Nostalgia for France
Posted: 5th October 2021
When St Giles Day dawned on 1 September, I had not seen the Mainland for nearly a year. Well, almost, I had been to Calais, just before the curtain came down in December. We went to liberate some cases of a friend’s wine from a warehouse, but I was able to nip into an Auchan and buy one or two things I needed to ‘save Christmas’ (as they say now) before we rejoined the queue for the Tunnel. I did not break bread or drink wine in the short time I was there, so it hardly counts.
In February, when I normally spend a few days in Provence, France was locked down too, and it was not until August that it became completely clear that I could travel there without paying hundreds of pounds to some crook to put my PCR test in the nearest bin. By mid-September I was ready to risk it. Spurning the cowboys, I booked a test with Boots, and was tense with excitement when my daughter told me she had been teaching a boy whose whole class had come down with it. She took the test, and two days before my departure the result came back negative. I was free to leave.
Before I could join our depleted party at the Gare de Lyon I had to visit my ninety-four year old mother who was laid up with a broken tibia in a hospital in the 14th Arrondissement. Paris looked busy, but everyone wore masks, inside and out. At the railway station I had to present my covid passport as well. There was a perceptible rigour in force, one unknown in Britain, even at the height of the crisis.
“Health passports were demanded in not only in stations, but also in supermarkets and cafés. You could probably get away with not having one, but only if you knew the proprietor of the shop, café or restaurant.”
We arrived at the vineyard at eight that night to find lamb grilling and corks pulled. The vintage had been paused due to rain – a rare thing in the Ventoux. France has suffered much this year, but the vineyard itself had been spared up to now. The weather remained changeable for the next twenty-four hours when the sun came out. It was a delight to be there, even if covid formalities hung over us all the time, from taking a test with Thibaut the wine-loving local pharmacist to filling in the dreaded ‘locator’ form. We went to local restaurants and we ate an enormous leg of Boris the Boar, which had been left for us by considerate huntsmen.
This was moistened with various vintages of Domaine des Anges, of which my favourites were the pure Grenache 2018 Seraphim, and from the virtually pure Syrah Archange, the 2019, 2018 and 2015. Tasting the wines with the winemaker Florent Chave, he convincingly demonstrated the improvement in quality brought about by using terracotta amphorae. The wines have become softer and richer.
Then came the dreaded departure. Running the gauntlet at the Gare du Nord was a process as intimidating as the famous punishment meted out by the Prussian Army. At six or seven points papers are examined and those who are not ready are sent to the back of the queue. At the end of the process we looked for solace in a glass of beer, but no beer was available in the length and breadth of the Eurostar waiting pen.
There have been French-themed tastings in London such as the Languedoc-Roussillon top-100, which featured, among others, a fine Sauvignon Blanc from the Baron de Badassière, a man who must excite a lively interest in the United States. The bad-arse Baron makes a good Picpoul de Pinet but that was not available. On the other hand I was excited about the fresh, appley version from the Moulin de Gassac. From the Plaimont co-operative I liked the 2017 Empreinte with its redolence of guavas.
Among the reds I enjoyed a juicy, refreshing 2020 Picpoul Noir from the Villa Blanche (Waitrose) and a nice, violet-scented 2020 Cinsault from the Domaine la Voûte du Verdus. There was a meaty 2019 Syrah from the Domaine les Yeuses and an old friend from the Pic St Loup, the 2019 Mas Bruguière, a spicy blend of Syrah and Grenache which brought back memories of better days. Another wine I admired was the 2017 Rieutord Faugères from Florence Alquier which had me thinking of roses and 2019 Roches Noires from the Cave de Roquebrun in St Chinian. The Château de Pennautier in Cabardès is well known here. The Wine Society has the Terroirs d’Altitude which I warmly recommend. I also tasted a lovely fortified sweet wine from the Domaine F Jaubert: the 2002 Or du Temps Rivesaltes, and realised how much I missed these wines.
I attended a St Emilion Grand Cru Classés tasting in a City tower. Getting past security was much how I imagined visiting the Bond-villain Blofeld in one of his hideaways would be. I half expected to be whisked off down the Thames in a hydrofoil. Once admitted, you could peer down at the Tower and St Pauls. All I can say about the view was that it was far nicer looking out than looking up or in. The wines I liked most were the 2018 Château Barde-Haut, the 2016 Bellefont-Belcier, the 2018 Château Chauvin, the 2012 Les Grandes Murailles, the 2016 Clos de l’Oratoire, the 2016 Clos des Jacobins, the 2018 Château de Ferrrand, the 2016 Château La Fleur Cardinale, the 2017 Château Fombrauge, the 2011 Franc Mayne, the 2018 and 2016 Château Grand Corbin (yes, I know: wasted on him – he doesn’t drink), the 2018 Laniote, the 2015 Laroque, the 2018 and 2016 Château Ripeau and most of all, the 2018 and 2016 Château La Couspraude – only the 2018 and 2016 La Tour Figeac and the 2018 and 2016 Villemaurine came close.
For the time being I shall have to be satisfied with glassfuls of France, before I can get closer to the real thing.