Now, what’s this. Someone in wine marketing has clearly decided that la belle epoque now stands for both heritage and liveliness, a potentially attractive combination to which only a French winemaker might lay claim. Its back label declares that “Les Dauphins represents all that is good about the heritage of classic French wine”, which is quite some claim, from a £7.99 wine with a noisy label and a plastic cork. But then, they have had some time to achieve that, if not since la belle epoque itself, then certainly since Les Dauphins’ registration as a marque deposee in, er, March 2011.
Personally, I thought there were good things about the heritage of classic French wine which were to do with hushed elegance, and quiet underspoken authority, and just a tad more time. But when it comes to France, what do I know?
For sadly, my own education in French centred upon pages of the irritating activities of Jean-Claude and his famille. There were certainly aspects of a contemporary French lifestyle which appealed to teenage Londoners; but Jean-Claude seemed curiously oblivious to the smoking, philosophising and attractively liberal sexual attitudes supposedly being enjoyed by his compatriots. Is Jean-Claude perhaps today going to sit in a café, staring morosely but thoughtfully through a Gauloises fug, until Emmanuelle walks in?
No. Jean-Claude is going out yet again with his entire famille, incorporating a large number of bafflingly distant relatives. He is going to don and describe a frankly unneccessary amount of clothing. Far from staring thoughtfully into space, he is going to ask his family continual, stupid questions about their mode of transport, the weather and the time of day.
And is he going to go somewhere useful like the corner shop, where I can learn the French for twenty cigarettes and a porno mag?
No. He is going to go to the zoo, where I will be expected to learn the French names of several dozen animals, few of which I am likely to encounter in a café.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I did badly at French. I disappointed my father by proving unable to order him a cup of tea on a day trip to Calais. It was only later that I thought to question why one would go all the way to Calais, and drink tea.
However, if my hard-earned O-Level taught me anything, it’s that attention to the text is paramount. So following their opening remark, let us do a bit of crit on the rest of Les Dauphins’ back label, which seems, with suspicious convenience, to have already been translated for the English-speaking market.
“The term Villages signifies that it comes from specific quality villages in the Rhone and is a step up in quality” Indeed; this peasant-sounding Cotes du Rhones Villages is actually superior to the Cotes du Rhone Reserve which Les Dauphins also make. This is part of their heritage. It is also counter-intuitive French nonsense of the kind which makes ordinary wine consumers despair.
“It’s made by the leading producer in the region, Cellier des Dauphins.” Cellier des Dauphins is actually a co-operative, representing over 3000 wine growers, with a production of 55 million bottles. So ‘leading’ in a somewhat industrial sense. Their website focusses upon the Cellier des Dauphins range itself, which affects an ancient, rustic kind of vibe that sits uneasily with the output from their 86 thermo-regulated stainless steel wine tanks.
Finally, the wine itself. “Expect a classic Rhone wine, bursting with ripe summer fruits, all backed up with rich, spicy, peppery flavours. Great with all red meats especially beef or lamb”. Once again, no place for those hard-learned zoo animals.
“Ideal if you like a glass of red with character.”
Well. There are characters and characters. This wine is ferociously aggressive upon opening, as indeed was the normally saintly Mrs K, who swore violently upon tasting it. It has a blast like a bath cleaning product. That departs to leave a rather acrid yet strangely shallow drink, entirely absent of such declared constituents as fruits, spices or indeed flavours. Anyone led to “Expect a classic Rhone wine…” will be sorely disappointed.
I eventually found my French spiritual home. It is the Café de Flore, in Saint Germain des Pres, that essential existentialist hangout. Conveniently, just around the corner is Deyrolle, perhaps the only place in Paris apart from the zoo itself where it is an advantage to possess an O-Level knowledge of the French names of exotic animals.
Les Dauphins is not on the wine list at the Café de Flore. And I think we can safely assume that, where tables are concerned about all that is good about the heritage of classic French wine, Les Dauphins will actually remain something of an etranger.