A lot of it-shay will always be written about wine as we wine drinkers struggle to assimilate that maddening combination of sensory vagueness (What is that smell? Chewits! No, not Chewits…’), and inspiriting pleasure which drinking good wine nearly always elicits.
It’s a pursuit that seems doomed to failure from the off, but it doesn’t stop us trying. Very occasionally, we will hit upon that elusive aroma, that errant memory or that mot juste to describe what is being so seductively suggested to us from the glass. And that will be a good day.
Until then, we will hammer on with our ‘reminds me of’s and ‘something like’s and hope we strike somewhere close to the head of the nail. It’s a good exercise. It warms the imaginative faculties – which is something John Keats would have approved of.
A few days ago I had – or rather shared, because that’s what made the experience as good as it was – a bottle of claret, a 1985 Le Bon Pasteur Pomerol, which gave me very possibly the most pleasure I’ve had from a bottle of wine in my life, and had me striving in that well-established way to put my finger on just what made it so.
Christ, it was good. It had me smiling quietly to myself from the first to the last drop. There was just a tremulous hint of the rich, ripe fruit of the harvest of 29 years ago, a sweet-savoury-sweet depth of flavour – Strawberries, was it? Dates, were they? Cigar boxes, did you? – that hummed around my brain for about a minute after each sip, and such a velvety texture, such yawningly, meltingly soft tannins, that I felt as if I was hovering slightly off the ground for the half-hour or so that it lasted.
Now that was a fine claret, which put me in mind of Keats and his far more finessed attempt to describe his passion for the stuff. Not a lot of people know that Keats was ‘well into’ his claret, as well as being one of the greatest romantic poets ever to have lived. At one point he even suggested to his brother, George, who had moved to the new frontiers of America to seek his fortune, that he might send some vine roots over to him so George could make a semblance of the stuff for himself.
This is Keats’s effervescent encomium to claret, written in a letter to his brother George some time between February and May 1819:
Now I like Claret [and] whenever I can have Claret I must drink it. ‘T is the only palate affair that I am at all sensual in. For really ‘t is so fine. It fills the mouth one’s mouth with a gushing freshness, then goes down cool and feverless, then you do not feel it quarrelling with your liver, no it is rather a Peace maker and lies as quiet as it did in the grape. Then it is as fragrant as the Queen Bee; and the more ethereal Part of it mounts into the brain, not assaulting the cerebral apartments like a bully in a bad house looking for his trul and hurrying from door to door bouncing against the waist-coat; but rather walks like Aladin about his own enchanted palace so gently that you do not feel his step. Other wines of a heavy and spirituous nature transform a Man into a Silenus; this makes him a Hermes, and gives a Woman the soul and immortality of Ariadne for whom Bacchus always kept a good cellar of claret.
It makes me happy to know that I share that same ‘palate passion’ – and I say that primarily as a way of neatly concluding this, my 22nd blog post.