Perhaps we were a little slow on the uptake, but only when France went into lockdown did we realise that we had better get back there, fast. My four stepchildren are in rural Burgundy; we had planned to be with them for Easter, but now borders were slamming like prison doors. If confined we must be, we wanted to endure the confinement with them.
One issue was logistics. Could we cross the border? Would trains run south from Paris? What was this “permission to leave the house” form the French were demanding we carry?
Another was wine. I wasn’t afraid of running out; Burgundy is unlikely to go short. But wine is comfort, sociability and liquid memory: in this panicky moment, when friends and most relatives must remain at a distance, I wanted to gather assorted good bottles around me and taste happier times.
In the woolly jumpers I wouldn’t use, as the insouciant climate unfurled into spring, I rolled Alessandro Veglio’s elegant Barbera d’Alba and Zorzal’s herbaceous Eggo Tinto de Tiza Malbec from Argentina. And, to the grape’s historic home, I took Australian Pinot Noirs: Paradigm Hill and Kooyong from the Mornington Peninsula, the salt of a southern ocean breeze wafted 10,000 miles to landlocked locked-down Burgundy.
I considered Champagne to celebrate the pandemic’s inconceivable end, but that seemed hubristic and disrespectful, so I opted for a Rioja by the immensely talented Àlvaro Palacios. All those big reds, symptom of the same desire for rich, blood-coloured wines that midwinter brings. And if this isn’t the winter of our discontent, despite the sunshine now bathing Burgundy, I’d like to know what is.
We are a sociable species, requiring the warmth of contact to bloom and thrive. My heart goes out to those who really are in isolation; six in a small house is a holiday in comparison. To defend ourselves against fear and absence and sheer strangeness, my partner cooks and I open good wine. Some of it is indeed Burgundy: old-vine Chassagne-Montrachet from Vincent and Sophie Morey;
Thierry Richoux’s forthright, delicious Irancy. Some is local: thankfully Camille, owner of a wine shop 20km away, is still delivering. (Wineries and wine shops are permitted to stay open as the French recognise that they are suppliers of a “première nécessité”; many have chosen not to.)
We can roam the world at our dinner table, although often we remain close to home. Bright, cherryish Château du Moulin- à-Vent Beaujolais with quail and chard; a tangy dry white Pacherenc by south-western superstar Alain Brumont, as strange yet tasty as the accompanying breadcrumbed dogfish. I have decanted a fantastic La Livinière, Domaine de l’Ostal, and sorrowfully emptied my last Domaine du Joncier Grenache. Every bottle evokes memories; every dinner creates more.
On Easter Sunday, our neighbours gingerly offered gougères, the Burgundian cheese puff, and rosé. Outside our front doors, we raised glasses with semi-strangers – a strange inversion of several social norms. The wine was terrible: even our 11-year-old, permitted a sip, wrinkled her nose. But the world’s great winemakers would have admired the gesture. Who are we, if we cannot share? Let the contagion end and the doors reopen. Let’s embrace, mourn, plan for a better future… all accompanied by wine.
Next week: Felicity Cloake on food
This article appears in the 22 Apr 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The coronavirus timebomb