Last Thursday was Ascension. A holiday in France, with which – as a card-carrying heathen – I was previously unacquainted.

To mark the occasion (really, to mark the holiday) Kim ascended a ladder to the branches of our cherry tree that bore some early ripened fruits. Not much but enough for a cherry sauce to go with Magret de Canard for dinner.

With this we opened a bottle of the most expensive wine we had here in Benais (we had already drunk the Roumier Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru 2002): A Clos des Papes Châteauneuf 1998.

This was, I think, the first en primeur wine I ever bought. The offer arriving shortly after having sampled the 1989 at one of Ralph’s classes. I think the wine worked out – after taxes and delivery a year later – about £18 a bottle for a full case of 12, and I decided to keep it for ten years. However when drinking time came I discovered it was worth £600 a case (£860 now, I just checked!), and I hesitated. In fact I was offered £500 for the case which I declined. I would have sold half, but I wanted to taste it, so I left it in the cellar.


I was reminded of the wine a couple of years ago by this note from Matt Walls in Decanter:  “Very much plum in colour, this has aromas of spices, sweet earth and a touch of black cherry amongst the strawberry and plum fruits. It’s silky on the full-bodied palate, with sweet fruit and some gentle balsamic notes. It’s remarkably tannic still for its age, with good acidity, and even at nearly 20 years of age nothing is sticking out or ungainly – it displays impressive balance.(98 points).  So I started broaching the case – for special occasions and gifts.

Here are my thoughts:

Clos des Papes Châteauneuf 1998
This wine was made by Paul Avril from 40 hectares divided into 24 distinct plots. This division enables to control the maturity of the berries during harvest and to mix several grape varieties (65% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah, 5% others) and different terroirs. Low yield (around 20 hl/ha) ensure quality wine on the Burgundian side of the appellation’s styles.
Aromas of plum fruit, plum tomatoes, some cherry and hints of fennel, liquorice and a lily note. The palate is wonderfully supple and still fresh, with tarry and sweet fruit elements offset with a touch of pepper and, yes, balsamic! The tar and elegance had a rather Barolo feel to it, with very classy and savoury tannins persisting through many changes of emphasis. This plum – balsamic – savoury line offset the duck with spicy cherry sauce perfectly… ascension indeed! Châteauneuf is not the most elegant of wines but this is a lovely example.

More wine in 10 days. Watch out for (/avoid/contribute to…) a Pandemic Politics Post in between…

À Bientôt

Hi everyone (I promise this post is only about Wine!)

On Friday – Brenda, Carrie, Helen, Kim and I were joined by Ann, John and Jenny on Zoom for what seems set to be a fortnightly varied wine opening and discussion. The theme this time was Right Bank Claret.

I was great to see everyone and to “share” some claret, although each of us only sampled one of the five bottles open… The bottles all were – at some level – Saint Emilion: 2 Grands Crus; a satellite; 2 Grands Crus Classés. They also varied in age from a 1999, through 2009 and 2013, to two 2015s.

What follows is a sort-of note. Based on others’ observations and general thoughts about St Emilion in particular.

The 5 wines were:
Château Clos Villemaurine St Emilion Grand Cru 2009
Château Du Rocher Cuvée Antonius Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2015
Château Grand Corbin Despagne Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé 2013
Château Laniote Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé 1999
Château Guibeau Puisseguin-Saint Emilion 2015

The first general thing I noticed in our conversations about these wines was how often terms were repeated concerning the wines – cherry, red fruit, liquorice, grip, food friendly, pleasurable…. It stands to reason that these wines, whatever their exact age and provenance, should have much in common. All are between 60% and 80% Merlot, all have some Cabernet Franc. All use mostly wood barrique aging [the Antonius and the Puisseguin have about 30% (Concrete and stainless steel) or 40% (stainless steel) respectively] – with a proportion of new oak in the 20%-50% range.

However the key differences – as is so often the case with very similar wines vinified in similar ways – might (IMO) be the site and the vintage. Not surprisingly the two Grands Crus Classés are in the best sites, on the predominantly limestone plateau North-West of the town, on the road towards Pomerol: The Laniote only about 3 kms out, the Corbin twice as far, nearly at Pomerol. The Villemaurine is also on the plateau, just at the North-East edge of town. The other two wines are from lesser sites: Puisseguin is about 6 kms North East and Guibeau is at the furthest edge of that – another 4 kms away; Antonius is 6 kms South-East towards Castillon where the soil is sandier and the exposure warmer – both these wines have organic credentials though. So just on those facts one might expect more complexity and age-ability from the limestone based wines, and more acidity and a cooler profile from Puisseguin. a softer and hotter profile from the Antonius. Was that so?

Helen and Brenda reported plummy and woody notes on the Villemaurine  – liquorice, slightly dried fruit elements – raisins? A medium body and herby fennel (!?) notes later.  The wine is 60% Merlot 40% Cabernet Franc. Scored 17.5 by it’s reviewers.

Kim and I started the Antonius with food too and we found cherry and liquorice notes, loads of red fruit and spices with a liquorice tinge. Grip and length with the food but quite linear and more acidity than tannin. Actually the tannins were rather light and compared to many 2015s (too vibrant acidity so far in many cases) so was the acidity. Warm too and 14% alcohol, so a bit one-note. This is 70% Merlot 15% Franc and 15% Sauvignon. I think the Franc is vinified in concrete vats. Its lack of variety and slightly new-world simplicity limited our score to 14.5.

Ann and John reported boot polish (!) liquorice, chocolate and vanilla on the Corbin (75% Merlot 24% Franc 1% Sauvignon). Grip and class though on a difficult year…. (I recently saw a list putting it at the bottom of the 2000s vintages so far. I would have 3 or 4 years below it for St Emilion). They had the wine at 15.5

Carrie also opened the Laniote with food and already identified cherry fruit with herby notes on the nose and plum, liquorice and mushrooms on the palate. Later a cedar note on this 80% Merlot wine (15% Franc & 5% Sauvignon). Carrie loved this wine and gave it 17.5 too.

Jenny identified smooth red fruit – cherry and plum – on the nose. WIth a sharp acidity (I think of this as a early feature of 2015 French reds…), freshness and depth, darker fruit palate of the wine. This is 75% Merlot. 15% Sauvignon & 10% Franc and another 14% alcohol wine. Jenny scored it at 15.

One of the most interesting features is how often (unprompted, as written before we convened) cherry and liquorice were mentioned. One has these flavours in claret, to be sure, but seeing them so prominent is more associated with Italian wines. I think the group all really do like Right Bank Claret, but with Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé pushing £40 for a good year, it’ll remain an occasional treat at that level I think. That said there are many good wines to be had at around the £20 mark in the UK, if you pick with care…

In two weeks – Cabernet Franc…

Talking of which… I walked through the vineyards of Benais again last week, on the same walk as a month ago (reported on April 20th) so I decided to take a look at the development of the vines in the three parcels about half way up Grand Mont.

You will remember the three parcels had different round cover strategies (mown grass alternate rows / ploughed / grassy); and also different different pruning and therefore stages of (bud and leaf development: about average / double average / only just budding). Now all had set tiny bunches of fruit.  The parcel with shorter stems and average leaf coverage had nearly caught up in leaf coverage with the longer stemmed parcel. The fruit set was similar for these two groups with less but slightly fuller bunches on the parcel with less leaf growth. The grassy parcel with very short stems and only sparse leaf development had also very sparse fruit bunches – you can see from the fact  that the magnification of the third image is about double the other two. Now I imagine there are too many bunches on the first two sets of vines, so maybe a green harvest later will equalise the grape yield… meanwhile the third parcel clearly has less intervention…. watch this space.

Coincidentally, a couple of days later,  we took a walk over to the East side of Benais and walked through Vaumoreau – probably the other most famous Benais lieu-dit. The tiny bunches there seemed a little behind the first two Grand Mont parcels, as large overall but with smaller looser packed berries… especially lower down in the sandier soil. I don’t know yet what this means – if anything – but a fascinating thing to keep tabs on… more in a month or so….

More wine tasting notes in a couple of weeks – keep safe

Bon Courage

 

Warning to Wine Lovers – This is not a wine post, but concerns the UK response to the COVID pandemic.

 

Watching our beloved leader speak last night, one was struck by two things. One issue was the quality of the graphics: so amateurish a O-level student would be embarrassed and so puerile that one felt patronised. The second, far more important, was the content. Obviously, as usual, a vague and inadequate level of detail to this outline of a plan of a road-map, perhaps some will be added later, but the headline announcement – “actively try to return to work”.

This seemed out-of-kilter with the general tone (if the speech could be said to have a consistent tone), and probably dangerous. One wondered if it was in fact a bone thrown to the extreme right who’s views were expressed only last week by Sir Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 committee. He called for the removal of “arbitrary rules and limitations on freedom as quickly as possible” and suggesting the public had been “a little too willing to stay at home”. Wow! – one imagines SIr Graham pines for the days of coal barons in the 1920s, he clearly isn’t at home in the 2020s. This message seems to raise a lot of question. Under the Employment Rights Act 1996 a worker can cease work in cases of serious danger. So if a worker views it is not safe to work what happens: to their furlough payments; to their employment; who decides on safety,,, I forsee a million legal cases…

Clearly there needs first to be a legally binding set of agreed measures required, and inspected, to declare a workplace safe before a return to work there. Boris has gone off half cocked again…

Overall the effect of the broadcast was to re-enforce the idea, now built up over a long list of issues (herd immunity; testing development; PPE;  face-coverings in public; suppression of the Cygnus report; testing numbers and other statistical manipulation; selective use of science; opacity on their thinking and reasons; lack of apologies for mistakes; claiming “apparent success”…) that the government has never quite taken all this seriously enough and never had a proper plan. They’re making it up as they go along.

The net affect is that the UK entered lockdown a week after France, and is now – if we’re lucky and prepared to take a few risks (why would we?) – three weeks behind being able to relax to the same degree. Laughable – if it wasn’t costing tens of thousands of lives!

Following the Science – following the populist right wing playbook more like.

As someone with some expertise in the field I find the changing message on statistics incompatible with the idea of “following the science”. This has been most vivid in considering UK Government’s performance compared with other countries. Quite clearly the government’s main, first and primary aim is to avoid assessment of their performance, witness their claims to have “taken the right decisions at the right time always guided by the best science”.

At the start of the pandemic when we were a couple of weeks later than (say) Italy and had the lowest curve on the graph these graphs of national death tolls were exhibited at every daily briefing. Without caveat. Now we are above Italy (with probably at least two more weeks to add) and everyone else in Europe the graphs have been eliminated. They have been replaced by mantra of “the unreliability of International comparisons” citing statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter. I say “citing”, however no-one closely checked the Professor’s reasoning and actual positions and just quoted a sentence out of a Guardian article – “traducing” might be the more appropriate word.

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, wrote that data was so uneven that categorical answers as to whether one country was marginally worse or better than another would be some time away. This was seized on by the Government to mean that International comparisons were impossible, and referenced by Schapps, Hancock, Raab and Johnson… So much that Sir David had to write to the Prime Minister asking them to desist from using his article in this way.

SIr David said, “I was talking only about relative comparisons between the bad countries (Italy, Belgium, UK, Spain and France) I wasn’t saying we can’t make any comparisons at all. Clearly it’s important to note that that group is way above, in terms of mortality: Germany, Austria, Portugal, Denmark, Norway.. who have low mortality rates. If only to say what’s happened in this country is not inevitable… Then I found I was being quoted to support the claim that we can’t make any International comparisons… So I tweeted that this wasn’t what I meant.”

Sir David also felt that government briefings were embarrassing and “not trustworthy communication of statistics”, but  “number theatre… which seems to be co-ordinated by a No. 10 communications team. Rather than genuinely trying to inform people. I just wish the data was brought together and presented by people who really knew its strengths and limitations and could treat the audience with some respect.”

Hear hear!!

Before this row the government declared it thought the best measure of death rates would be per capita excess deaths. Now there are statistics for that, collected on the same basis for all European countries, about three to four weeks behind the fact. The EU (mustn’t mention them) published figures last week: England (the other 3 UK nations are cited separately and all lower) is 23rd going from the lowest (other measures have us in the worst 3 or 4 countries, only Poland, Romania and Bulgaria do worse in more than one way of measuring). Bad news, not reported or addressed by the government.

There are other examples of selective use of science too. It has been in the public domain since March that cloth masks may do little to protect a virus free wearer when in contact with the virus, but has up to 90% reduction in an infected wearer’s infectiousness to others. The government concentrated and quoted only the first part of these findings and has not made an effort to distribute masks. In France they are freely available (and often free – I have two personally delivered to me by the commune of Thursday), and entry to public transport and shops can be made conditional on wearing them. It seems the “science” used selectively to obscure the fact we haven’t enough masks, and have no plan or realistic likelihood of having enough!

Testing – what can I say??? The claim that posting 40,000 masks out is a test conducted is completely laughable, and cannot hide the reality of testing only being at 60,000 – 70,000. It’s all noise to hide the fact that we haven’t enough tests. Despite “test test test” advice in February!  Also we have not yet had that most basic information: a survey sample test to estimate the spread of the disease. Why – the government only got round to commissioning it on April 17th.

Finally Care-homes. Actually criminally neglected, despite claims that PPE need there was not easily envisaged. Of course it all was envisaged though – along with 26 recommendations that weren’t even discussed with care home providers – in the Cygnus report. Now Cygnus in the public domain, but not due to freedom of information – but to investigative journalism.

I could cite so many examples, the science isn’t being presented fully and without prejudice but used to justify or obscure the government’s (in)actions. So all is presented as the government doing its best in difficult circumstance and deserving of praise. What may be true is that – subject to the blinkers of their extreme neo-liberal ideology – they may be doing their best.

What a frightening thought that is!

Until 2 weeks time for more on the pandemic- the next post on this site will be wine related:  Right Bank Claret!

 

Bon Courage

 

Hi everyone (I promise this post is only about Wine!)

Brenda, Carrie, Helen, Kim and I were together on zoom last night opening – in our several locations – three bottles of white Burgundy. This is an interesting experience, rather removed from the wine-experience of doing that jointly, all in the same place with ability to make direct personal comparisons. However not really that far removed from the conviviality of a joint tasting, as little is so social or as life-affirming as wine!

What follows is a sort-of note. Based on others’ observations and general thoughts about White Burgundy.

The three wines were:
Saint-Véran “Le Vernay” 2017 (Burrier), from the Mâcon
Givry “Champ Pourot” 2010 (Ragot), from the Côte Chalonnaise;
Pernand-Vergelesses 2006 (Rollin) from the Côte de Beaune.

White Burgundy, of course shows signs of it’s Chardonnay origin, but is usually distinguishable from other examples by purer but more restrained fruit, higher acidity, more restrained (if any) oak and more minerality and complexity. Within that general observation I would add some distinctions between the four main areas: Chablis; Côte de Beaune; Côte Chalonnaise and Mâcon. Chablis is usually leaner and has a steely quality and more pronounced acidity, the Beaune wines are richer and can have a nutty elements, Chalonnaise wines are lighter and have a return to more prominent acidity; Mâcon is richer again but with that coming from open fruit more than the oily or buttery richness of – say – a Mersault. To complicate this some Beaune appellations, and Pernand is one – have a distinctly cooler micro climates and hence higher acidity and slower development.

The Saint-Véran was sourced in the UK for about £16.50; the other two bought in France where cellar-door prices were about €14. UK prices for current vintages (’17 or ’18) are about £23 (Givry) and £26 (PV).

As far as I can see all the wines are produced on limestone-rich soil: Limestone and clay with a little granite for the St V; brown soil from old limestone and clay-limestone for the Givry; shallow clay-limestone lying on white limestone marls (PV). The Givry has 50% old oak in the aging –  the PV is all oak but just 10% new.

First impressions of the Saint-Véran showed a fresh and fruity wine with tropical notes and some mineral, even flinty hints with good but not over-prominent citrus acidity. Later, in a bigger glass the wine opened to show more depth and less tropical elements and more lime acidity. The grower speaks of white fruits (pear, peach), and the white flowers (acacia), but although we mentioned peach in the discussion little of the other flavours. Probably better in a year or two. Helen and Brenda gave the wine 16/20.

The Givry, when purchased, was notable for a very strong, broad, lime – almost Riesling-like – acidity with almond hints. That persists with another 7 years of age but is less prominent as the wine has developed more richness: fudge, oily elements and notes that recall melon and, later, kiwi. The acidity is still high with a grapefruit edge at the end. In a larger glass the acidity regains strength but a warm, mineral food-demanding late palate is more striking. This still has time and Kim and I gave this 15.5/20, though I would revise that up a notch.

The PV has citrus, mango and Chamomile (!) on the nose, although the grower suggest this wine offers apricot, acacia, hawthorn in its youth, maybe these are younger lighter notes along the same lines? On the palate, roundness, fudgy richness  where citrus acidity and minerality are well integrated and balance the mango, even slight pineapple fruit. Fully mature now and scored at 18/20 by Carrie.

I think it fair to say these wines performed well, demonstrating their value and specific origins within a family resemblance of good Chardonnay. It was lovely to see everyone and taste wine like this in this setting, and we are keen to repeat it in a couple of weeks – that time with a red.

Keep safe and Bon Courage!

 

I’ve decided that, for the time being, I’m going to separate my thoughts on COVID 19 (and the UK Government; the State and the Lock-down) from my thoughts on Wine. Although some over-lap I think the readership is distinct. I have received considerable encouragement on the “political” postings but most of it by people not that interested in the wine. However to a lesser extent I have a feeling that some think the topic misplaced in a Wine blog, or at least is having too negative a slant. So the post subjects will occur alternately:

Anyway… the following concerns the lock-down. There will be some recriminations to be sure, but also thoughts on the prospects for the future so a charge of just hindsight cannot be sustained.

 

Until now. most days I have been watching the BBC 6.00 News (of course at 7.00 here in France). I have had to give up because I spend the whole half-hour near to, or actual in, tears. Like many I am affected by the terrible tales of human loss; the inspiring tales of sacrifice and fortitude by doctors, nurses, care workers and community volunteers – and am moved beyond containment by the stories that combine both in the lamentable loss of those very ordinary but so exceptional citizens. But beyond and because of that I am precipitated into tears of rage when these overwhelmingly poignant accounts are followed by the feeble, inadequate and evasive statements by the government. It is impossible to envisage ever forgetting what seems their clear negligence of their citizens, and equally impossible to ever forgive these donkeys who hide behind the lions they’re using as cannon fodder!

I was reminded of this just the other day as I was thinking, both practically and politically, of the prospects of easing the current restrictions and carrying on with – or more likely forging a new – life. I learnt from a certain Mr. Raab (remember him: he once resigned in protest to an agreement he himself had negotiated, apparently he’s now the UK’s number 2 – a heartbeat away from executive power! – gulp) that the government has 5 tests for proceeding with easement of restrictions. That is striking in itself – the WHO has 6! 5 are more-or-less the same as Mr Raab’s – but one is missing:

“that health system capacities ought to be in place to detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact”. This is test 6!

I suspect that is the key difference between most countries – including France – and the UK. Most countries have persisted with and built up test & contract-tracing capability even while pursuing suppression strategies to diminish spread of infection. The UK government seems incapable of or unwilling to try doing two things at once and abandoned this when starting the lockdown. Now, many weeks and thousands of deaths behind the curve, the are playing catch up – “straining every sinew” – “ramping it up” – “doing our best” as they put it! The very drivel that makes me cry in despair while they evade answers as to where are the tests? where is the PPE?

Despite their ramping every sinew or whatever – it looks like the UK won’t be in a position to pass test 6 when the suppression has got the first wave down below where it started. So first of all – ‘don’t mention it’. However it severely limits chances of moving successfully into a graded resumption of social and economic activity. Without the ability to “hunt” the virus we are left with waiting for a vaccine and only one tool – suppression –  to control the disease . This would throw the UK back to the original lockdown model – which envisages wave after wave of lockdown/relaxation to keep the virus under control.

That model has the UK locked down two-thirds of the time, over 6 or 7 cycles, until the vaccine is ready – possibly 18 months. The trigger for that lock/unlock cycle is ICU admissions – locking when over a certain figure going up, unlocking when at about half that figure going down. By setting the value of that figure you choose how many deaths you can countenance. The model itself suggested a course that would leave 15,000 dead, but the government didn’t lock down until ICU admissions were about four times the recommendation.

Maybe that was force majeure rather than a political choice – we will have to see when they unlock if we are still four times higher than the recommendation (and heading for 46,000 deaths) or a lower figure, closer to the recommendation. Unless the sixth test is passed an unlocking would initiate another wave (in a length of time of about half of the lockdown duration) and another lockdown.

How will we know? I’ve read, entirely or in summary, 3 models and seen statistics from 3 countries. Getting back on the “15,000 fatalities” curve (albeit with extra deaths at the front end) requires not ending lockdown until the daily new ICU admissions is in single figures. I’ll repeat that – single figures.

It would be easy to tell how tolerant the government are of extra deaths if they were transparent on the ICU admission figures when they choose to relax… but (whether you interpret it as a deliberate evasion to avoid account or not?) they aren’t! However total number of daily  COVID-19 hospital admissions is in the public domain (atm). It’s now about 3.5k, down from about 6.0k three weeks ago – waning at least!

So to be in accord with the model’s ICU “relaxation trigger”, (allowing for expanded ICU capacity; assuming PPE shortages are solved) the daily hospital admissions needs to be below 200. So we can then tell how they’re thinking about it  – I don’t think our Government will ever say, in amazing contrast to the heads of Germany or New Zealand (both women btw).

So that might lead us to a “non-virus-hunting” relaxation sometime in June. However it will require a re-tightening if nothing else changes at the end of July. Apart from anything else, a way forward (I won’t call it a plan) like this would make the UK at variance with pretty well all European countries.

It would certainly mean, for anyone who has the sheer blind luck to have a choice about where to be, a lot of thinking and imagining about where that person’s future might best lie…

Stay safe – Bon Courage

The lack of other activity lately has meant Vignerons in the Bourgueil vineyards – and I imagine everywhere else – have more time to devote to tending their vines. It’s work for only 2 or 3 people at a time and anyway they’re usually more like 10 metres apart. I don’t know for certain, but it may be the case that this is considered essential work in France anyway.

The result is very tidy looking vineyards. So a walk through the vines North of Benais, through the famous Grand Mont vineyard, shows minute differences in cultivation techniques. The path we usually take cuts through Grand Mont heading pretty well East and gently uphill from near our house, and you can see the rows usually run down the slope, although a few run across it. Different Vignerons also have different strategies of ground maintenance: some let grass grow unfettered; some cut it back; some plough the ground between rows; some apply two different methods to alternate rows. Perhaps most importantly, some train the vine shoot (invariably one shoot) up to one wire above the old stock, some down in a curve to a lower wire, some up past the first wire to the second.

How all this affects the crop I’m not sure – but it seems to influence time and volume of leaf budding. The three pictures below were all taken within 6 or 7 metres of each other within minutes on 13th April. One on the left (north) side of the main path; one on the right side above a transverse path; one below that

One can clearly see the ground cover strategies: mown grass alternate rows / ploughed / grassy. Also the length and direction of the new tied-in stem seems to vary. Strikingly one can also see the stage of bud and leaf development: about average / double average / only just budding. I would imagine the pruning strategy would mostly account for that – the age of vines, soil and aspect seem very similar.

I’ll try and follow these three parcels through the year and see how flower set, grape yield and (if possible) finished wine differ. But this will be a long-term – very occasional – project. I hope you find it interesting as I do.

There is little else to report on the wine front. Drinking local wines of varying vintages seems to bear out the impression that both red and white 2015s are very good, but with still slightly unbalanced high acid levels. The 2018 wines seem promising but not really ready, and the 2014s and 2016s are the most enjoyable right now – certainly for the Cabernet Franc.

In the current situation it seems inevitable to reflect the current health-political crisis and to think more about the differences in France and UK. So – without any apology – I intend to do that in all posts until matters are resolved.

To return to the question I ended the last post (!) with: how many deaths will turn out to be the fault of the UK Government? Indications seem to have emerged sooner than expected. After all the epidemiological model advancing the recurrent lockdown method which is the only model to follow if you can’t test/isolate/contact-trace – suggests a final death toll of only(!?) 15,000 if properly managed. As deaths are already beyond that (not even including somewhere between another 5,000 and 10,000 not counted outside of hospitals because of the lack of testing) it seems fair to say the government is responsible for a number at least as large as the death toll from now on. This is a numerical evaluation,  with the current projections it looks likely that they will turn out to have been responsible for at least 70% of the eventual total… There are three reasons for this

  • the systematic emaciation of the UK health service and care sector over the last decade – worse than halving spare capacity in both, not to mention the stripping out of staff and the effects of anti-immigration policies;
  • the dithering delay in addressing the problems in February and early March, inflating the first death curve in both amplitude and extension – possible nearly doubling its volume;
  • complete incompetence and covering lies in inadequately providing tests and PPE – not least in effectively abandoning those in (and those giving) social care to their fate.

The UK government is worse for your health than Covid 19 itself!

Next time – some more thoughts on wine and on un-locking-down strategies.

À Bientôt

First apologies to Gabriel García Márquez for the title of this blog post. It’s not cholera, although I believe that was the disease from which the new science of Epidemiology grew in the 19th Century – we all know about that now.

We’re locked down in France, arriving on a long planned visit on March 8th. We had planned to stay until about April 22nd, but of course that looks like being longer – much longer, probably until June! There are much worse places to be. We have a half-acre garden with a newly commissioned swimming pool (one of the purposes of the visit), and we are in the countryside where social distancing is no problem at all. We visit a supermarket 3 times a fortnight and otherwise all contact is pretty well at 5 metres (post-person; neighbours; vignerons attending the vines at the bottom of the garden…). The lock down was earlier here and the number of critical care beds about double the UK and anyway our Department has a population density about the same as Cumbria. There’s much work to do in the garden – so with that, enjoying the weather, the odd walk (with the appropriate Attestation de Déplacement Dérogatoire) and wine and food there’s enough to keep us busy.

In this situation we rely heavily on our fledgling cellar, and mostly local Cabernet Franc – Red and Rosé – and Chenin Blancs; but a few other things. So for a Happy Easter post I though I’d start with a report on the highlights from among non-local wines:


MUSELLA VALPOLICELLA SUPERIORE 2016
We ordered this from a Wine Merchant in Paris to make up a case with something special for a future ICC Tasting. We drank it with a coq-au-vin and it was stunningly good, Pitched in between a good Superiore and a good Ripasso in style, it had fresh bright plum and cherry nose with a palate that combined cranberry acidity and lightness with a grainier pruney element. Long and satisfying, a very good Valpol!

CHABLIS 1er CRU “GRANDE CUVÉE” 2010 (La Chablisienne)
This was bought at the producer a while ago and has traveled from there to cellar in Nottingham and back to France… We drank it with a roast pork and steamed leek dish, wanting a richer white. This is a generic 1er Cru, made up from parcels of several 1er Cru vineyards. Richer than many La Chablisienne 1er Cru at time of acquisition it still had that richness and creamy, buttery touches. But the mineral and acidity held up this the depth with a particularly drying finish. Great with the food – showing how long a 1er Cru can last.

COTEAUX DU LOIR “GARANCE” 2015 (Les Maisons Rouge)
This has been in our French cellar at two properties and was bought from the grower in January 2017. It’s Pineau d’Aunis – their second cuvée to the more famous Elizari  (tasted at the ICC in July that year). This had a pale brownish tinge reminiscent of aged Barolo – and a spirit sweet plum nose with herbs and… well more herbs – dried and fresh. The palate follows the nose quite closely and is rather long, the herbs seem in balance with the plum brandy sweetness and a slightly bitter herb acidity makes a compelling and rather unusual package. Perfect with herby sausage!

CHATEAU GUADET-SAINT-JULIEN SAINT-ÉMILION GCC 2003
This is another bottle brought over from the cellar in Nottingham, originally a gift some 10 years ago. This opened with wonderful plum and sous-bois nose with some herbal elements later. The palate is complex with quite crunchy mulberry fruit, darker vegetal notes, some herbs and later a grainy chocolate. Still fresh and with lovely silky tannin it had the grip for Easter Roast lamb but developing accents throughout the meal. Lovely – thanks to the donor (whoever that was).

Well, no wine parties, no tasting sessions, no vineyard visits (at the moment) and only home drinking… so that’s pretty well it on the wine front. Other interests (ahem… obsessions): sport, statistics, literature, other culture… proceed slowly or not at all…

One of the interesting things is how much different countries respond to the crisis. It easy to characterise the differences as national stereotypes –  for example the Germans have been brilliantly organised and efficient. However that seems not at all the crux – and anyway that would show the British as blitheringly incompetent… oh!

No – I think it shows more about the relations between the government, the people and the state. In Spain for example the enactment of the lock down has echoes of a not-too-distant fascist state and a tension between hostility and recognition of need.

In France (a Republic) the operation is entirely  bureaucratic… and more or less entirely consensual. The imposition has a clear Napoleonic and entirely French tone. The lock-down is enacted by decree: “décret du 16 mars 2020 portant réglementation des déplacements dans le cadre de la lutte contre la propagation du virus Covid-19”.

If you want to leave home for one of the allowed exceptions you have to self-certificate with a form called an ATTESTATION DE DÉPLACEMENT DÉROGATOIRE – fill it out, sign and date it. It’s downloadable, and was on Day 1 and if you can’t print you can write it out by hand! If you’re out without your attestation you can be fined €135 on the spot! This all seems no surprise to the French and everything’s stopped – except for the Dérogatoires. That has some problems but everything is orderly.

The contrast with the UK couldn’t be more stark. Originally the government was distracted by the idea it was just the “herd” (and not them?) that would be affected, but even more by the fact that they spend most of their time trying to pretend the state doesn’t exist. Mixed messages and dither hardly seems adequate to describe the first month or so up to proper lock-down, which was led by the people not the government. The litany of inadequacy (PPE, testing gear, vacillation, laisser-faire opacity…) mounts in retrospect, and hopefully there will be a savage retribution when the final account for the crisis is rendered.

Of course it goes almost without saying that the actual government is made up of dithering, patrician, venal idiots, but the use of the state to help the people seems so problematic in the UK in a way that it isn’t elsewhere in W. Europe. It takes the Queen – hardly a model of an egalitarian social order – to put the government to shame on national togetherness. This is because the UK state is much more aloof, serving only a minority and doesn’t even pretend to serve the people – just the right people. Now we know what the state can really do, perhaps the self-disappearing trick it made during decades of neo-liberalism might have come to an end. The whittling away over decades of the very services now needed, the invertebrate leadership – what will they cost? Half the eventual death toll? Three quarters? We’ll see…

Meanwhile – stay healthy

À Bientôt et Bon Courage!

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