A trip to France (the Ventoux region, hence Carpentras) and where did we end up? Lidl. Or, as they put it at the entrance to the Carpentras branch of this pan-European dimestore, L'Idéal c'est Lidl! There were caves everywhere around us, vignobles offering on-site dégustation, the whole oenophile experience, obviously, but equally obviously, Lidl required no finding (we were just passing by) and had excellent parking facilities. And, God knows, we could have at the same time picked up ten metres of hosepipe or a welder's mask, the way one is tempted to in Lidl: which you would find difficult (I'm presuming) in the retail outlets of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Anyway, we bought this Cremant de Limoux and enjoyed it with our friends on their heartbreakingly beautiful south-west-facing depth-of-the-countryside terrace, along with a knot of their French neighbours, and it tasted fine. I forget how much it cost (between €5 - €10) but it was fizzy and agreeable and even better if you bunged in some Crème de Cassis or that noix stuff to generate diversity. Can I find it back here in England? No. But three far more vital things emerged from the encounter:
1) The French now drink in moderation. The four French persons there (two men, two women) played up to their national stereotype by talking 75% of the time about food, at least as far as I understood the conversation, which shot past me like jets of steam; but they failed to consume anything more than a couple of self-denying glasses each before disappearing to have their supper. What happened to the long, slow, mature, persistent tippling that one used to associate with the French, particularly in rural areas where ouvriers used to warm up with a brandy at elevenses and go from there? What happened to the light alcoholic haze? Well, I was told, very earnestly, that the French Police now have the power to stop and breathalyse drivers without needing any special provocation. As a consequence, those motorists who used to blunder down the long, unlit country lanes, wine seeping out of their ears after a good meal or a good conversation, have got a lot more cautious. And in Paris, they're too busy earning money, to get lit up. There you go.
2) The French don't smoke any more while they drink. This is too sad for words. I remember the Frogs smoking while driving, smoking while eating, smoking while working, smoking while talking (especially), having a quick cig in between cigs as a purely parenthetical kind of smoking, smoking in the bath, smoking around small children and domestic pets, smoking en plein air and in absolutely tiny and apparently unventilated lifts. I can still remember being taken (when young) to a restaurant in Paris and being kippered in fag smoke from the moment we entered (it was a low-ceilinged basement, which certainly helped trap the pall) to the moment we left, and even then thinking this is the way to go. Our host (immensely civilised Parisian lawyer) not only smoked between courses, but between mouthfuls, which required some dexterity on his part. So now, when not a single Frog lights up while on a social call on account of even the French submitting to the New World Smoking Dispensation, not only do I feel mutely cheated out of the opportunity to ponce a gasper for my own enjoyment (not that I smoke, of course); I mourn the way yet another once-actual pleasure has sidled off into the murky indefensible netherworld of mere nostalgia. Drinking a glass of wine and enjoying a quiet cig: a caesura in time, as Richard Klein very nearly put it in Cigarettes Are Sublime. And he was very nearly right.
3) I bought a whopping great plastic flagon of red wine with a tap. Not from Lidl. Of which more. When I've had a chance to drink some of it.