The joy of the desultory

(by peter)

The joy of wine can often be found in the most unexpected of places.

Take this video, for example.

People often make the mistake of thinking that the world of wine is an earnest but largely humourless and unimaginative place, peopled by sour-faced paysans, hard-nosed salesmen and pretentious quaffers.

But a brilliantly kitsch video, starring an Anthea Turner look-alike in pixie boots and a tap-shaped USB, which downloads wine direct from your computer?

Comic genius.

(Don’t worry about the French voice-over. You don’t need to understand it – and it wouldn’t be nearly so funny without it.)

On the subject of leftfield visions of wine, my first book, Wineries with Style, was on the architecture of wineries around the world.

While I was doing the research for the book, I remember being ushered in for an audience with one of Burgundy’s most respected – and intimidating – winemakers, Anne Claude Leflaive of Domaine Leflaive.

I remember thinking at the time: why does she want to see me..? Never a lady for inane politesse, Mme Leflaive abruptly enquired what exactly I was doing there. I explained I was writing a book on the architecture of wineries.

‘Yes, that’s what I’d heard,’ she mused. ‘But I just needed to hear it from you to be sure you were actually doing such an odd thing.’

I’m glad to say that, since I published the book, a fair few more have emerged on the subject, in recognition of the slew of stunning new wineries that have been built over the last decade.

Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Santiago Calatrava, Richard Rogers, Zaha Hadid, Rafael Moneo, Ricardo Bofill, Herzog & de Meuron – all have had made a contribution to the world of wine in recent times. They follow on from a distinguished list that includes Gustave Eiffel, Puig i Cadafalch, and the great Andrea Palladio himself.

It’s clearly a subject that is catching people’s attention. Topical testament to which is this article in The Independent by Jay Merrick, which also features a very nice plug for my book (thanks, Jay!)

Most such features and books take an overtly architectural viewpoint – the language either studiously florid or diligently dry. With Wineries, I try to make the book a bit more of a story, looking at the old and the new, as well as the people and places that make sense of it all.

And, like with our Back to Basics course, there are plenty of odd little factoids to humour the inquisitive – such as the fact that the Old English term for body was an architectural term, full of imaginative power: ban-hus, or the ‘bone house’.

A little piece of prose turned poetry – the naked human frame made architecture.

I don’t know why, but little things like that really make me happy.

Anyway, plug over. But, as a parting shot on the subject of architecture, Jay’s article discusses Richard Rogers’ Protos winery in Ribera, which Susie visited recently. Her view was that it was very impressive – cavernous, dramatic in a concrete starship kind of way. But also verging on the ruinous – budgeted at 18 million Euros, it apparently ended up coming in at nearer 40 million…

Finally on the subject of the unexpected: a 2003 vintage champagne by Bollinger.

Why unexpected? Well, 2003 was the heat-wave year, when very few champagne houses released a vintage. (Ordinarily, vintage champagne is only made in years when the growing season’s conditions produce relatively well-balanced grapes; in 2003, the heat meant acidities were low and sugars high – never a good thing in champagne.)

But Bollinger wanted to do something different, so they created a unique label and produced small quantities of what came to be 2003 by Bollinger.

We opened it with some friends and drank it overlooking the sun-kissed English Channel.

The verdict was mixed. It was interesting to try, certainly enjoyable to drink, but lacked that polished, invigorating structure and freshness that characterises Bollinger’s best wines.

Susie and I – not entirely contrary to form – disagreed.

She thought it was, surprisingly, still a little young, a bit raw. I thought it showed some pleasant evolution in its buttery, bready flavours but lacked the acidity and freshness to be great, as well as to age and improve significantly.

So I guess we’ll have to try it again, for argument’s sake, in another five or ten year’s time. But ultimately we both rated it the same: 6.5/10. A decent, pleasant, faithful representation of its vintage and house: hardly thrilling.

Nonetheless, an enjoyable taste of the unexpected.