Number 27 in our series of contributions to our wine writing contributions comes from Jean-Louis Eveque. His bio is as follows:
Born in Nice in a French-Italian Piemontese family, part wannabe bourgeoisie, part hard-as-nails mountain peasants. Raised in Marseilles, studied business and lived in La Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. Became a member of a tribe in Madagascar, and, as a logical progression, a commercial plane pilot in Florida. Then worked as an international buyer in India and the Far East. Now working in London as a translator, online community officer and part-time specifier in an interior design business run by Deborah, his adorable British wife.
Likes anything that flies (planes, birds, clouds), telling disarmingly not-so-funny jokes, family life, reading books above his station in life, and demonstrating the most disturbing aspect of mid-life crisis by riding his longboard (sort of pimped-up skateboard) around.
The bearable lightness of wine
For an outsider like myself, it is always funny to notice how English folks can tolerate only a soupçon of earnestness. If you become a bit too pompous or lyrical when discussing matters close to your heart (at will: the existence of multiple nested universes, Brexit, or the chances of Brentford Football club ever making it in the Premiership), you run the risk of being kindly chastised by your co-diners.
'Don't take life too seriously', they say. 'Everyone dies in the end anyway.' By which they actually mean, 'Come off it, mate.'
And right they are. Earnestness is so un-English. This is part of why we like this bunch so much. You have to give it to the Brits, they have an admirable sense of measure. When they get an arm bitten off by a tiger, they will admit they are a tad inconvenienced but it is part of the experience of the tropics. Isn’t it?
With this in mind, one could wonder why some British wine buffs I know switch to a full-warfare state of readiness when it comes to their subject of choice. They know all the grape varieties that were ever grown by mankind, they can tell you at what phase of the moon the Spätlese are harvested in the Rheingau. Even your run-of-the-mill amateur puts moi, a card-carrying Frenchman, to shame with their encyclopaedic knowledge of wine.
Wine, they clamour, is a matter of precision. Temperature. Hygrometry. Possibly wind speed. An intimate understanding of terroir and the philosophy of the winemaker is a must. And of course, without a highly trained palate, it is inconceivable to fully appreciate wine.
In a nutshell, they are perilously close to earnestness.
The good thing about being middle-aged, somewhat portly and French is that, when confronted with real amateur's skills, I can usually get away with it by uttering some gibberish like 'there is a distinct hint of cooked black cherries' or 'the tannins are nicely convergent' and by peppering my sentences with a few random French words – terroir, exposition, rondeur. Chances are any wine comes from a terroir, and the vineyard was exposed towards the south – or south-east or possibly south-west, that kind of general direction.
But another approach is possible. One that does not involve knowledge.
Sorry for the detour here but I think the upcoming one serves a purpose. A long time ago, I noticed that a friend of mine had taken the speedometer and the rev counter off his motorcycle. I asked him if this was a final gesture of defiance to the authorities. His answer, to this day, still resonates deeply. 'No', he said. 'This is because having a needle pointing towards 105 kph and 4,520 rpm tells you nothing you would not know already if you listened to the swoosh of the wind and the pitch of your engine. You are merely being obsessed by numbers on a dial and forget to ride. This detracts from the whole experience.' This was one of these counter-intuitive moves that only the wise are capable of.
End of the detour. How does reckless road behaviour relate to my subtle bottle of Gavi, I hear you cry?
Well, simply because this is in essence the other approach. Enjoy the stuff. Flare your nostrils, try to detect the hint of cedar, the rich blackberry note or the well-structured layers. And if you can’t, life is still good, you are probably drinking with a few good friends and it is all right to simply like a wine 'just because'. To an extent, reading the bottle label and the tasting notes may even pollute your appreciation. Trust your senses. Say whatever goes through your mind. I am always surprised, when playing this game, that many of us concur. This is satisfying. We feel richer for having spotted 'overripe pineapple' ourselves.
Being born French, I am biased. Being born in the south-east, I am probably biased at Olympic level. However, hear me: the wine culture there is irreverent, loving and deeply rooted in society – there are thousands of small domains and caves coopératives selling their stuff. It goes from classy Châteauneuf-du-Pape to the local winery. But wine is like everything: people understand you do not have premier cru every day. You also enjoy your honest, simple red that you bought in bulk – yes, such things do still exist – at the caviste, where you go with your own plastic jerrycan and buy your 11% Chateau Plastique by the litre. Should Château Plastique lack a bit in length, well, just replenish your glass, because my friend, you see, it is only €2 a bottle and it has in va-va-voom what it is missing in sophistication.
Collectively, we advocate a relaxed take on wine. Wine is connected to the moment, to the friends around you. It works with a humble platter of charcuterie and bread. It is like life itself: organic, sloppy at times and often the result of happy accidents. Wine does not live in isolation. Proof? How many times did you taste something at the vineyard and found it far less titillating when you tasted it again later at home?
So yes, here we are, this is my suggestion to you: throw caution to the wind. Do not read the label, forget the tasting notes – and dismantle the rev counter on your motorcycle, if you happen to have one. Get close, dirty and personal. If you can, go to the small obscure vineyards and open all your sensory channels. There is probably a gem of an everyday wine out there that will bring you pleasure day in, day out. It could be that this slightly-too-sweet but floral rosé is definitely not going to set the world on fire, nor impress your friends, but that it strikes a chord for you. Be iconoclastic, defy conventions, allow your taste buds to claim their comfort zone.
Comrade, vote as red as you can
Yes, red. The colour of battles and revolutions, of middle-aged marketing exec sports convertibles, bad taste lace underwear and many other exciting things. Some of which come to us as mise en bouteille au château.
Here is an actual quote from graffiti near a polling station in Marseilles, long ago. It read: 'Vote as red as you can, it will always have time to fade to pink', pink being the slightly more marketable colour version of politics for the French Labour party in those days.
So, red. The ethereal ruby of a Gamay. The murky, robust red of a Cahors that tells of raw, muscular silkiness. Burgundy red – which interestingly, the French call 'Bordeaux'. The strong honest and dependable Côtes-du-Rhône crimson.
Well, there is redder than red. And this, my friends, is courtesy of French politics. Yes, French politics achieved something good, albeit mightily indirectly.
Please meet the Communard. The good old Commie.
Strangely, you have always known him. Or at least, you know members of his close family. At some stage of your life, you must have been presented with a Kir, some generic white with a dash of cassis – the ubiquitous blackcurrant liquor with the sticky screwcap, you probably have some dregs in the backwaters of your drinks cabinet. The Kir is the Communard's little, prim and proper sister. The aperitif that always comes to the fore of your mind when a jaded Parisian café waiter with halitosis asks if you are now ready to order your drinks. Kir, the beloved by default, the drink that is impossible not to like, the high school sweetheart of drinks.
A Communard is very simply the same, but in a proud and loud rouge version: a glass of red with a good dose of crème de cassis.
In the same way as pouring cassis in a good white – or, heaven forbid, a decent champagne – would elicit vigorous tut-tutting from your wine connoisseur friends, we are not suggesting you mutilate a glass of anything decent with la crème.
But say you found this bottle of Tesco’s Best of Aussie Plonk left on the kitchen worktop after the party from the night before. Or a mediocre bordeaux. Something you would be loathe to pour straight back into the sink, but which tastes a bit uncouth for your liking.
Well, this is your Communard material. A dash of cassis and your tired red is now like a bucking bronco on steroids. It takes away any nasty edges, camouflages any over-enthusiastic oak shavings, adds muscle aplenty to your drink and gives it a new lease of life.
And you can drink it while sparing a thought for the long social struggle in early-20th-century France.
Now, in a very palpable effort to make the headline have some semblance of consistency with the blurb above, I will also suggest you try my own invention: the Pink Socialist.
Yes, you saw that one coming a mile away: the same, but with rosé. Chilled well, it makes a very nice guilty pleasure. As long as your friends never hear about it.