Swellboy on… beverage appreciation

A dinner in gay Paree yields august vintages from the finest winemakers – and impeccably cellared Coca-Cola

Image: Brijesh Patel

Theother day I found myself in Paris at a dinner given by François Audouze at Le Taillevent restaurant. If you know about wine youwill know Monsieur Audouze. He is perhapsbest described as an oenological archaeologist, the kind of chap who sits down in front of the telly and accompanies his TV dinner with a bottle of something that would havebeen familiar to Napoleon III. He strikes me as the sort who might dismissan ’82 Cheval Blanc as a mere stripling – a callow, impertinent youth of a winethat needs to grow up a little and get some experience of life. I exaggerate, but only a little.

I usedto know about wine when I drank it, but it has been some years since I last letany elderly grape juice pass my lips. Nevertheless, a friend asked me along to the Paris dinner, so Iwent along as an impartial and uninebriated observer. Once upon a time I enjoyed wine, but I soon worked outthat it was only really the snobbery I missed, and happily I have been able totransfer that pretty much intact to my love of cigars. In a way, cigars behave more interestinglythan wine. The ageing arc of a good bottle of red plonk (such as the onementioned above) is exactly that: an arc. The cigar is less predictable, thepattern more wave like, with peaks and troughs, and it depends where in thecycle you catch an ageing cigar. The other day, for instance, I smoked aDominican Davidoff Aniversario from the early 1990s and it was absolutelydelicious. The slightly drying tang that initially characterises Dominican cigars seemed to have melted away, and I daresay that if Itasted the same cigar again in a couple of years I would get something quitedifferent.

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But anyway, back to Monsieur Audouze, Le Taillevent and my evening out in gayParee. There were no wines from the timeof Napoleon III, but there was one that would have been familiar to MonsieurClemenceau: a 1914 Château de Rayne-Vigneau, which came off thesubstitutes’ bench shortly before the end of play to replace an injured 1941 Château d’Yquem. I suspect thatMonsieur Audouze selected the substitute on the grounds that it featured thesame digits, just in a different order. Even though I did not partake of it, I found something quite affecting in the fact that here was a drink that had beenmade with grapes grown during the last summer of peace in Europe.

Thiswine was served at the end of an evening that had included a Pétrus and acouple of DRCs for everyone else, and a steady supply of Coke Zero (impeccablycellared and served by the sommelier of Le Taillevent) for me. I sat next to Monsieur Audouze, and as alwaysit was fascinating to talk to someone who is highly intelligent, clearly at thetop of his game and passionate about his subject – although I did spot one ortwo lacunae in his knowledge about the differences between Coke Light and CokeZero, and how they compare with vintage Tab.

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At one point we got on to the subject of wine counterfeiting, and he said thatupon drinking a good wine one really ought to ask the sommelier to bringthe bottle out and smash it up, so that it cannot be taken out ofthe rubbish bins and reused by unscrupulous forgers. I said that I always insist on it after aparticularly fine Coke Zero. To illustrate my point, I indicated the tablein the corner of the private dining room where the evening’s wine bottles werearranged – and where my bottle of Coke Zero had been but was no longer. Clearlysome enterprising beverage bandit had eschewed making off with such trivia asthe 1969 Chambertin and the 1959 Richebourg, and gone straight for the prizeof the elegant curvilinear Coca-Cola bottle.

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