Recollections of Burgundy

13 June 2020

9:00 AM

13 June 2020

9:00 AM

More than two months: who would have thought it possible? Before the great closure, I had been trying to decide between a foray to the West Country over Easter or a trip to Brittany. Suddenly everything had to be cancelled, with the hope that life would have returned to normal by the early May bank holiday. Early July now looks cautiously feasible: Insh’Allah.

Yet there is one group of creatures which is revelling in the lock-down: dogs lucky enough to have a male owner unable to leave a rural dwelling with plenty of space. My friend Professor Branestawm, the well-known feminist and oenophile who has been praised in this column for the …oenophilia, owns a cocker spaniel. Even by the high standards we expect from that delightful breed, Milo is mischievous, boisterous and enchanting. As present, he is often taken out for three walks a day. He will be so disappointed when the pack leader is able to return to London.

Tales are still emerging from friends’ lockdown experiences. One chap, who delivers food supplies to the elderly and disabled in his bit of Oxfordshire, says that whatever is happening to alcohol consumption, the odour of cannabis in local council estates is so strong that he almost expects stoned birds to start falling out of the sky.

There is also a tip which I heard in the early days, when Covid-19 was at its most virulent and anxieties were burgeoning. Remember: we were not supposed to touch our own faces until after a thorough disinfection. My friend David Smurthwaite, sometime of the National Army Museum, had the answer. ‘You can’t touch your face if you are holding a glass in each hand.’ That is worth remembering next time a pandemic strikes.

At the risk of repeating myself, wine is most enjoyable as a social stimulant. Though there is nothing wrong with rumination over a solitary bottle, it is more fun to find a setting where a man can fold his legs and have his talk out. The other evening, just before the summer went into lockdown, I was talking white Burgundy over the phone. There followed a summons to my friend’s garden. I am sure that we kept two metres apart — well, that is my story and I am sticking to it. He produced a Leflaive les Pucelles 1er Cru from 2010, a wine worthy of Grand Cru status. I suspect that these days, it would fetch a Grand Cru price. Mine was a — not much — lesser les Pucelles, a ’14 from Marc Morey et fils. Overshadowed by the richness of the 2015s, the 2014s were underrated for a time. The best of them have a balance and harmony which can make the bigger ’15s seem excessive.

Anyway, les Pucelles took me back. To my horror, when I counted, it was more than 40 years back to the summer of 1979, and a few glorious days in Burgundy. One should never kiss and tell, but I knew that I had been a mere holiday fling. My older companion was about to return to her husband. One is now dead, the other gaga. The passing years set an unrelenting pace. Anyway, we had our final dinner at L’Esperance, a great restaurant below the glorious basilica at Vezelay. I found what I thought would be a pleasant bottle at a price that was extravagant but not exorbitant: I had insisted that it was my turn to pay. I remember that the sommelier praised my choice and was even more respectful when I ordered the second bottle. It was a Pucelles, and I wish that I had made a note of the year and the grower. I do remember that it was just about the best wine that I had ever drunk. The bill eventually came. What’s this? Quite simple: the extravagant price related to a half-bottle. I had ordered two whole ones. I was surprised that the plastic did not spontaneously combust, as I might, if the lockdown lasts much longer.

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