Thursday 17 July 2014

Transportation: Muscadet Sur Lie

So by the time this appears, I should be in the family car speeding south somewhere in the depths of France, our indéchirable road map of the entire country sprawling aggressively across the front two seats, my wife growling at it like a dog with a chew toy. The sun should be shining, the towns and villages should be an indigestible French visual mix of manicured tourist honeypots and leaden pouvoir de l'état latterday municipal buildings, including but not limited to, salles polyvalantes, newbuild Mairies, local museums, 1980s artisanal markets, préfectures, police stations, go-ahead toilets and maisons de retraite. Assuming we can remember to operate according to that unspeakable provincial French timetable which only allows for anything to be open four hours a day (restaurants, especially), we should be fed and watered. The sunflowers will be out or I'll want to know the reason why, and we will have Django Reinhardt on the car stereo.

Which only leaves the drink. Inevitably there will be hundreds and hundreds of roadside inducements to stop'n'shop at hundreds and hundreds of winemakers' outlets. And we will have a car we can keep! Not one we have to give back at the airport! I ought to be able to fill the thing from floor to roof with wine, such that the wheel-arches wear the rear tyres smooth and the car takes bends like the coach at the end of The Italian Job on account of the massive weight of wine stuffed in the boot and spread over the back seat.

Only snag? Well, we're coming back a different way from the way we're going out. For all I know, the regions we pass through on the return leg don't even make wine. It's now or never for the stuff I'm currently going past. I should buy now, before it's all gone.

But if I start buying wine now, in a couple of weeks' time - when we catch the ferry home - it will have spent many days alternately jouncing around the C-roads of France, or mulling itself in the stationary sunshine. At the end of the last century, the wife and I were too young and idiotic to worry about these things, and we drove around with some Muscadet Sur Lie and a load of Pouilly-Fumé and didn't care what happened to it – hairpin bends, 40˚C, hours and hours of neglect, angry lorry drivers... we just let it suffer. And all I can remember subsequently is that, back in London, it tasted six times nicer than whatever the equivalent English price would have got us.

But now we labour under the crushing burden of third-hand advice acquired from people we don't know, and fret over horror stories of people leaving their cases of wine carefully parked up in the shade while they get outside a three-hour lunch, only to find the next day that they've simmered themselves twelve bottles of AOC consommé despite their best precautions. Whatever else befalls, it seems I must observe all of the following so as not to destroy my precious supplies: if the neck of the bottle starts to feel warm, that's the wine cooked; I must get myself a cooler box that plugs into the cigarette lighter; I must never turn the engine off and always keep the air-conditioning running (oh, really?); I must wrap each bottle individually in newspaper and put the newspapered bottles in a cardboard box; I must live in dread of bottle shock; I must definitely not transport unsulphured wines; I should have the stuff sent home by an international courier, they can keep it in good order, they have temperate trucks.

This is the looming contradiction: I am at the very heart of the wine world, but I am too craven to binge on the good things all around me. The answer it seems is to try and finesse the contradiction without actually fixing it. I can get all the booze I like, but only in the run-down to departure, and fingers crossed there'll be something I want to buy in Basse-Normandie, other than Calvados. Which means a couple of weeks spent hurtling past adorable stone châteaux and whimsical giant roadside wine bottles, places I know will have the drink of my dreams at a price I can live with, biting my lip and doing nothing, while my wife complains alternately at me and the indéchirable, that we're heading in precisely the opposite direction to the one we ought to be taking. What holidays are all about, I suppose.


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