My very dear friend Michel
was to attend my modest
gastronomic birthday party
earlier in October, together
with his wife, Michèle.
One of those malignant
incidents of life, thankfully
at a happy ending now,
prevented the couple
from joining us.
Yet, the occasion to make up for that missed opportunity has been granted us last week (see HERE), at an Indonesian restaurant in Maastricht. I was given my first birthday gift: the presence of my friends. But it didn’t come all on its own: “WINE GRAPES”, by Jancis Robinson and co-authors, was part of the pleasure.
Yesterday, the last part of this pleasant surprise was dropped in the mailbox by our postwoman. Yes, in France where so many public services go potty, the mail still keeps a round on Saturday morning. To what purpose ?
This time, it contained the dedication to the book I had requested from
Mrs. Robinson, and at a record speed. Three Cheers for La Poste.
It all started in 1986 or 1987, with me buying “Vines, Grapes & Wines” by the very same author. She wrote: “The single most interesting factor in shaping the flavour of a wine is the grape variety it is made from. It is the key to appreciation, understanding and enjoyment of every wine we drink”. This view has been challenged by many but I, for one – and with me the knowledgeable David Cobbold as well – hold it for correct. I would add, nevertheless, variety / or varieties, as blends have to be taken into consideration as well.
I had been introduced to friendly Prof. P. Galet by the late Dr. A. Parcé, and met him again at a venue organized by Francky Baert, of DIVO Belgium fame. He was gracious enough to put a dedication in my copy of his “Cépages et Vignobles de France”, on Feb. 5th 1993. But things have gone a long way since then.
DNA-polymerization and DNA-hybridization techniques have helped ampelography a great deal.
It is with definitely more confidence that Mrs. Robinson can develop her themes nowadays. Moreover, she has acquired – on the tasting and more organoleptic side of the business – a unique experience herself.
I met her for the first time under very funny circumstances. You know my almost obsessional liking of anecdotes, those savoury “hunting-stories”, and I’m going to tell you one. A well-known Belgian wine-writer – that is, in his circle – I didn’t get on well with could not attend a meeting of the “Académie du Vin”, to be held at the Lucas Carton, Senderens cooking. Just before the event was due, I was invited as a substitute. André had telephoned me with: “Mon cherrrr ami, j’ai besoin d’un bouche-trrrrou !” (true).
Many illustrious people were present and I was seated almost opposite Jancis Robinson. As the everyday English the Belgian master happens to be largely better than what our French counterpart can produce, we soon got engaged in small talk. She will probably not remember me, but I was very impressed by her polite friendliness, almost shy. Others, e.g. J. Puisais, a Mr. Bettane (or something similar), members of the Perrin family, Chantal Lecouty and the chef who joined the company in the end, were all much more demonstrative. The outstanding wines we were treated to might have contributed to the overall atmosphere.
But enough of that, let’s proceed to the book itself. It is a very impressive volume, thick as a brick – but here the allusion is to a Anderson, not Robinson. It describes, in an alphabetical order, close to 1.400 cultivars, from most countries you can think of (and even some others), bearing in mind their parentage, a very important feature in my eyes. You also find phylogenetic diagrams, drawings of the bunches but no snapshots (why?) and, of course, gustatory considerations.
Did you know such a variety as “André” ? I must show this entry to my friend Dominé soon, as we'll convene in no time at all.
Did you mix up Barbera and Barbarella ? I will ask Jane about it ... when (if) our roads cross.
Did you think Caprettone was a X-mas cake of the Lombardians ? Did you think Cereza was the owner of Quinta do Fogo, first brought to public attention by Dirk Niepoort who was making the estate’s wines at that time ? And what about « Du pain, du vin, du Chambourcin » ? Did you think « Dunkelfelder » was a German swearword and that some Emir used to rule Kuweit ?
More seriously, I haven’t deeply scrutinized the “malvasia” section yet, this is really a Gordian knot. Here, in my petty surroundings, la/le malvoisie can be anything from bourboulenc, pinot gris, macabeu, clairette and rolle to tourbat ...
I’m very sorry to see there’s no such thing as a “Luc” variety - in olives, they do have the Lucques - even though there is a Lucie Kuhlmann. I already knew of a Lucy Jordan, especially her eyes, courtesy of Marianne Faithful.
Anyway, thank you Michel & Michèle for this beautiful and useful work,
and thanks to Jancis Robinson for her nice dedication :
Coume Majou will remember her words of encouragement.
Ref: Wine Grapes, by J. Robinson, J. Harding & J. Vouillamoz
Penguin Books Ltd, 2012