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Burgundian Days

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Every morning in Burgundy I awoke to sunlight filtering through the leaves of the Linden tree outside my window and casting shadows on the wall. The bedroom, its panels painted deep yellow, was in my estimation second only to the cavernous kitchen, with its massive fireplace and ceiling beams. The window above the sink was set a meter into the thick stone wall, and curtained with grape vines. Doors opened up to the long-abandoned formal gardens, which overlooked the vineyards and hills.

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Breakfast was strong coffee served from a china teapot and a pastry from the bakery one village over. Mid-morning, I collected mint and rosehips from the garden and forest for a very Proustian tisane, and every afternoon melted squares of dark chocolate into milk and cream. Days might be spent in the cold, damp cellars or hot, dry vineyards, or bringing in wood to keep the fire burning for hours spent sitting alone at the kitchen table, writing.

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Dinner was shared by a roaring fire and candlelight, usually some rich local fare—Poulet Gaston Gerard or Boeuf Bourguignon, or a vigneron’s salad made from ingredients bought at the market that morning. Bottle after bottle of old, nameless wines were brought up from the vaulted medieval cellars (no fewer than three of them), opened and smelled, decanted and drunk, until the fire faded to embers.

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Then came a hot bath in the footed tub, and a quick dash across the long, cold room into bed, where we read to each other (usually P.G. Wodehouse) until it was time to sleep.

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California

After Harvest

Harvest, Napa Valley, California www.bluemesablog.com

Harvest has come to an end in Napa. The days of bright green vines bursting with deep purple fruit have given way to leaves of gold and red, and air that’s turning cold. This year’s grapes are resting in barrel, waiting to be bottled and drunk and remind us of late summer days all over again.

As we sip them, we’ll remember early morning pickings before dawn, languid, bright, hot afternoons spent in the shade of old porches, fuchsia sunsets over the distant hills, cool evenings among the vines, and clear nights beneath the stars. We’ll remember days when we hardly knew the place, when we got lost in those hills and wandered through the vines, when we tasted ripe grapes and imagined what sort of wines they would become.

Harvest, Napa Valley, California www.bluemesablog.com

Harvest, Napa Valley, California www.bluemesablog.com

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Oxford

A City in Winter

Oxford in Winter www.bluemesablog.com

There is something primal and mysterious about winter. It is a time for storytelling and contemplation, when the cold drives you inside and your thoughts naturally turn towards the introspective. The eerie quiet of the snow brings clarity to all sounds, while the blanket of white renders a place timeless as all signs of modern life are resolved into a pale, undulating landscape. Colours that peak through seem brighter, be it the red of a berry, the green of a bough, or the gold of weathered stone.

In these Oxford winters, I am torn between my profound dislike of the cold and a ceaseless fascination with the snow, both born of my Texas upbringing. But this tension is resolved in that exquisite activity of wandering through the pristine snow in the early morning, over meadows and down winding cobblestone streets, and at last settling by a fireside in some ancient room, to read and sip mulled wine, enraptured by the enchantment that comes of seeing a familiar place transformed.

Oxford in Winter www.bluemesablog.com

Oxford in Winter www.bluemesablog.com

Oxford in Winter www.bluemesablog.com

Oxford in Winter www.bluemesablog.com

Oxford in Winter www.bluemesablog.com

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Oxford

Of Woodsmoke and Violets

Of Woodsmoke and Violets www.bluemesablog.com

I first smell tobacco, violets, cedar, wood smoke, cinnamon, limestone, moss and rose petals. I can taste memories of Christmas at a friend’s ranch, of Texas cedar, a roaring fire, tamales, Mexican hot chocolate, and the distant creek bed.

No other drink is more redolent of other things than wine. The flavours above came from a single glass of 1964 Cheval Blanc. Earlier that night I had smelled raspberry, old wood, tobacco leaves, cigar smoke, eucalyptus and plumbs, followed by redcurrant, blackberry, un-smoked cigar tobacco, tar, soy and pine forest in a glass of 1952 Pape Clément. I’ve had a 1962 Haut Brion that smelled precisely of the hickory and mesquite wood smoke in a Texas smokehouse. I’ve had a 1982 La Mission Haut Brion that tasted of coal tar, iodine and the inside of a medicine cabinet. A 1968 Haut Brion smelled of earth after it rains.

The experience begins with the bottle, with the aesthetic of an old label or lead capsule, with memories of other wines from that year or of that vintage. Then there is the cork, sometimes crumbling or moulded or surprisingly fresh, which may come out in one or break into pieces. The initial perfume when a bottle is opened may reach across the room or barely be there when you put your nose to the bottle. When you pour it you see the rich colour of the liquid itself, perhaps the opaque purple of blackberries or a transparent garnet. There is the weight of the glass in your hand, the balance as you swirl it, the first scent as you put it to your nose, the first taste, and the lingering sensation after you swallow it. Perhaps you’ve just opened the bottle, or perhaps you decanted it in the morning, but either way it evolves as it sits open, and as the night goes on the texture changes and new flavours emerge.

Wine has the capacity to both encapsulate and evoke a memory. It can suggest a myriad of other places, times and things, and it can create moments that are inseparable from the tastes of a bottle shared on a certain occasion. It is hedonistic and intellectual, social and private, both of the moment and reminiscent of so many others.

Of Woodsmoke and Violets www.bluemesablog.com

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