Image via WikipediaNot the good stuff. That's still under lock and key in the cellar awaiting the arrival of the cousins who will enjoy it, the birthdays, New Year, or just waiting to be old enough. Most of the epine is down there too....I am down to about the results of three years' production, and that stuff is better for being aged. There's enough upstairs to last out the visiting season with a bit of moderation, and there's plenty of pineau and a wild concoction suggested by Didier a few years ago involving fermenting a glut of eating plums and mixing the results with eau de vie. The first year it would have blown your ears off, the second year was similar, but now, four years' later, it has calmed down and become acceptable to the groups of visitors to rural France who are to be found hunched round the radio and the TV listening to the cricket from England. It eases the pain.
The problem is the everyday drinking stuff and the quantities that visitors wish to load up in their cars for the return trip. I thought I had stocked adequately when I did the rounds of the vignerons around Easter, and the car's suspension agreed with me, but there seems to have been more visitors than usual, intent on forgetting the economic crisis far away from reality in the wilds of France. Well, that's how they see it. In my view there's a fair bit of economic crisis here as well, but who am I to spoil the wake?
Visitors come at the wrong time for wine. Round here, the best stuff is snapped up early, even before the open days that vignerons hold in Spring. Furtive visits to try the wine as it develops result in firm orders long before the general public wends its' way from cellar to cellar. I was involved in such an attempted coup a few years ago, when I had discovered a wonderful dessert wine developing in the cask of a local vigneron, and had tasted it at two or three stages. He wanted to fine it, to remove the last trace of floaters that spoil the clarity of the wine...I thought he should leave it alone, and agreed to buy the cask on condition that he did not fine it and that he bottled it for me.
Of course, he fined it. I did not know this until I turned up to ask when my bottles would be ready, and encountered his wife. She was always the fly in the ointment in that establishment, intent on selling you what she wanted to shift rather than what you wanted to buy, and she was delighted to tell me that she had not had and would not have time to bottle up such a quantity, and, furthermore, that the wine had been fined as no one but a foreigner would buy a wine in that condition and what would she do with the leftover in the cask? And they say the French are a logical nation. If I was buying the cask, how would there be any wine left over for local taste to disapprove of? However, there are some mysteries best left unplumbed, so I went for the jugular and asked to taste it.
It was still good, but it wasn't the masterwork that I had previously tasted. The fining had changed it...subtly...but enough to decide me that I wasn't buying it. Curiously enough, the lady was not too disturbed by my reaction, agreeing sweetly that there was no point in buying a wine with which I was not going to be satisfied, which roused my suspicions...loss of potential income on that scale does not usually induce smiles and docility in the French.
Investigation...at Didier's house...revealed that the lady had been doing a bit of marketing. Another regular had come sniffing round the cellars and she had casually remarked that a foreigner was buying the best wine and that there would be none for the French. The regular had waxed wroth, appealing to her patriotic duty, and probably recalling the fate of Joan of Arc, but, more importantly, offered more money. Indeed, that would be an inducement, as the husband had made me a good price on condition that I took the lot. Accordingly, the wine I had ordered was sold to another. Next time I saw the husband we just exchanged glances and shrugs, and he handed me over two five litre BIBs (bag in the box) of some very acceptable red wine in apology. What could I say? He has to live with her.
Before setting out with the visitors, it is necessary to have a preliminary discussion. I need to know what they think they want before I 'phone the vignerons to see what they have. The rest will have to come from the supermarkets. It starts off with the usual attempted feats of memory...
'What was that one we had last year?'
What does he mean....one? The speaker covered a pretty wide range on that occasion if my memory serves me right. I try a process of elimination.
'Red, white or pink, still or sparkling?'
That should cover everything.
'It was that nice one.'
Clearly, it didn't cover everything.
Eventually the party sets off. I know where we are going, a few might know where we are going but don't remember how we get there, and one has a GPS on his car and intends to use it. Despite his best efforts, we arrive, a little earlier than arranged, to find no one around except the vigneron's father covertly filling up a jug from a vat for his evening lucubrations. He slips off and the wife arrives, to announce that her husband will be along shortly and in the meantime, she has a very good sweet pink wine all ready in BIB so would we like to tell her how many we want and she'll make out the bill. This is, inevitably, the one wine that no one had wanted to buy and even if they had, they would like to have had a chance to taste it first.
Luckily the husband arrives, heralded by his big Belgian Shepherd dog who strikes fear into the timorous by sniffing the legs of the assembled company.....I suppose it's his equivalent of smelling the wine before you drink...before settling down across the doorway with a deep groan. You feel a bit like Odysseus in the cave of the one eyed giant whose name has promptly escaped me. The wife escapes by a nifty bit of hurdling and we get down to business.
Even though the best has gone, he still has his mainstream wines and we duly sniff, swirl and taste from glasses that are proper wine glasses, and spotlessly clean. This man is serious. However, the glasses are well filled and there are no spittoons, so the enthusiasm rises rapidly among the assembled company, all the cubis - plastic jerrycans - that I have brought are filled and the stack of BIBs is resembling the leaning tower of Pisa. As we are by now serious buyers, he produces his sparkling wine, which he is not allowed to call Champagne because it doesn't come from there and it is made from different grapes. He makes it properly, turning the bottles on their special wooden racks to let the deposit settle on the cork before being ejected and replaced with a shot of new wine. It is not cheap, but give me a sparkling wine from the Loire anyday rather than most of the muck said to originate in Epernay. Not being a rap or hip hop idol I cannot compare it with Roederer Crystal, but it beats most of the champagnes I've tried in my time. I wouldn't waste it on Formula One racers.
Everybody is happy by now, even when paying the bill, and we return home without the aid of GPS because he has forgotten to turn it on. A working party is set up on the terrace to soak corks, fill bottles and cork them up, I head for the kitchen and all is well with the world until some idiot has to say
'I still wonder what that nice wine we had last year was.'