A refresher in enthusiasm

15 June, 2007

It's amazing how a holiday in France and a read of Samuel Johnson can make all the difference

A two-week break in the ­sunny south of France has seen my sanity return to regular levels

and, whereas before my trip I would have had an aneurysm at the sound of the word "chillaxed" (a contraction of "chilled and relaxed"), I now find myself in that blissful state. Not even the traditional post-holiday sniffles can mar my good mood, even if they have arrived (at the time of writing) for the New Zealand Winegrowers tasting - goodbye, subtle aromatics, hello oddly elevated acidity.

Rather than commit myself to a busman's holiday of wineries and breweries, I decided to have a couple of weeks completely free from even thinking about wine, beer

and the business at large. Of course, as those who have been in the trade a while know, this is actually impossible, and perhaps even undesirable. The curious thing was seeing my insuppressible interest refracted through the prism of the drinking preferences of my travelling companions - my partner (who, though she denies it, has a great palate)

and two

who work outside the drinks industry (for the avoidance of doubt, we shall call them "normal people").

On arrival, there was a certain amount of the usual E3 rosé in circulation, but when a lunch of roast chicken was scheduled, I scored some 2002 Latour Bourgogne Blanc. It was lovely

- crisp, classic and elegant, with a delicious slightly savoury edge. "Yeah, it's all right," was the verdict. Trying not to be Zak the Wine Bastard, I gave it a few days before branching out for some local Picpoul de Pinet. On being told what it was, there was some consternation; "It's what? Pig poohed a penis?" To be fair, it wasn't a great example, but there was certainly nothing porcine, excremental or genitalia-related about it.

I remember being at a friend's barbecue a while ago. I noticed that a bottle of wine had

Winemaker's Selection

on it, but was surprised that it was from Blossom Hill. Another time, some other friends enthusing about "this lovely new Yellow Tail wine" had me trotting out my stock line of: "I can see why one might like it, but it doesn't really appeal to me." As you might imagine, and as befits a gentleman of my social standing, these are fine, upstanding thirtysomething individuals (except for Bad Santa Sam) with disposable income (ditto). You might reasonably ask why, in the face of all this apparent indifference, would you bother trying to sell anything different.

The answer came in the shape of a bottle of 2005 Cuvée

Les Éclats

from Domaine Mirabel, Pic St Loup. Never one to resist an interesting-looking wine shop in a beautiful medieval town (I mean, why would you?), I asked the cheery shop assistant for something typical of the region. "Fût et fruits" was his reply

- oak barrels and fruit. For a trifling E12, we were rewarded with a smooth, velveteen red that led with cloves and finished with dark cherries and plums. A very palpable hit that resulted in some extra hand luggage on the train for everyone.

My choice of holiday reading (James Boswell's biography of Samuel Johnson) has proved as refreshing to my mind as Domaine Mirabel was to everyone's enthusiasm for good wine. When the inevitable "why bother?" question comes up, I now know the answer. In a thundering voice, I hear bellowed back at me through the mists of time: "Sir, we bother because we must; it is the only way we differentiate ourselves from those who do not."




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Welcoming the wine rookie

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