This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 print issue of Quench Magazine.
“I FORGET THE NAME OF THE PLACE; I FORGET THE NAME OF THE GIRL; BUT THE WINE WAS CHAMBERTIN.” – HILAIRE BELLOC
If you are old enough, you will remember where you were when you heard the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated, or with whom you watched the very fi rst moon landing.
For younger readers, such a seminal event would probably be September 11, 2001 (9/11), a life-changing moment that will stay burned indelibly into your psyche.
Wine lovers view memory through the lens of wine, a condition so beautifully encapsulated in the words of Joseph Hilaire Pierre René Belloc, above.
Belloc was an Anglo-French writer and historian and one of the most prolific writers in England during the early twentieth century.
Among his long list of works, he wrote a curious book for a nephew who was about to be married, entitled Advice on Wine, Food and Other Matters. Evelyn Waugh wrote the preface in which he said, ‘(Belloc’s) interest in food, wine and domestic economy was strong and idiosyncratic to the verge of perversity.’
Two examples of this perversity: Belloc suggested baptising the wine with a couple of drops of water – to be added to the first glass of red wine.
More dangerous was his recommendation on how to open a bottle of champagne. He advised his nephew to cut off the mushroom top of the cork and then apply a corkscrew! A sure way to dislocate a shoulder, but I digress.
Returning to my theme of wine as an aide memoire…
All the significant events of my adult life have involved wine in one form or another. I recall the wine that I opened to propose to my first wife (Haut Brion 1954) and the champagne that we did not drink at my second wedding. (The secret of a happy life, I have learned, is to marry your second wife first).
Regarding the champagne that we did not drink. I won’t name the brand because accidents can happen in the best of houses.
For the wedding reception, I had ordered two cases of champagne from an importing agent (a friend) who generously off ered to take back one case and give me a Balthazar instead (a Balthazar contains 16 bottles). The idea was that all the guests would sign the bottle as a memento of the occasion.
The reception was held at a Toronto restaurant and when the time came for the champagne toast, the sommelier came up to me and whispered that he couldn’t serve the wine.
“What is the problem,” I asked. “Can’t you lift the bottle? Can’t you pour it?”
“No,” he replied. “You wouldn’t want your guests to have it. It’s corked.” Sixteen bottles of champagne down the drain because of a faulty cork.
The importer, who I called the next day, was upset and embarrassed, but it seems some bottles are just cursed. My friend delivered the said bottle to me the day before the wedding. He had just picked up a new convertible that morning. We were to meet in the parking lot at the LCBO’s main store.
He opened the trunk of his new car and lifted out what looked like a small wooden coffin and placed it reverently in the trunk of my car. To seal the deal, he threw his car keys in the air; but when he went to catch them, he missed and they fell down a drain.
He did ultimately make amends for the corked bottle by sending me a case of the same wine, only from a vintage year. We are still friends.