WWC24 – Fermé, by Zoe Fisher

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In this WWC24 entry, wine-bar owner Zoe Fisher writes about the unconventional experience of drinking a bottle of Meursault at speed. For more great wine writing, see our guide to this year's competition.

Zoe Fisher writes Zoe Fisher is the co-owner of The Grape Escape Wine Bar and Merchant in Cheltenham. Likes – Chardonnay. Dislikes - not being fluent in French.


We were happy to duck under the first red and white striped awning that came into view. It had been a long drive to Beaune and the February afternoon was raw. Later, there would be dinner - jambon persillé and oeufs en meurette, boeuf bourguignon or poulet de Bresse. But first, a drink.

Inside, the wine bar was a sleepy mid-week winter scene. A few locals leant against high tables and the proprietor polished good glasses to a high shine. 

'Bonjour,' we called out, using up a significant proportion of our French vocabulary. Taking a table by the window, we reached for the wine list. This heavy spiral-bound document was a 'who's who' of Burgundy. Here were wines from the Cote de Beaune and the Cote de Nuits, from Puligny, Chassagne and Saint Aubin. Here were the names of the crus and clos, the lieu dits, the famous vignerons and fifth generation domaines. And here was the Chardonnay we had been dreaming of since Calais.

We felt a warm smug glow when our Meursault selection gained the proprietor’s discreet nod of approval. The uncorking, tasting, and pouring ceremony completed, he gave a short and enthusiastic speech about the bottle, in French of course. Then he retreated to his glassware on the other side of the bar.

My husband looked at me expectantly; after all, I was the one with the G.C.S.E. French qualification.

At fifteen, I could craft a lengthy letter to a pen pal, giving full details of my age and appearance, my hobbies, my friends and my guinea pig. I could hold a somewhat stilted conversation with a doctor or mechanic, both professions played by peers. I could list, with a high level of grammatical accuracy, ten items commonly found in a lady's handbag. Now, twenty years later, i cast my mind back to Madame Craygoe's classroom and the tinny sound of the Tricolore Listening Exam Practice cassette tape.

'He says the bar is closing in half an hour.'

My husband raised one eyebrow, managing to look both sceptical and disappointed at the same time. 

'Yes, absolutely. Fermé. Une demi-heure. We'd better be quick.'

It's not easy to drink a beautiful bottle of Burgundy at speed; it felt sort of sacrilegious. We just about managed it though, topping up our glasses as soon as they emptied. Several times I noticed the proprietor glancing in our direction and giving an almost indiscernible shake of the head. He was obviously keen for us to leave so he could shut up shop, although I thought he looked a little sorrowful as we paid our bill twenty-five minutes later. 

Back out in the cold air of the market square, our conversation was of the wine. We spoke of its reductive nose and slight smoky note, its hint of honeyed almond brioche, the suggestion of stone fruits cooked over hot coals. We talked of its promise of a buttery mid-palate and citrus finish that had the potential to linger longer than we had. Yet, we agreed, it was a wine that was tightly wound, tense, restrained, and coiled like a spring. You might even call it closed. If only we'd had time to let it breathe, to unwind, just for half an hour.

Quel dommage.

Image by Constantine Johnny via Getty Images.