Thursday 18 June 2015

Wind, waves and Valpolicella

So it’s CJ’s slot this week but, as you may recall, he is away, sailing along our South-West coast. He left promising to send me texts when possible, which I could “aggregate into CJ’s diary of pain.” I am anxious, rather like a concerned gap-year parent, albeit with fewer worries about drugs, tattoos or hostage taking. Mind you, he is heading for Falmouth…

And then on Sunday evening, I received the picture on the right, with a text message: “When it’s gusting 28 knots, for me a Sainsbury’s Valpolicella is the only way out.”

Now, from anybody else, the word Valpolicella might be a bit of a red flag. Most of us lost faith in Valpolicella when the Italians drastically enlarged its regional classification, “opening the floodgates” as Berry Bros puts it, “to gallons of poor quality Valpolicella”.

It is now a wine whose popularity rests primarily upon the fact that its name can be pronounced not only easily, but mellifluously.

“Valpolicella,” asked jolly Olly Smith, no doubt mellifluously. “When did you last order it? In a pizza place in 1983 perhaps?” Well not if you are CJ, who I can remember ordering Valpolicella in a pizza place only last February. 

The only one I can find at Sainsbury’s is their Winemakers’ Valpolicella, so-called no doubt to distinguish it from less appropriate manufacturers such as the Carmakers’ Valpolicella. (Or perhaps the Cabinetmakers’ Valpolicella, with its touch of oak…). It’s £6 a bottle, which is steep for CJ, but hey, he’s on holiday. He has literally pushed the boat out.

But perhaps I should be more concerned about the circumstances driving him to such drink? The only follow-up I get is “Yes, it was a bit rough.” But while “Gusting 28 knots” sounds very impressive to a landlubber like myself, I haven’t a clue what it means. Nor do I understand why sailors insist on measuring speed in a manner different to everybody else. I mean, I know it’s all delightfully historic, but so are roods, and you don’t get anyone uniquely declaring speeds in roods per hour.

So I revert to the Beaufort Scale, that handy descriptive guide to wind force I remember from an encyclopaedia as a child. I recall an illustrated version, whose description of zero wind was that “Smoke rises vertically from a pipe”. I imagine it somewhat difficult to measure wind force today if it depends upon finding a pipe-smoker.

The land version of the Beaufort Scale is “to help observers who do not have properly sited anemometers to report the wind force”. That’ll be me, then.

And intriguingly, it seems that if I wanted the effects of winds “gusting 28 knots” on land, I could save myself some bother and simply guzzle the Valpolicella.

Take, for example, Force 6, Strong Breeze, 21-26.9 knots. Beaufort observes “Large branches in motion. Whistling heard in overhead wires. Umbrella use becomes difficult. Empty plastic bins tip over.” Now, after a bottle or two of Italian wine, I have often found it difficult to erect an umbrella, or indeed much else. And at the time, I have observed empty plastic bins tipping over, with a sure conviction that I did not stumble into them.

And Force 7, High Wind, Moderate and Near Gale, 26.9 to 33.4 knots, finds “Whole trees in motion. Effort needed to walk against the wind.” I have seen those trees moving, really. And after sufficient wine, there has indeed been an effort needed to walk, regardless of any bloody wind.

Now that I look at it, both the sea and the sky in his picture appear blue, rather than grey, which surely posits decent weather. And there’s land on the horizon, which must be reassuring if you’re at all worried about whatever it is that sailors worry about. Sinking?

And then I wondered. “Yes,” he had said. “It was a bit rough”. Did he mean the weather – or the wine…?

PK for CJ

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