RECENTLY, I received a press release from the body in Beaune responsible for promoting the wines of Burgundy around the world, giving details of the material that they distribute to primary schools, explaining the part played by wine in the world — and, I suppose, in that of many of their families.
I immediately to look for something we found in the attic of the house we bought when I worked in Burgundy, more than 40 years ago.
This was the exercise book of Léon Arvier, the grandfather of the previous owner of the house, dated June 1905. On Monday 26 June, dictation was the task, and its title was “La Meilleure Boisson” — “the best drink”. This began: “Water is the best natural drink.” Two weeks later, the dictation topic was: “The Effect of Alcohol on Muscles”, and this began: “Far from supporting muscular strength, as is generally believed, alcohol has the most fatal influence, even on the most robust of people.”
This was the message at a time when the temperance movement around the world was burgeoning; but whoever the teacher was in this school, in a small village that relied on wine production for its very existence, he or she must have had a strong personality. This was shortly after the time that Louis Pasteur had written: “Wine is the healthiest of all drinks.”
The New Year is a time when some of us make resolutions to forswear alcohol, if only for the month of January. I have not yet come to any decision on this matter, but, on past form, I will almost certainly be weak-willed, and this might apply to many others who, like myself, have been bombarded from the beginning of the Christmas season with offers of cases of wine at half-price from Laithwaites, Naked Wines, Majestic, and Avery’s.
Here are some wines I have enjoyed over the holiday season, generally paying the full price: from Tanners of Shrewsbury, two New Zealand wines, the white, Kumeu River Pinot Gris 2014 (£10.40), and the red Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir 2014 (£40.40). From Waitrose, the white Brazilian Chardonnay 2016, from the Aurora Co-operative in the Serra Gaucha (Cowboy Hills) (£8.79), and the red Chilean Errazuriz Coastal Series Pinot Noir 2014 from the Aconcagua Valley 2014 (£10.99).
From ASDA, the Cave de Perrières Sancerre 2015 (£9.99); from Sainsbury’s, the Alsace Gewürztraminer 2015 from the Turckheim Co-operative (£8), the Californian Blackburn & James Lodi Shiraz 2015 (£8.99); and from Waitrose, the Montgras Reserva Carmenère 2015 from Chile (£8.99).
The nature of the wine market has meant that retailers have been slow to raise their prices as a result of the fall of the pound, although one positive result of Donald Trump’s election is that sterling has risen slightly against both the dollar and the euro. A very small harvest in France will also have a negative effect. If you can afford to, buy now.
Whatever your resolution is for the New Year, I hope that it is happy and healthy.