WINNER OF THE GOURMAND AWARDS 2015 – BEST FRENCH WINE BOOK, UK
Grab a bottle, and a glass. Pop it open. Pour. Hold it up to the light and see how the colour dances under it. See how bright it is, how it seems to generate its own light. Swirl it, and don’t worry if you spill a bit. Everyone spills a bit swirling. Anyone who claims not to spill a bit swirling is a big fat liar.
Have a sniff; get your nose in. Take a sip. Savour it for a moment, let it fill the mouth.
I hope it’s good. I hope you like it. There’s no point in drinking wine that you don’t like. Wine that you like? Wine that you love? Sometimes it’s hard to find a reason not to drink it.
Have another sip.
Wine is a happy accident. Its journey from vine to bottle can be fraught. The people who accompany it on that journey are human; fallible. They’ve been picking grapes since 6 in the morning, or working the press since 6.30. They get hurt, they sweat, they bleed. They don’t finish until late and need a beer at the end of their day.
When I started working in the wine trade, one of the first things my boss taught me was that the more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know. It’s an adage that applies to countless fields, but in wine its truth is viscerally apparent: you can even taste it. And it wasn’t until I started making the stuff myself that I realised just how little I knew.
I’m going to tell you a story, a story about wine, the place it comes from and the people who make it. It’s a true story.
Get your nose in there again. Has it changed at all? What’s different? Take a sip, a bigger one. Let it linger.
True stories about wine are few and far between. There are countless texts, mired in diagrams and tasting notes that pay paragraph-service (like lip service, but textual) to 'methods' and 'wine-making philosophies', maps of detailed soil strata and relief lines. No one needs another one of those, though there are some brilliant ones.
So this isn’t one of those. This is about both history and now. About folks who started off as blues guitarists, historians, or selling farm equipment. About a place that has seen crusades, and war, that sits right at the border of countries, land and sea. This is a story of wine, a portrait of some of its people and a biography of the place it comes from.
Finish the glass. The last sip is always the best.
Collioure and Banyuls sit near the edge, literally and figuratively. Spain is spitting distance away. Several of the small roads that cross the border bear no notice that you are doing so. As far as landscape goes, it can be difficult to determine where one begins and the other ends. Catalan is spoken on both sides, though less so these days. Legally, they belong to France. Emotionally, they are Catalan. In the past, they were ruled by both sides and kingdoms that exist now only in history books. They support Barcelona in the football but they play only rugby, union and league. Vines are planted mostly on terraced slopes, though in some places they’ll stick them on any spare piece of land. Higher up the hills, there’s decay, as the remains of the terraces and drywall slowly rejoin the hillside and the vines give way to scrub and brush. The two towns, Collioure and Banyuls, also provide the name for the local wine appellations. While they are part of the greater region of the Roussillon, they have been distinguished as warranting a separate classification. Dry wines from the region are classed as Collioure, whilst fortified sweet wines are classed as Banyuls.
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