So, filled with excitement from our adventures in Corsica, we make our way to the French mainland to stay with our pals in the Ventoux region. Here we discover to our horror that their house in the hills is even more eye-wateringly beautiful than the last time we were there, in fact is so glamorous that we wonder if we shouldn't sleep in the car rather than attempt to live up to the bedding in the spare room.
Still. After a day or so we have recovered enough from the shock to be able to loll around the pool and spend a couple of hours over lunch and drink our aperitifs on the upper terrace and generally kid ourselves that it wouldn't have taken that much effort on our part to achieve the same sun-drenched perfection, we just had different priorities. Then, to add to my bliss, if that were possible, our host Allan says that if I want to buy a quantity of local grog, he'll take it back to England for me in his luxury shooting brake.
Giggling with anticipation, I head straight down to the nearest cave, spending only an hour wandering around the adorable tourist honeypot townlet in which it is situated before actually going in to choose the drink. Which means that I am so surfeited with well-being by the time I enter the cave, I'm not really in a position to deal with the profusion of wines which suddenly fills my vision.
All I want is a medium BiB (as in Bag-in-Box as the French call them, i.e. a no-nonsense working man's wine box) of red, another of rosé and a third of white. But (a) I am initially thrown by the luscious high-end Ventoux bottles parked at the entrance and (b) am subsequently thrown by the presence of two elfin and hypnotically French young women, wrestling with a pallet of BiBs in exactly that dingy corner where the cheap grog lives. As I consequence, I gather up two whites and a red instead of a red, white and pink, stagger over to the check-out and only discover what I've done ten days later when Allan drops them off.
My bad, as they say, but since the stuff works out at slightly less than €3 a litre, I can't really complain. But what exactly is it? One 5 litre container owns up to nothing more specific than White Ventoux, plus instructions for getting at the tap. The red, similarly, is just AOC Ventoux Rouge 2012. Only the other white, the one bought in error, fesses up to anything: Viognier Chardonnay 2012 it says. This is the one, at any rate, which I cram into the fridge, having sawn the top off the box to get it to fit. The red I place on top of the wine rack, no more than half a metre from my elbow while I eat.
I now have more cheap drink at my immediate disposal than I have ever had in my life. I could drink myself witless every night if I wanted to. Things could not be much better.
Except that, like the stooge in a morality tale, I find myself increasingly beleaguered by the superabundance of my own supplies. The red is pretty much as I hoped for, with that lightness and hint of austerity I associate with Ventoux; the white, on the other hand, gives me mild tinnitus plus a sense of existential doom. Why? It should be fine. I force myself to drink more, in order to desensitise my tastebuds. Over time it does seem to become less industrial; perhaps as it degrades in its BiB (four weeks is the maximum time you've got to drink it, according to the box). But it is a grim, attritional business.
But then (God help us) this raises another, bigger question: how much am I drinking? I pour a generous splash into my faithful Duralex tumbler, consume it, pour another, consume it, pour another, I mean there are 5 litres in there, or there were, and the cardboard is opaque, so in some ways it's a bottomless vat of wine, but in another way it's a nightmare, in which I entirely lose count of how many glasses I've poured myself, and only know that at the end of the evening I feel eighty years old and as if my mouth has been pressed into service as a photographer's developing tray.
After several days of this, I work out that what I need is a pichet, like PK's, into which I can pour a metered quantity of drink. A little glass jug catches my eye. I shall find out how much it holds, then determine how much 40 cl of wine looks like when poured into it, then use that as my guide. That way, I shall not only retain a measure of self-control at supper time, I shall make my booze last longer.
I take the jug down from the shelf. It looks a bit dusty. There is a small crack next to the handle. My wife, who happens to be passing, says, 'You know we use that to put flowers in, don't you?'
'Yes,' I say, with a pathetic timbre in my voice. 'But I have my dignity to think of.'
And indeed, that evening I sit there full of bourgeois self-importance with my little jug of wine, and everything works according to plan, even though the wine is not only light and austere, but oddly nuanced with a flavour of dust. Only another week to go, I reckon.