Swellboy on… beverage appreciation

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

Image: Brijesh Patel

The other day I found myself in Paris at a dinner given by François Audouze at Le Taillevent restaurant. If you know about wine you will know Monsieur Audouze. He is perhaps best 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 have been familiar to Napoleon III. He strikes me as the sort who might dismiss an ’82 Cheval Blanc as a mere stripling – a callow, impertinent youth of a wine that needs to grow up a little and get some experience of life. I exaggerate, but only a little.

I used to know about wine when I drank it, but it has been some years since I last let any elderly grape juice pass my lips. Nevertheless, a friend asked me along to the Paris dinner, so I went along as an impartial and uninebriated observer. Once upon a time I enjoyed wine, but I soon worked out that it was only really the snobbery I missed, and happily I have been able to transfer that pretty much intact to my love of cigars. In a way, cigars behave more interestingly than wine. The ageing arc of a good bottle of red plonk (such as the one mentioned above) is exactly that: an arc. The cigar is less predictable, the pattern more wave like, with peaks and troughs, and it depends where in the cycle you catch an ageing cigar. The other day, for instance, I smoked a Dominican Davidoff Aniversario from the early 1990s and it was absolutely delicious. The slightly drying tang that initially characterises Dominican cigars seemed to have melted away, and I daresay that if I tasted the same cigar again in a couple of years I would get something quite different.


But anyway, back to Monsieur Audouze, Le Taillevent and my evening out in gay Paree. There were no wines from the time of Napoleon III, but there was one that would have been familiar to Monsieur Clemenceau: a 1914 Château de Rayne-Vigneau, which came off the substitutes’ bench shortly before the end of play to replace an injured 1941 Château d’Yquem. I suspect that Monsieur Audouze selected the substitute on the grounds that it featured the same 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 been made with grapes grown during the last summer of peace in Europe.

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


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

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