Supine on a striped sofa in the appropriately titled “Petting Room” of Quo Vadis members’ club in Soho, I’m surrounded by leather, lingerie and literature. Resplendent in his signature Burgundy suit and immaculately clipped beard, the dashing, debonair and dangerous Wine Chap, formally known as Tom Harrow, is holding court, explaining to his captive audience that smell is the most powerful, underrated and sensuous of the senses. “We’re drawn to potential mates by their smell – Napoleon went wild for the smell of Josephine’s unwashed body,” he asserts, “and I have it on good authority that I smell great. A dab of Grappa behind each ear and I’m good to go.” Exuding an almost Neanderthal sexual energy, Harrow cuts a swaggering figure in the room. His sidekick, Cecelia, a full-lipped Swede in a raspberry beret and scarlet velvet plus fours, is here to showcase her wares from erotic emporium Bordello, affectionately known as the “nipple of Shoreditch.”
The small square room is accessorised with candy stripe carpets, regal red curtains, art strewn walls and a bookshelf heaving with oddities. The low-slung wooden table in front of me is well seasoned with erotic paraphernalia, from a leather whip fastened with a pair of fur balls that look like they’ve been pilfered from a well-endowed squirrel, to a pastel pink copy of A Compendium of Kisses – an insightful guide to the art of locking lips.
A sprinkling of kinky couples and curious singletons populate the room. Raven haired proprietor Sam Hart perches impishly on the window ledge in the far corner as if hoping to dissolve into the surroundings. We are gathered for Harrow’s Wines of Rapture event, billed as “an inner striptease” celebrating the divine union of Bacchus and Venus. Urging us to use wine – faithful friend of poets and lovers, as a seduction tool – the tasting begins in the land of love (Italy) with Dal Bello Rocca d’Asolo Prosecco, its tongue tingling effervescence compared to the breath of a lover caressing your neck. Light, elegant and delicate, it’s the romantic equivalent of a peck on the cheek.
Foreplay begins in earnest with an unctuous white Burgundy – Domaine Emilian Gillet Vire-Clesse Quintaine 2007, representing, according to Harrow, a “thickening of the juices”. Rich, waxy, honeyed and seductive, there are few things more sublime than the first sip of a creamy white Burgundy. Having lost its primary fruit, brioche and cooked apple notes have made their way to the fore in the liquid embodiment of a lingering kiss. Glancing round the room, I sense the impending urgency of the situation. Lascivious looks are being exchanged and metaphorical clothes are flying off in all directions.
Moving on to the meat of the matter, we tackle Meerlust’s lusty Rubicon 2005, named after Julius Cesar’s historical crossing of the Italian river in 49 BC, and neatly symbolising the point of no return. Weighing in at a hefty 14%, the savage red, full of deep, dark fruit is brooding and sexy; it’s a full-throated roar of a wine, or, as Tom so elegantly puts it, “a man ripping his clothes off and leaping onto his maiden.” Now well oiled, the once timid crowd is engaged in animated banter. The chap opposite me picks up a wooden paddle and spanks his paramour with it, while the couple beside me, who are celebrating their 10th anniversary, appear to be seriously considering the squirrel whip.
Divine intervention follows in the form of Domaine Giraud Châteauneuf-du-Pape; the preferred wine of Pope Clement V. With a nose of lit match, meat, polished leather and musty church pews, it reeks of ecclesiastical vice. “If Bordeaux is your wife and Burgundy your mistress, then Châteauneuf-du-Pape is your dirty weekend,” Harrow quips. Virulently alcoholic and imbued with sweet fruit, the rugged red, with its masculine thrust, smacks of Oliver Mellors from Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Visibly hot under the collar, and delighting in the debauchery, Harrow launches into an anecdote about the irreverent Italian nobleman Cesare Borgia, who one night swapped partners with his mistress’s 15-year-old daughter mid-stroke. He goes on to explain how a lady’s favourite wine determines how she will be in the bedroom, citing from personal experience that Pinot Grigio girls are pedestrian and predictable, while Barolo quaffers are sexual deviants.
We move swiftly on to the climax – La Giaretta Amarone 2007. Seductively speaking, we’re in the final throws of passion. At 15.5%, this is a beast of a wine. Hedonistic, powerful and concentrated, the lusty liquid brings us to the tipping point, where we dissolve into the mystic bliss of what the French so quaintly call “le petite mort”. At the moment of sweet release, having expended our life force, we transcend the terrestrial and connect with the divine, as our ecstasy takes on a spiritual purity. Post-explosion, we luxuriate in the glorious afterglow with liquid gold provided by delicate dessert wine Château Laurette Saint Croix du Mont 2006. Like the sweet fruit of the gods, the unctuous golden elixir is laced with honeysuckle and almond. This is the cigarette moment – the end of the affair. I’m spent.