry for a few days to save enough money for a really good bottle of wine.”

Bob went on and on. The shape of the bottle was wrong. The bowling pin shape of the Crackling Rosé‘s bottle was markedly different than the Bordeaux bottle which the Mouton Rothschild wine came in. The rosé could not be stored at room temperature like the Bordeaux, but needed to be refrigerated to take the edge off of it. The pink aluminum foil on the top of the Crackling Rosé covered the screw top cap, and of course the Bordeaux had a cork, not a screw top.

“All right, calm down,” I said. “We're not going to be serious about this, just play along and it will be fun. We'll laugh with everyone else when they take their first sip and spit it out. As an afterthought I added “Besides, you will feel bad if you don't bring any wine.”

We soaked both bottles, the full (and cold) Andr?s Crackling Rosé, and the quite empty Mouton Rothschild, and removed their labels with a razor blade. The Mouton Rothschild's label was extra long, because Kressman & Co. had imported it and attached their label to the bottom. I carefully separated Kressman's label from the Mouton Rothschild's label so it would fit on the Crackling Rosé bottle. The bowling pin shape of the rosé bottle caused the label to pucker at the top, but I did the neatest job that I could.

Finally it was done. We now had a full (but very cold) bottle of pseudo-Mouton Rothschild wine, guaranteed to impress anyone who did not consider it too closely. “We need a diversion,” I said. “Something which will reinforce their belief that this is an expensive bottle.” Bob had a fancy bag from a wine connoisseur’s shop, and we put the re-labelled Crackling Rosé in it.

As we drove over to Mitch's house, we discussed strategy. “Don't let Mitch near the wine,” said Bob. “He'll know right away what we've done. The others are less likely to guess.”

“How will we serve it?” I asked. “The rosé must be chilled, but if this were really Bordeaux, it would be at room temperature.”

“I don’t know, we’ll figure that out later.”

Upon arrival, we took off our coats, and while Bob congratulated Mitch on his old age, I took the fancy wine bag from Bob and put it into the refrigerator without comment. Half an hour later, I pulled it out, placed the bottle unopened on the counter in the kitchen and stepped back.

A few minutes later, Mitch noticed the re-labelled bottle. “This is a bottle of Mouton Rothschild 1983!” he exclaimed. “That's really special! Open it up, Bob!” Bob looked at me without expression. “Go for it, Bob!” I mouthed silently from behind Mitch.

Bob stepped up to the kitchen counter, quickly removed the pink aluminum foil and screw top and covertly passed them to me. I quietly disposed of the evidence, and returned with a cork stolen from another bottle.

Bob stood in front of the sink with his back to the room and held his glass which already contained wine from another bottle in his hand so that the wine did not show. With a flourish, Bob held the glass in front of the bottle, and poured quite a bit of the pseudo-Bordeaux directly into the sink. He then sniffed his glass, and drank it in the approved wine connoisseur fashion. No one noticed the sink.

Mitch was right behind Bob. Oblivious to what had Bob had just done, he filled his glass with the pseudo-Bordeaux. This was the moment of truth. He sipped it eagerly. “What a great bottle of wine!“ Mitch exclaimed. “This is really special!”

Bob and I snuck out and hid in a stairwell, desperately trying not to burst into gales of laughter. “What's wrong?” asked Mitch.

“Nothing,” said Bob. “We just wanted to sit down for a while.”

Two minutes later, we returned to the scene of the crime. The bottle was empty. No one, not even Mitch, had ever suspected. I disposed of the empty bottle by stuffing it deep into the garbage, so that no-one would see it in the morning and recognise it. We never mentioned it to Mitch, or anyone else at the party.

The next day Bob and I went to look at paintings by the Group of Seven. “I wonder what would happen if someone put their own work in here, and re-labelled it?” I queried.

Bob gave me a hostile look. Was nothing sacred?

-- End --