A few months ago, when I went to drinks with the British expat group, some of the women told me about the wine club that takes place each month. They said it was good fun, but the places fill up really quickly so you need to book it in advance. It took me a while to get my act together, but I finally made it on Thursday evening. I had no idea what to expect but kept imagining a Frasier Crane-esque evening with a Corkmaster and people using words like ‘bouquet’, ‘tannins’, ‘vinification’, ‘mouthfeel’, ‘noble rot’ and so on…
Wine club is usually on the third Thursday in the month, and the venue is the Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel. I’d been hesitant in the past because it’s actually quite far from where I live, but as we’d just got our car I thought I’d take advantage of it and Kaleem (our new driver).
I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get there so to be on the safe side I left home at about 6.40pm. I got to the hotel just after 7pm and was the third person there. There was one couple there already, talking to the organisers. I showed them my receipt (you can either pay AED150 online or AED175 at the door) and was given a label to write my name on. We were told that as soon as we had a table of 10 people they would bring us the wine.
I started talking to the other woman – there was something rather unsettling about her. I can’t put my finger on it. She stuck her name tag just under her breast. We introduced ourselves and walked over to the seating area. She was over-confident. And not in a good way. She was pretentious and condescending.
‘Your accent is muddled,’ she said to me. I couldn’t be bothered to tell her that hers was too. I explained I’d been to an American elementary (primary) school, and a British secondary school. ‘Where?’ Lagos for primary and then the UK for secondary. ‘Where in the UK?’ Kent. ‘Where? I went to Cobham Hall.’ Was she f***ing kidding me? She did not look familiar at all – I think she may have had her nose done. I asked her how old she was and she mentioned a person younger than me whose name I recognised. What are the odds of that? She then told me that she managed to run away from school – and not just down the road, but to Heathrow and on to a flight to Kuwait. It didn’t ring any bells. She sent her friend to get me a glass of wine (apparently they weren’t a couple). I asked her how she managed to run away? ‘Well, that’s a story for a different day. We should meet for lunch. We should be friends,’ she replied. Yes, of course we should, I said, dying inside. Why did you run away, I asked. ‘I was being bullied and they threatened to kill my hamster.’ Yes, that does sound like Cobham, I thought to myself. (When I asked my sister whether she remembered this person it didn’t ring any bells – this woman would have been in her year at school, I think.)
Thankfully our table started filling up, but each time I would try and talk to someone else, this woman would interrupt and ask me questions. Two Indian men approached our table and asked if they could sit down in the last two seats. ‘I do believe there are other people sitting there,’ she said. After they’d walked away she turned to me and said, ‘Yes, I can be a real bitch.’ ‘So can I,’ I replied. She made me uncomfortable. She made everyone on the table uncomfortable.
She asked me what I did and I told her. ‘Good girl,’ she said. Did I need her approval? No, I didn’t think so. I eventually started talking to the people on my left (who were normal) and then the wine came.
The bottles were completely covered in either paper or foil so you couldn’t see what you were drinking. Each bottle was labelled with a letter from A to F, to correspond with the sheet of paper and six empty glasses in front of us. A couple of the guys on the table poured the wine for all of us. A and B were both white wines, the rest were red. A was very buttery (I bet it was Chardonnay), B wasn’t bad either, C was horrible, D went down smoothly (a bit too smoothly), E tasted like it came out of a box and F tasted like red wine vinegar.
There was also a buffet with a large selection of roasted Mediterranean vegetables and some cheeses. I love cheese. And later on there was pizza and some other food on offer.
Just before 9pm, the woman on my right (the one who apparently went to my school) had to leave. The mood on our table changed as soon as she’d gone. Everyone seemed a lot happier. And it wasn’t just because of the wine.
I keep forgetting that nothing in Dubai starts on time. The wine tasting didn’t begin until after 8pm and I had to leave at 9.30 (as Kaleem finishes work at 10pm) so I didn’t get to find out what any of the wines were. Next time I’ll get him to drop me off and share a cab back with some people. The bar stays open after the wine tasting and I think that’s when most of the mingling happens.
It was a fun evening – and I met some interesting people. I’ve already signed up for the next one…