Glenelly glitter

It seemed a good chance to write a proper wine blog for a change – you know: a fancy occasion, some name-dropping, a few snide asides, and nothing much about wine. And some nifty photographs. Even I could do the former stuff, but I couldn’t do the latter, I discovered, as my camera’s battery had run down. You have to be more on the ball than I am to be a proper blogger.

The occasion glittered very satisfactorily, however. Madame May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, former owner of Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, and one of the grandes dames of Bordeaux, was celebrating her 85th birthday, and she was doing it at Glenelly, the splendid wine estate she has established in Stellenbosch (just next to Rustenberg). Some of the guests had got stuck in ash-clouds in Europe, some had merely mislaid their tuxedos there, but there must still have been about a hundred of us (and as many serving staff and probably twice as many in the kitchen, judging by the food in all its fine plenitude) – including, thankfully, a few vulgar wine journalists

So if I’d been cleverer about charging up my camera, I could have shown you, for example, what Beyers Truter (the only two-times winner of the trophy sponsored by Pichon Lalande at the International Wine and SPirit Competition) looks like in a dinner jacket (very smart!), and Adi Badenhorst in an open-necked shirt (um, nice, and smart for him – but he’s in the Swartland now, no longer at Rustenberg, so is allowed to be a bit rustic – like a Burgundian, perhaps, at a banquet in Bordeaux). And a few beautifully chic French women, and some less chic local ones with shawls draped about their shoulders – and some chic local ones too, like the ever-soignée Mme Fridjhon. (This pic of Mme de L is from the Glenelly website.)

And (puzzling at first) there were seven pairs of not-too-young Americans, the male halves of which had ornate medallions hanging around their necks on broad blue ribbons, like the Orders that the Emperor Bocassa awarded to himself and his minions. Various speeches that many of them were kind enough to deliver later in the evening left us in no doubt that they were members of a small and exclusive wine-and-food society, composed, I gather, of the sort of very rich Americans who tend to call themselves, and to be, “wine collectors” and have “collections” of twenty thousand or so bottles of grand wines – including lots of the smartest names in Bordeaux, of course. Which is why the bordelais fawn on them. Oh, and they’d in the past given Mme de L one of their own awards (a predictably enormous plate, for the sideboard rather than for wearing round the neck), and now get invited to her birthday parties, which some of them fly around the world to reach.

But dinner and speeches came after a delightful recital given, in fine old European aristocratic tradition, by local children brought up to the château to perform. The Stellenbosch University String Quartet started off with a bit of Beethoven, and then some tiny children from the townships, trained by the Amy Biehl Foundation and given tiny violins, performed a lot of things that weren’t quite Beethoven. They warmed the hearts of all of us rich, smartly-dressed aristos, and we trotted off happily to our excellent dinners to warm, and fill, our stomachs.

Madame May was charming whenever she spoke, and I don’t even need to search for my long-forgotten gallantry to assert that it’s hard to believe she is 85. She spoke about the Bordeaux wines she had generously brought over for her little bash, and spoke very well in excellent English, but I do think it rather lowered the tone of things that she felt obliged to tell us the scores they’d achieved in egregious American publications, competions, etc. However, that’s modern Bordeaux for you, I fear.

After a young, fresh and pleasing (2010!) maiden Chardonnay from her Stellenbosch vineyards, there were two wines from Pichon-Lalande: the 1995 and the 1983. This being a blog, I shan’t attempt to describe them, apart from saying that the 1995 was a good modern Bordeaux, rather too ripe and soft for my tastes, and the 1983 was a beautiful classic Bordeaux. I loved it. But there was clearly bottle variation, and some were rather tired. Including that poured for John Avery (a former grand wine merchant in England), who proceeded in a little speech, in his posh accent, to rather rubbish the wine, somewhat to others’ surprise and embarrassment. He didn’t criticise the food, so Madame must have been gratified by that, at least.

Of course there was a Bordeaux from Madame’s birth year (1925), Mouton-Rothschild. Not in quite as good shape as Madame herself, and with significant bottle variation, of course. I was lucky again to have a pretty, modest but still fresh enough little wine, but some others had what one described as a “rather elegant vinegar”. Madame was pleased with hers, however, and told us that she felt she must contact  Philippine, to tell her. (Baroness Philippine Mathilde Camille de Rothschild, that is.) So there was a little mutter of agreement round the room – oh yes, indeed, we must let Philippine know….

Then John Avery proposed some toasts including ones to the President of the Republic of South Africa, and the President of France, and clearly regretted that it was not quite protocol to propose one to the Queen of England (while the 14 most important guests no doubt were a touch offended that there wasn’t a toast to the President of the United States – even if said President is, well, Barack Obama).

And then there was some laser wizardry throwing words and logos across the distant mountains and vineyards. And then the cutting of the birthday cake.

I do desperately hope I crack an invitation to Madame May’s 90th birthday party. She does them so wonderfully well.

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