Wine talk

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So Where Does One Start?

Like food, wine is a big subject with many different approaches. What luck that there are navigable waterways taking you into virtually every wine-growing region in France. Another case of water into wine perhaps? Forgive the levity but finding interesting wine is a joyful process. You don’t have to be a great connoisseur - there is nothing precious about it. Oh yes, the multi-million pound producers of Bordeaux and Burgundy may make a bit of a song and dance but they, after all, have a product to sell. In fact the worse the year, it seems the more hype there’s going to be. Otherwise how else could you persuade the punters to buy? We don’t take too much notice.

But that’s not what we are interested in. Many years ago we had a cycling holiday in the Rhône valley. The steepness of the valley sides precluded any possibility of escape. Cycling along the valley bottom meant cycling beside the Rhône. A river which on initial inspection I could not believe was navigable until way in the distance we saw what we took to be a small boat, travelling slowly upstream towards us. So slowly in fact that it was only some considerable time later that we saw that this was actually a loaded “trente-huit” - quite a large commercial vessel in fact. Perhaps because we had the time to stop and stare and think a bit, it was on the bridge between Tournon and Tain in 1986, where the vineyards of the great négociants Chapoutier and Jaboulet vie for your attention, that we decided we must find a barge so that we too might one day navigate the mighty Rhône. It was here also we discovered our first “proper wine”. Northern Rhône wine is grown up wine; powerful cépages, Syrah and Viognier, thrive on the harsh flinty soil but it takes years of cellaring before they come good. In those early days when airily told that such and such a wine would be ready in twenty years, we did not mind a bit. Took it home, shoved it under the stairs in our cold damp house and forgot about it. They were right though; it is drinking superbly well now.

Luckily not all wine needs to be courted for quite so long, though having deep bilges in Friesland we can tuck quite a bit out of the way for a while. It has been years since we’ve bought any great amount of wine from a shop or supermarket. Go to the source I say. Not only is buying wine direct from grower good fun, it educates one gently in the ways of wine and the growers, and has helped greatly to improve my French. When the conversational subject matter is of compelling interest, ones ability to join in on the chat increases greatly.


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