In Competition No. 3231, you were invited to supply an example of pretentious wine writing. Space is tight and the standard stellar, so to make way for the maximum number of winners I’ll pause only to commiserate with unlucky losers Brian Murdoch and Basil Ransome-Davies before handing over to those printed below, who earn £25 each.
Keen to self-identify, this Australian merlot arrives sans label in a bottle refreshingly untainted by phallic thrust or feminine curve: a box, in fact. A wine with important things to say about the way we live now, it’s a living refutation of the prejudice which asserts that vinicultural outcomes stem from biochemical composition or geographical provenance. Savour its complete absence of bouquet; noselessness hasn’t been deployed so pertinently since Gogol and the surely intended reference to the coronaviral symptom most injurious to connoisseurship is cemented in the glass, where its colour, the bluish red of deoxygenated blood, demands we engage with our age rather than its vintage. In the mouth as in modern popular culture, nothing too fruity is permitted to endure long without cancellation by a dryness of considerable duration. Fermented grape juice has never been so refreshingly explicit in describing the climate change threatening its — indeed, our — future.
This Montrachet is like Faulkner’s prose fiction: sinuous, supple, unpredictable, epic, familial, Southern, and filled with simile. Indeed, it is a simile unto itself. Have these grapes not somehow imbibed and imbued themselves with the Old French of the Mississippi seaboard? Do the Yoknapatawpha County denizens not burgeon and heave with the same chalky blood, the same viniculture as these brave Burgundians? Uncork, uncork. There it is: the persistent sniff of Beurre Bosc, the tang of bread-and-butter pudding, the nutty, honeyed thrust of the senior Sutpens, that veritable light in August, that resounding and furious and unvanquished sanctuary for the soft palate. What does this Montrachet say, what does it utter? Enough French, as Faulkner insists, to respect anybody’s love for the land where [it] was born. What a beautiful, what a coruscating experience it is. God hands me its secret wistfully, whispers Go Down, Moses.
Domaine Persiflage recreates in the mouth a late Edwardian schoolroom, not merely through its India ink colouration and texture and the superabundance of chalk notes (various colours) natural to its terroir, but an elusive fruitiness the sweeter for its half-hearted concealment, like those dog Latin declarations of love etched with transient passion beneath the lids of oaken school desks. The wine adroitly couples epiphanic intensity to interminable length, as if matured in casks subjected to daily uncomprehending juvenile recitations of Tennyson — and comparable warmth; sepia-tinted afternoon sunlight, filtered through high if barely open windows, dances palpably upon the tongue. Its enervating dryness, an impressionistic transcription of the Schoolmaster’s repetition worn bowdlerisations of Gibbon’s most clogged passages, lulls the palate such that only the most discerning oenophile will detect hints of cordite and poppy seed suggestive of contemporaneous difficulties in the Empire and the unsubtlety of the approaching war.
Since vignerons fled like Hugenots from their parched Yorkshire vineyards, it has been the oenophile’s boast and hallmark to distinguish les grandes crus of the Grampian and Macdui banks of the River Dee. We were sharing a siesta bottle of 2065 Castle Stirling when our host offered a bet on this vexed aspect of tartan terroir, uncorking a vintage from above the fabled Munro contour, where merlot roots scrabble like goats on the unstable scree. Radon gas, seeped from the Cairngorm pluton, can betray l’orientation to the nose, as to the Geiger counter, but here the reek was of Lorne sausage and second-hand sporran. Bog myrtle on the palate and Irn Bru at the finish gossiped of a shady north-facing corrie under Braeriach and la rive droite des nos jours. Lay it down for your grandchildren: it will be at its peak when the rocks melt with the sun.
Bold but not over ambitious, Château Grand Guignol is a large and inquisitive wine whose questions deserve to be answered. The product of a terroir lying on the south-south-western slopes of Mont Ypython, where an underlying soil of perforated lava is overlain by aeons of wild-donkey droppings, and drowsy sunlight embraces the compliant vines, Grand Guignol has a nose which is almost Roman, a steely and well-balanced structure which comes down on both sides of the scales, a short- to medium-length finish not entirely unreminiscent of an aged Ribena, and a subtle after-savour of beetroot. Connoisseurs will appreciate its consistent inconsistency and its distinctively thick maquillage, varying en couleur from carmine to shocking pink, depending on the viewer’s viewpoint. Altogether a wine to glug or gurgle rather than sip, drinking is best postponed for many years and reserved for a midnight Halloween celebration.
That great vigneron, Jean-Marie-Hippolyte Olibrius, once remarked to me that French politics was like French vines — grafted on to American stock. His were wiped out, alas, by the evil oocyte Phytophthora vinimportuna. We raised a few politicised glasses to their memory. Château Trogneux stood for Macron — structured, balanced, a little bland but with a long finish. For Valérie Pécresse, it had to be a Domaines de Gaulle; impressive nose and notes of persimmon, malic acid, leather and brass. A peppery Chauvin, orchestrated from the Pied Noir grape, for Zemmour, with its symphony of gojiberry, old pennies and primary-school glue. Le Pen almost defeated us; but a marine Bordeaux, past it best but still game, supplied old glories of Marmite, bubblegum and supermarket fishpaste. Last, of course, and reddest came a Syndicat Ouvrier for M. Mélenchon, surprisingly shy but a sprightly blend of fines herbes, limestone and mouldy Roquefort. Vive la république!
No. 3234: Time for a change
You are invited to submit a poem or short story with the title ‘Covid’s metamorphoses’. Please email entries of up to 16 lines or 150 words to email@example.com by midday on 26 January.
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