I am reminded, as I take my first sip, of the cellar at the Grand Hotel in Grahamstown (in South Africa; the country, not the region, which, by the way, inhabitants refer to as Southern Africa). For those who do not know, this treasure of wines, under low wooden-beam ceilings of various heights which leads one through passages ever more meandering and dusty as one explores its depths, was the largest of its kind in the whole of Africa, a fact proudly touted by its proprietor at the time, a Mr Reich, of large girth and fine palate.
For the same price as one used to pay for four kilograms of apples, one could purchase a two or three year-old bottle of the finest cabernet sauvignon South Africa has to offer. Add another couple of kilograms’ worth of apples, and the possibility of reaching cabernet sauvignon heaven became not simply a strong possibility, but an absolute certainty. I liked Mr Reich because he indulged my aspirations – or my pretentions – of becoming a connoisseur. He seemed to like me, although why a young scruffy, vegetarian feminist with an odd wardrobe, and of indeterminate origin, should appeal is beyond me. We certainly had some interesting conversations about wine.
When I purchased a second raffle ticket at a charity dinner held in October, I only did so after casting my eye, once well-practiced in the art of reading documents upside down in corporate offices, over the numbers in the ticket book being waved about in the air. Oh well, says I, I’ll take one, seeing as it is my lucky number seven. The prize I received was a 2005 Corte Real Cabernet Sauvignon y Tempranillo. I am told by aficionados that this product of Spain is very good. Indeed, the pictures of unidentified Spanish royalty on the label do impress, as does the discreet bottle number: L-0680. My ignorance of these matters is surpassed only by my eager anticipation. I shall be saving that for Christmas, I said.
We arrive home in the biting cold after midnight Mass, too uplifted and exhilarated to go bed straight away. I suggest a glass of wine. Out come two silver goblets. My beloved, after tasting, gives the go-ahead. This is purely ceremonial; I am going to drink it anyway. We are ensconced under blankets on the sofa. The complex sounds of King’s College choir achieving televised Michaelmas excellence accompany that first sip. It is everything I hoped it would be – and possesses an additional dimension I could swear is not of this world. We continue the drinking of this excellent wine with a Christmas lunch starter of hot asparagus and mushrooms in garlic butter, green Algarvian olives on the side. Heady stuff, indeed.
I shall quote John Keats, because he said it best,
“Oh, for a draft of vintage, that hath been cool’d a long age
In the deep-delvèd earth…”
I saved the wine for this special occasion, it is true. The rest was unplanned – the way I like it.
Merry Christmas to all.
Note: the word or phrase in bold appeared in my previous blog.