This feels somehow like a confession (as opposed to a claim or merely a mention) – but perhaps that’s partly to do with the fact that it has little ostensible to do with wine, though I have this nagging feeling that there’s a connection I immediately intuited but have now forgotten.
I am by no means a bibliophile, but I have a very beautiful, quite rare and sought-after, edition of the novels of Jane Austen, that offered by Oxford’s Clarendon Press in 1923. This is how one bookseller describes the set: “Large Paper Edition limited to 1000 sets. 6 novels in 5 volumes – each novel has a colour frontispiece and b&w illustrations. Original quarter light blue cloth over marbled boards with paper title labels to spines. Each volume has a spare label tipped in to rear.” That dealer, in Edinburgh, wants $700 for his first edition (which is in “very good condition. Light soiling and edgewear to spine labels” etc), but mine would be worth much less, as (without going into bookdealer jargon) it’s not in very good condition – a bit tatty, even. Nonetheless, the thick, creamy paper (the edges of the paper had all been cut by hand by the first reader; they’re tinged by brown foxing after nearly 100 years of being, it appears, many times read), the broad margins, the elegant design, the sturdy construction, the sheer readability make each volume a delight to read.
Perhaps there already, in fact, is a connection with wine: the words are what’s important in a book, but the sensual pleasure, the aesthetic satisfaction of reading them in an appropriate form and context are significant to the pleasure – though perhaps less so than the good glass, correct temperature (and perhaps good company) that takes wine-drinking to its ultimate. Don’t give me that nonsense about it being only what’s in the glass that counts – it counts a lot, but the glass and its circumstances count a great deal too.
There’s also the momentary certainty, perhaps the instinct, that “this is what I want”. Tonight I knew I wanted something just right to accompany my dinner (the wine and dinner were already chosen). I’d recently finished (for the second time) the thoughtful, disturbing and deeply humane novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never let me go; I had no easy option of a TV series to watch (last night I’d cozily accompanied my dinner with the beheading of Anne Boleyn in the BBC’s fine, but too cursory, adaptation of the great novels by Hilary Mantel centred on Thomas Cromwell). OK, I suddenly thought, how about Mansfield Park – always my least favourite of the Austen novels, so the one that I had last re-read – many years back (though I’ve probably read it at least half-a-dozen times since adolescence).
Supper went well with the opening chapter of Mansfield Park (my least-favourite Jane Austen is still marvellous!). Trying though I am to cut down on carbs, I was indulging myself with pasta (pipe rigate for those who care, as they should, about pasta shapes) with a tomato sauce. My tomato sauces vary in their success, and this was a good one. To drink – well, a totally new wine to me, a fairly modestly priced “experimental” wine from the excellent Fledge & Co (Margot Nel of Boplaas with partner Leon Coetzee), their delicious Souzão; I shan’t say more here than that I loved it, as I’m thinking I’ll wax a bit more expansive about it in my first 2016 blog for winemag.co.za.
It now occurs to me, having forgotten my original motive in setting fingers to keyboard, that it will be very difficult for me to wrap this up plausibly. On the one hand a reliable old classic, on the other something unprecedented and experimental (certainly this is the first Cape table wine from this Portuguese variety more accustomed to find itself in fortified blends).
But maybe that’s precisely it. Let it be so. May this rather scary year be for all of us, in wine and perhaps in other things too, a blend that challenges and surprises us with the new, and reassures us with the loved and familiar; and may there be a lot of both, as long as they’re good. Tomorrow, Saturday night, for the adventurous part of this hopeful spirit, I’m off to Soju in Sea Point, for Korean food with, perhaps, beer and rice wine.