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July it may be, writes Fergus Henderson, but look ahead to
spring - the light at the end of the winter tunnel.
Australia, I gather, is in the midst of winter, while here in London we are in summer. Spring has passed for us and it has been full of good things, so there is something for you to look forward to. I feel that this sort of anticipation is very important in the lean months so, to help you through the dark of winter, I thought I'd share with you a taste of what we've enjoyed in the north.
As spring began I spent a few days in Provence with Trevor Gulliver, my partner at St John, tasting wine.
It was very good for the soul. Much more enjoyable than tasting a raft of wines straight from the barrel.
It's wine that is meant to be drunk young, fresh and chirpy, and this quality rubs off on you, and you feel young fresh and chirpy yourself. What's not to like?
The first night was in Marseilles, which does not fail in being very port-like. So much so, in fact, we had to take refuge in our hotel as we were harangued by a horde of very old ladies of the night, who emerged out of the blue, heavily made-up and wearing fun-fur jackets and patent boots. Ah, France.
The next day, having barely survived the attack of the pensioner seductresses, we drove up the coast to Cassis and before we knew it we were at a table on the beach, pastis in hand, mercifully unpursued by prostitutes or the elderly. All we had to worry about was making sure the bottles of rosé kept on coming.
Ah, the genius loci of it all, drinking the wine of the place in the place. Soupe de poisson was flying out of the kitchen. I tried to picture the fish stockpot, which must have been the size of a small swimming pool. That night the only thing that caused any ripples on the sea of calm was the father-and-son winemaker team we were dining with, who held their rather technical discussion in French, so I remained unaware of their discourse. It's murky waters when you can't speak the language and drink wine; making conversation is a great leveller.
Vineyards in this region seemed more human than the science labs of Bordeaux. One giant of a vigneron, for instance, put it to us that Trevor's son could marry his daughter. I tried to recall when I last heard of an arranged marriage. How lonely they must get at night in their vineyards! The next winemaker we went to see had a house pig. Sitting down you'd suddenly hear, "Oink oink!", and then there'd be a pig on the floor in front of you, rolling over to have his tummy rubbed.
Then there was the young enthusiast whose tasting room had a pinball machine blaring away in it and rather infuriating wobbly tables, which hung from the ceiling, giving you a very unsatisfactory place to rest your glass. He had a Tigger-like enthusiasm, though, that made it all easy to forgive.
The hub of life in Cassis was one rather unprepossessing bar - unprepossessing but still the place where all the vignerons met and drank with much laughter. And what's not to laugh about? The air is warm, the sea breeze gentle, and they all seem to enjoy their own wine. A ho-ho or two is much merited.
The springing of spring continued to be my theme even today back home as I headed off to Somerset to talk about lambs, which were popping out all over the place. When they emerge, the little lambs bounce in a most provocative way. It's as though they're saying, "Come on! Eat me!" Boing, boing! "Roast me!" Boing, boing! "Braise me!"
And leave it to good old nature to get the timing just right. Spring lamb plus Jersey royal potatoes, plus garden peas, plus mint - suddenly we're speaking fluent lunch. Not forgetting genius loci, a bottle or two would be a welcome addition to this seasonal celebration.
July it may be, but keep the faith - spring is just around the corner, and it's looking like a good one.
Illustration Lara Porter
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