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Monday, 5 April 2010

Wine. Oh!


By Andrew Hamilton
Junto Staff Writer Bio
If I had the tastebuds to back up a wine journal, the operation in the attached photographs would be on Page One.

This lady behind the table is selling Languedoc-Rousillon red out of a plastic hose. I'd have to mount both pictures in my wine journal because in one you can see the hose, and in the other you can see the wine tanks in the back of the van.

The heavy-set guy in the brown coat is tipping the dregs out of a plastic faux-wood barrel into a 1.5 litre plastic juice bottle.  You're supposed to bring your own bottle, but to his right you can see the cardboard cartons full of the empty bottles the wine-sellers brought in case you forgot. 

Next to the old lady hunching over her shopping cart in both pictures you can see bottles that she has filled, the sunlight shining through. 

I didn't buy any of the nouveau today, but I filled a bottle from the same cellars two years ago and it tasted... thin.  But it did the trick. 

It went quite well with an evening meal of gros pain, cacaouetes-salés, a 150-gramme mélange d'olives vertes provençal et au pistou, and two or three pétits-suisses with sugar-lumps pressed into them and then whipped with a fork until the sugar dissolved.  To tell you the truth, that last course might have gone better with a Sancerre, but you play the hand as the terroir deals it.

Languedoc-Rouissilon, which until the publicity agents were called in recently was just called Rouissilon, is the ground between about Montpellier and Perpignan, noted in the past for the production of bulk French merlot, the kind of stuff that used to come with those stars molded into the glass of the returnable bottles, bouteilles consignées, the ones with those green plastic caps dimpled into the necks and covered with foil.  That stuff cost one franc per liter bottle in '67, which was about 20 cents American.  It was the Harvard and MIT of my wine education.

Now there's been a grand program of classing up the wines here.  I'm not sure how much of it is being done by the vintners themselves, and how much by whatever is the French equivalent of Madison Avenue.  In Perpignan, for example, they have installed sturdy glassed-over street tourist information billboards explaining the various varieties, quite professionally done but I could only guess the program's relationship to realities in the barrel.

Did you ever hear of the wine war, I think it was just before the first World War? Prices dropped to a level that would not sustain the industry, and the growers all over the region protested, gathering finally in Narbonne where the affair came to a head.  If you walk around Narbonne today the most interesting sight is the series of  tourist information tableaux following the geography and events of the wine riots.  I stayed there two or three nights last year, and remember only that it was a proud event for the area. 

According to the placards, the wine mob threw the mayor of Narbonne into the River Robin, which is a beautiful little stream that runs through the town. I believe he was fished out before drowning, and with a few loyal troopers made a stand at the city hall until the national gendarmerie came in relief.  This is an impressionistic memory of the events described in random posters around town, Richard, you'll have to google the rest.

On a different cultural tack, I recently spent a few days in Marrakech.  Flew there out of Seville for $37.00 on Ryanair, and let me say the Seville is the nicest city I've ever been in with the possible exception of Nîmes.  The Spanish towns I have been in are in general superior.  A large part of that may be that forty years under Franco left the kids with a genetic hesitancy to spray graffitti all over the central city like they do everywhere else, but Seville is something extra.

I intended to take the overnight train from Marrakech up to Tangiers, which is only about $75 for a single sleeper compartment, cheap considering that you don't have to pay for a hotel that night and the Morocco rail web-site claims they give you paper towels and breakfast.  However, the rains that had poured down on Lisbon and Seville the previous two weeks had blown out the train lines south of Tangiers, and the only thing to do was jump on Ryanair to Reus, which is the next suitable airport down the coast from Barcelona.

Ryanair and Easyjet seem to have affected a lot of places badly. They filled Marrakesh up with Europeans and English, in March, and I believe they are responsible for the same effect on the Algarve and various coasts of Spain, and they have contributed to the ongoing Anglicization of Provençe, since you can get to, say, Nîmes from Luton or Liverpool for a week-end for next to nothing if you hit it right.