Thursday, 12 September 2019

En Vacances: Some Burgundy

So we come back from our trip to see our pals in the South of France and France does not disappoint. In fact it goes out of its way to be ultra-obliging and sunny and crammed with delicious food and drink, so much so that, in honour of all that France has done for us, the British, over all the years, I am now going to use as many French loan words and phrases as I can in an act of sincerest homage or even hommage. In practice this means non to creaky Edwardianisms such as amitié amoureuse and faites comme chez vous, but oui to anything else from the last forty-five years. Alors.

Key points in the trip? Number one is when the wife and I are enjoying a quiet tête-à- tête at an eaterie in the almost too wonderful city of Dijon; and as we scan the menu what happens but I fall for a bottle of unmarked white Burgundy, at a price way beyond my usual? Nevertheless, some kind of amour propre overwhelms me and I suggest, in as nuanced a way as I can that holidaying gives me carte blanche to make a pig of myself, so why not? In fact I manage this with such élan - panache, even - that I persuade myself and any bystanders that paying three times my standard rate is a beau geste worth making.

And what do you know? It is. Something arrives in a label-free container and it is white, delicious, full of bourgeois solidity. I strike up a wordless rapport with it tout de suite and instead of feeling hopelessly gauche - my usual state in any French restaurant - after a couple of glasses consider myself not only alarmingly au fait with the wine list but, by sheer good fortune, quite the connoiosseur. My wife, who regards me as an idiot savant at the best of times, just lets me get on with it. Laissez faire rules for a couple of hours.

The sense of bien-être builds, the further south we get. I could write a whole billet-doux to France, just north of Avignon. Leaving behind the architecture, the chic dress boutiques and the teasing bric-à-brac sellers of Dijon, we sink into a world of pure sensual pleasure. A moment of déjà vu assails us as we pass some familar landmarks, but this then acts as a kind of apéritif of memory for things to come. Once we are in the deep South, surrounded by dust, vines, mountains and olive trees, the usual mood has taken over. Plus ça change, I nearly say, à propos of all this loveliness, but don't. By the time we reach our pals, nestling at the foot of Mt Ventoux, I'm drowning in delectable clichés.

The pals, of course, have got savoir-vivre down to a fine art. Everything is utterly comme il faut, but with the lightest of touches. Indeed, the whole place is, with the Rhône valley shimmering in the distant haze, strictly entre nous, borderline magical. Perhaps the most magical thing (and key point number two) being the carafe of rosé which lives in the fridge and which never seems to run out. Every time I peer inside to help myself to a refresher, the wine is brimming. What genre of rosé is this? Vin d'une nuit, apparently, hence its almost non-existent blush. But it wouldn't matter either way. It represents largesse at the highest level, the dernier cri of hospitality.

A few days of this is enough to banish all ennui, to restore one's lost esprit de corps, to achieve, frankly, a renaissance of all one's hopes and ambitions. But what do you know? No sooner have we got the hang of Provençal douceur de vivre than we must clear up the débris of our stay, bid au revoir to this adorable venue, achieve a complete volte-face in our progress and start north again. Our pals wish us bon voyage back to England, where a Parliamentary coup appears to be taking place, where democracy has reached an evil-tempered impasse and the great Brexit débâcle grinds on, all attempts at détente having been thrown out of the window in one protracted and possibly unlawful contretemps. The closer we get to home, the worse our mood gets. We experience a kind of mal de mer long before we even reach the sea. Eventually and en masse, we and a load of other gloomy Brits cross the Channel in a ferry piled high with old coffee cups.

You have to hand it to the French: when they get it right, they really get it right. I only hope we can reprise our trip next year and continue the va-et-vient of Anglo-French tourism, passports, no-deal Brexit and French goodwill permitting. If not, then quel cauchemar!


Thursday, 5 September 2019

Give me a vowel…give me a wine

Vivolo. Ethereo. Incanta. Primavara. Alluria. They could be the names of pharmaceuticals. Or bitcoin apps. In fact, they’re wines.

They’re not in the language of their origin; in fact some of them don’t seem to be in any language at all. They sound as artificial as Quibi, Consignia or Aviva. Vivendi is a media conglomerate; Vivolo is a Pinot Grigio. Really, what’s the difference?

Does Avior sound to you like an Argentinian Malbec? Or a Venezuelan airline? Actually, it’s both.

I have given up trying to understand the “names” of modern commodities like cars. Never mind the Cordia, Tredia and Starion; how am I expected to know what differentiates a “Series 3” from a “Series 5”? They’re cars, not box sets.

How do I tell a Sony MDR-Z7M2 from a Sony DSC-H400? Oh, one’s a pair of headphones and the other’s a camera.

But once upon a time, you knew where you stood with wine labels. In fact, the label probably told you where the winemaker stood. A wine would have a name like Le Vieux Chateau Guibeau, from which one of those knowledgeable people we call “wine buffs” would conclude that it was probably French.

Then along came New World wines from places like Australia, California and South Africa where they labelled wines in English. Sometimes their name would identify the actual place where the wine had come from, but often the wines were labelled with either invented but evocative locations (Bays, Valleys, Creeks etc) or just concocted, unusual phrases or names.

This has proved so popular that the style been adopted by countries whose native language isn’t English. So Stones and Bones, which could come from anywhere on the planet, actually comes from Portugal. The Waxed Bat is from Argentina. Some time ago, we wrote about a white Bordeaux which transformed its sales by eschewing the Vieux Chateau tradition and caliing itself Stone Rock. And before you know it, you end up with a wine from Moldova calling itself Plum Valley, instead of Valea Perjei.

Anyone would think winemakers were trying to disguise their origins. Andoni is a sparkling white which sounds vaguely Italian, in the same manner as Cornetto. It is in fact from Hungary. Solevari and Primavara are from Romania; and so is Incanta.

And we are back again at these concocted, nothing names, suggesting no particular country of origin, no authenticity, no typicity – but which will presumably sell around the world. Incanta; Vivolo; Manera; Beneficio; Velea. It’s a bit like going to TK Maxx, where labels sound vaguely like a name you might have heard of, but have actually been invented – by TK Maxx.

Alpha Zeta is a Venetian Chardonnay. Because…?. 

Alluria is an organic pinot grigio which sounds like a cheap seductive fragrance (although for all I know it tastes like one).

And Ethereo could be anything from a chill-out album to a mattress. It is in fact a Galician Albarino. The importers say of its winemaker that “You can taste his passion for the region”, a passion that clearly doesn’t extend to putting anything Galician into its name.

Completely artificial, concocted with no regard for authenticity, history, origin or typicity. If those are their names… what might that say about the wines?


Thursday, 29 August 2019