Family Matters


The Great Wave, Hokusai

Family Matters is a great book by Indo-Canadian writer Rohinton Mistry. Perhaps not as great as his masterpiece, A Fine Balance. It’s greatness starts with the duplicity of the title, the one sardonic, the other imploring.

Last weekend was Family Matters at home, as the in-laws arrived to celebrate Célestine’s twentieth birthday. La belle famille never travel alone, and arrived en masse to make a full house – aujourd’hui sixteen heads, five of which were ten or younger. That makes much noise. Now as any amateur of the Way of the Bear will know, you cannot fight against the wave, so I didn’t; I started to cook.


Archimedes: When a body is partially or wholly immersed in a liquid…with ciabatta that was sei e mezzo litri; Molta zuppa.

Thursday was a vast plate of girolles and a plate of ceps in a Martini and beef stock reduction – a red Martini jus, if you will. Friday was a vat of The River Café’s Ribollita; hearty peasant food washed down with a couple of bottles of Vaona’s 2014 Valpolicella Ripasso, juiced up acidity and sweet fermented and macerated Amarone fruit. It filled the Parisian bellies and was followed by a bottle of 2014 Mauro and then a 2010 Gigondas Les Racines from Domaine des Pallières. I really think that last one should be better. It’s the second bottle I’ve had this year, and to be honest it’s just a little bit rough around the edges.

Which is not how I was feeling the next morning. Top of the morning, I sprang out of bed, well it’s the idea not the reality which counts, and sped off to the butchers to pick up two côtes de boeuf for dinner, and not long of a kilo’s worth of jambon persillé for lunch. By the time I actually came home for lunch, the locusts had been through the fridge and lunch was empty cheese wrappers and crumbs. They don’t stand on ceremony in France…and the siren call of Dijon Mammon and commerce had called. The afternoon was quiet.


Not tonight, Joséphine

I had lined a few wines up for the evening, not least of which was one of Célestine’s six-pack of Rieussec 1997. The idea was to drink it with my rendition of Marco Pierre White’s elegant Bread and Butter pudding…it was going to be sublime. But Célestine was creating the mother of all birthday cakes and, as I say, it’s difficult to tie my French relations down to the formality of dining, so I demurred. There’s a bottle in the fridge now, ten days on, waiting for the surgical needle of my Coravin.


The Mother of all birthday cakes and Tata Clémence – the 24th is her birthday too.

As dinner approached I sparked up the barbie and Célestine attacked the presents. She is now quite flush, a little bejewelled and generally spoiled. Our own present took some internet detective work; we had seen it in the window of a gallery in Genoa last year and Célestine, manga and Japanese trash obsessed that she remains, had fallen for it. Tomoko Nagao is a London trained, Milan-residing Japanese artist who reworks the canon of fine art from da Vinci to Caravaggio to…Hokusai. Her own wave is replete with Hello Kitty, McDonalds and soya sauce labels. It’s deliciously trashy and pop. I quite fancy a detail from Las Meninas for myself.


Tomoko Nagao – The Wave

Numbered, signed and soon to be framed, Célestine was pretty pleased.

As the Côtes de Beouf chargrilled, we worked our way through a couple of bottles of Lilbert’s  nv Perle Champagne before a bottle of 1997 Brunello di Montalcino from Castello di Banfi.


A Beast of burden

The wine showed beautiful, deep colour, no bricking and precious little evolution at all. There was meat and spice, and although present as a structural element, Sangiovese’s tannins were entirely resolved. It was a lovely, delicious bottle of wine but with an ever so nagging thought at the back of my head. Banfi was the arch-villain in an infamous blending scandal in Montalcino, whose celebrated Brunello is meant to be mono-varietal rendition of Sangiovese. Always has been, always will be.


1997 Brunello di Montalcino, Banfi

Or not in the case of Banfi, who were found to be guilty of “adulterating” theirs with Merlot, to give it fruit and consumer friendly roundness.  Am I weak to consumer friendly flavours? Why would I not be? Ultimately my reticence is not a reflection of quality, the wine was delicious, but one of probity. Was it really Brunello? a ultimately, does it really matter?


Their greatest crime was probably getting caught; Brunello adulteration was no surprise to anyone.

With the Roquefort and Shropshire Blue my only bottle of Quinta do Passodouro 1997 port seems ultimately like infanticide. Or, it may just be that I am no fan of port anymore. It’s sweet, alcoholic and plays heavy on my blood sugars. It will probably be much better in twenty years time, but as I have opened my single bottle, I am unlikely ever to find out.

Lunch the next day, in the shade under a burning Autumn sun saw off a bottle of Angelo Gaja’s exotic and resilient 2011 Rossj Bass Chardonnay. Still fresh, but with a huge burst of rich melon flavours it was great for lunch with Jambon Persillé, salad and cheese.

My two regrets of the weekend? Firstly that Célestine doesn’t like wine. I hope it will come, we have plenty of wine to get through. Secondly, that she is twenty.  Time waiteth for n man. But a lovely twenty she is.

About matthewhayesbrognon

Wine Merchant
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