Monday, 22 October 2007

The grapes of Ralph

Wine makes a man more pleased with himself; I do not say that it makes him more pleasing to others.
Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Bordeaux- For more than eight thousand years man has cultivated Vinus Vinifera, the grape vine, and has through time, patience and painstaking effort managed to create a drink which can enthrall, enslave and delight even the most world weary and hardened of cynics.
From the free flowing bacchanalian orgies of ancient Rome to the rigid moral Christian altars of the bible belt, wine has become an essential and integral part of the human experience.

News direct decided to send me to the quiet Bordeaux village of La prix du St Ralph, to visit the world famous Chateau le chateau vineyard. My mission was to see if I could find out some of the ancient and closely guarded secrets of this most revered of beverages.

La prix du St Ralph sits quietly in a shady, almost forgotten, south western corner of France's beautiful Aquitane region.
The village is like any other village, in any other country in the world. People here live, love and fight, with the same degrees of success as anywhere else.
The thing that makes La prix du St Ralph special and altogether different from the countless uncounted hamlets worldwide, is the very ground that it's built on.
By an accident of fate, comparable to the Arabs great misfortune of living upon America's vast oil reserves, La prix du St Ralph happens to sit happily upon the best ten hectares of vine growing soil in the whole world.

On a hill overlooking the sleepy village sits the romantically turreted Chateau le chateau, the family home of France's premier wine maker Madame Severine de la Brut Counasse.
Madame Counasse has been making wine at Chateau le chateau since her legendary father died in the early nineteen sixties, she has been compared to Dom Perignon, Robert Parker and even George Best for the unrivaled contribution she has made to the advancement and popularity of wine worldwide.
Madame Counasse had graciously consented to be my guide for the day and as I slowly walked up the wide chalky drive towards the grand wooden doors of the Chateau, I got my first glimpse of the woman General De Gaulle called 'The most important French woman since those bastard Ros bifs burnt our Joan of arc.'
Madame Counasse is a small, precise looking woman and her hand offered limply in greeting was quickly dwarfed by my huge clumsy paw.
"Welcome to Le Chateau le chateau Monsieur."
"Merci madame, pour et vous.....canard."
"Pour et vous canard."
"I think it will be best if we speak in English."
"Non, moi Francais est tres, tres, tres bon madame."
"No it isn't, you sound like you are from Marseilles."
"I've been ill recently!"
"Please come in."
Madame Counasse gently dropped my hand and opened the door of the Chateau to reveal its grand hallway.
"Follow me please."
I watched as she disappeared across the cool stone floor and into a tapestry framed archway opposite, her severe hairstyle quickly reappeared and said "This way please Monsieur!"
I promptly followed her order by tracing her petite foot steps across the hall and into the large kitchen beyond the magnificent carved arch.

There, already seated at the long rustic table before a huge brass strewn fireplace, Madame Counasse had set out an array of bottles, two glasses and a large spittoon.
"Please sit down Monsieur."
I took the offered seat and also the opportunity to ask Madame Counasse, why Chateau le chateau is so special and isn't most wine the same anyway.
Her face became a mask of disgust "Are you serious? This is the greatest vineyard in the whole of France and therefore, the whole of the world. You English are so uncultured, this place is special because of the soil, you people should stick to your, How you call them? Alchopoppys? and leave the Oenaphilia to the more cultured peoples of the world."
"Oenaphilia? Isn't that an attraction to farmyard animals?"
"You really don't know what Oenaphilia is?"
"Course I do."
"What is it then?"
"It's what?"
"Something perverted that the French do to each other or something."
Her taunting eyes immediately took on a softer cast and as she stroked my hand she soothed "That's right, well done, I realise now that I will have to be on my guard with you monsieur, you are as sharp as a Camembert."
I stiffened in my chair, held my head high and bathed in her luxurious praise of me.
"Would you like to taste some of our wines now Monsieur?"
"Yes please madame."
She took a bottle from the table uncorked it and splashed a few drops into the glass before me.
I waited.
"What are you waiting for?"
"For you to finish pouring."
"That's it, this isn't an English BBQ, we are here to taste my vineyard's fine wines not get falling down drunk and sing 'Is this the way to Amarillo'."
Suitably chastened I lifted my glass and drained down her meager offering.
I put my glass quickly down onto the table "What??"
"You don't drink it, Mon Dieu!! Les Anglais!"
"You must not drink it, you must spit it out into this spittoon."
"Why? Is this not a good one?"
When Madame Counasse had finished rolling her eyes, she placed them carefully upon me and said "We spit so that we can continue tasting without feeling the effects of the alcohol."
I grinned "Do all French girls spit?"
"Monsieur, I find your attempt at humour, not only childish but also tedious in the extreme."
"Shall we continue?"
"Yes please."
She poured me another meager offering.
I waited, this time not for a more generous serving, but for some mysterious Gallic sign that I could proceed.
"Now before we drink, we must look at the wines colour."
I gazed into my glass "It's red."
"What kind of red?"
"Rouge red."
"So it's red red?
"No, rouge red."
"That's red red."
"Thought rouge meant deep red."
"No, It means red."
"Are you sure?"
"I was only asking."
"Mon dieu, vous etes aussi stupide qu'un chou!!"
"Can I drink it now?"
I sat quietly and looked at my shoes and waited for her to stop mumbling to herself in a language I guessed was French, or maybe German.
She breathed deeply, wiped a stray piece of fringe from her red face and said "Right now we swirl the wine round the glass to release the flavours and aromas trapped within, like so."
I watched intently as she swirled the wine around her glass, and then carefully copied her fluid motion.
"Non!! You imbecile, it has gone everywhere!"
"I think I swirled it too fast."
"Do you think so?"
"I haven't done this before."
"Well it isn't rocket science!! You just have to gently swirl the wine round the glass, not try to paint the room with it!!"
Madame Counasse refilled my proffered glass with a now shaking hand "Right now GENTLY swirl the wine round the glass.
I looked from her eyes to the gently swirling glass and copied her careful revolutions.
"Good Monsieur! Now put your...comment dit en anglais?? ahhh nose...put your nose in the glass."
I placed my nose deep into the glass and continued to move my head in circles with my now near perfect swirling technique.
"Mon Dieu! You can stop swirling now!"
I stopped swirling and once my head had come to a stop, I took a deep sniff of the throughly swirled wine.
"What can you smell."
"I don't want to say."
"Why not?"
"In case I'm wrong and you shout at me again."
"What do you smell you damn Ros bif!!!!!!"
My head, possibly intoxicated by wine fumes and terror, spun uncontrollably and I blurted out "WINE!!! I CAN SMELL WINE!!!!! RED WINE!!!!" before recoiling instinctively out of Madame Counasse's range.
"Good, well done."
Reassured by her measured tone, I carefully moved back into range.
"I was right?"
"Of course you were right, what did you expect to smell in a glass of wine?
"D'accord, now you can take the wine into you mouth. But don't swallow it!"
I drained the glass and sat fat cheeked looking warily at madame Counasse.
"Now swirl the wine slowly round your mouth, let it coat your curry deadened English taste buds with the elegant flavours of la belle France."
I swirled, carefully.
"Good, now spit."
Eyes closed, I spat, then gushed.
"That was amazing the flavours just burst out of the wine like some kind of atomic flavour blast! I could taste red berries, spice and liquorice, but also summer tarmac and wet dogs scratching themselves before an open fire! Did I do it right?

I slowly opened my eyes to reveal Madame Counasse's once white blouse doused in summer tarmac and wet itchy dogs, I gently put down my glass "I think it's about time I was making tracks, the ferry leaves soon and I don't really want to miss it. Or else I'll have to stay here the night!"
Madame Counasse stared blankly out at me from beneath her wine soaked fringe.
I stood.
"Rrrrright, anyway, thanks for the wine and everything.....suppose I better be off then..."
Madame Counasse stared.
"Don't wanna miss that ferry."
I backed carefully out the room, at the vaulted archway I stopped.
"Vive la France!, Vive la difference! Au revoir mon cherie!"
Madame Counasse stared.


Agnes Mildew said...

I had no idea that Hull could raise such a cultured journalist as yourself, Sir. I am greatly impressed, having attempted to become a wine connoisseur myself. Indeed, I was once likened to a fine bottle of white Lambrusco in that I was cheap, fizzy and repeated a lot.

Aningeniousname said...

I'm shocked that you didn't know that Hull is the very epicenter of world culture, they don't call it the Paris of the north for nothing.

deathsweep said...

Very educational indeed! Perhaps I can now go to a wine tasting and look as though I am there to actually taste it and not just appear as if I'm there for a good numbing.


Aningeniousname said...

I'm glad you learned something Mr Deathsweep, I feel it's the media's responsibility to expose their readers to the warm glow of education.
News direct's primary objective is to bring education to the uneducated from the under educated.
Using education as means to educate the uneducated without resorting to uneducation to educate the less educated.

Tria said...

As usual, I absolutely love your post. I know nothing about wine...less than nothing about wine. Now I can surely go wine tasting with some since of

Aningeniousname said...

Glad you enjoyed it Tria, If you'd like to learn more about wine I suggest you buy my new book on wine called "Oenophilia?? Isn't that doing it with dead people??" available in all bad book shops from tomorrow.

Agnes Mildew said...

Aw, come on Mark - here I am, returning nightly to get my fix of your stuff and it has been yonks! Even I, slack, Lambert-smoking tart that I am, perform better!!
Your public needs you...

Cyberpunk said...

I'm clueless when it comes to wine, but I like the title of this post.

Haha, clever, clever indeed. :D

Jeunelle Foster said...

You experience was hilarious to say the least. I bet you bolted right out the door to catch that train.