Paris : Simon Cutts & Erica Van Horn
I’ve not drunk alcohol for eighteen months . I thought I might test it this winter, just to see how I remembered it, red wine especially. In my abstinence I had begun a putative list of occasions, outside the habit of casual drinking, when I might take a small one, or would perhaps do so in similar circumstances in the future. It may have been that writing about it was also part of the way out. I had listed time in Chioggia in the early summer eating soft-shelled crabs, when the jug sauvignon of the region seemed as normal as water to have on the table. Then there was the wedding wine saved for us by Stefan and Jutta, whose aunt had grown and bottled the thick and oily dry German riesling. But they remained on the notebook page.
All my sixties I’d been looking for an excuse to give up drinking, and in the summer of 2012 I was given one : consistent intake over the decades had weakened the muscles of my heart. The condition has improved since that time. I thought I might try a single glass of wine in rare circumstances, having firmly given up the pursuit of drinking as an imperative. There is a certain tyranny to drinking that I have been glad to escape: the Irish Bar with only three drinks to choose from, the bad drinks served at receptions. I have even been served warm Muscadet at the French Embassy! As a drinker you feel you have to have them.
These new occasions would probably, almost certainly be with food, and not necessarily social occasions. This is my first time here with my new condition, and it might be that this city presents an even bigger challenge than the call of bitter beers in London.
My birthday dinner involved lambs sweetbreads and hare. Erica and I ordered two-thirds of a bottle, a pot, of Cote-Rotie, mostly for her, except for my one glass. The complexity of the Syrah grape has always fascinated me, so that was my first choice, even though here it is topped-off with a touch of white Viognier, to round it they say.
The sourness and bitterness of red wine after so long really shocked me, but I’m sure that would change very quickly and you would become re-used to the tannin. It is probably caused by the sweetness of most other drinks you have in its place. But it was a sort of rebirth, like tasting red wine for the first time on a school trip to Italy, going to the bar and expecting the red liquid to taste sweet. After all, everything red must be sweet !
Apollinaire says somewhere that the acridity of drink and tobacco doesn’t damage our sense of taste but intensifies that faculty as you grow accustomed to it. It gives the palette range.
I remember drinking St Joseph Les Serines 2001 made by Yves Cuilleron in New York in 2011, pure Syrah for the Syrah purist, of such complexity from a single grape. It was the best bottle I had ever drunk, and it is amazing to be able to say it so definitively. I feel that is a kind of privilege. I think I’ll leave it at that. SC