Un aide-mémoire

Last year I mentioned a vinyard in the south of France called Chateau Routas. This year I finally visited it and purchased some of its wine.

I’m not an expert oenophile, but Sudsy Dame and I both agreed that the 1998 Agrippa was delicious and we purchased the last five bottles of it, along with a case of the 2002 Rouvière rosé and some of the red Infernet.

I first read about Chateau Routas in an article written in 1999 by Anthony Dias Blue (see The Wines of Sunny France) in which he wrote:

Near the tiny hamlet of Châteauvert, about an hour east of Aix-en-Provence, proprietor Philippe Bieler and his American winemaker, Bob Lindquist, are making news at Château Routas with a series of wines named after historic French figures. “The vineyards here are old and interesting,” said the affable Lindquist, who is also the proprietor of Qupé Winery in Santa Barbara, California, “but they haven’t been taken seriously for centuries. For years there has been very little attention paid to the quality of wines here.”

Bieler, a passionate cook, bought the château for its “proximity to epicurean raw materials” — like the truffles he often adds to his guests’ scrambled eggs — but the business of wine is foremost at this property. The Routas Cyrano (named for the big-nosed poet and swashbuckler Cyrano de Bergerac) is a fleshy, ripe Syrah, while Pyramus (named for a botanist ancestor of Bieler’s) is a white blend with deeply extracted flavors and a lush finish. The official Coteaux Varois appellation, which includes most of the Routas wines, was created only in 1993 — a sign that greater things are to come from this area. “I think that Grenache and Syrah have enormous commercial potential with American consumers,” said Lindquist.

Chateau Routas does seem to be making a name for itself, albeit mostly in the US. The wine correspondent for the Financial Times, Jancis Robinson, mentioned it recently (see The rehabilitation of rosé), despite the fact that the wine is currently unavailable in the UK. At the domaine we were told that a new UK distributor is imminent, so perhaps we won’t have to travel quite so far when the time comes to replenish our cellar (well, wine rack actually).

To name or not to name?

Given the debate in recent weeks about the wisdom of naming Dr. David Kelly as a BBC source, I’ve wondered several times why BBC News attributes only a fraction of its online content to specific members of its staff. Why don’t they identify the author of every piece?

For example, the top news story as I write is BBC News | Politics | Kelly family points finger at MoD, and it is not attributed to anyone in particular. It does contain a related video link to a report by “The BBC’s Jonathan Beale”, but that has almost certainly been lifted from the BBC’s conventional broadcasting output (i.e. television), where reporters are always clearly identified.

Sometimes the author of an online story is identified (see BBC News | Education | More GCSE exam entries fail by Gary Eason), and sometimes a story is exclusively devoted to the opinions of one of the BBC’s star correspondents (see BBC News | Politics | Profound questions raised by Kelly tragedy featuring Andrew Marr). So why the inconsistency? Why are the reporters named in some cases and not others?

There is a precedent in print, of course. Newspaper editorials are usually unsigned, and the Economist has a long tradition of not acknowledging authors, with the exception of its lengthy “surveys” and reviews of books written by its staff. Perhaps, the BBC has adopted some of these practices now that the web has forced it into “print”?

Convergence would appear to be one of the effects of the Internet. Broadcasters are publishing electronic “newspapers”, and newspapers are “broadcasting” their content electronically.

Coincidentally (or is it?), the UK Government has announced a review of the BBC’s online services (see BBC News | Entertainment | Analysis: BBC online review). I hope it helps to resolve some of the confusing inconsistencies that have developed with the popular adoption of the “new media”.

P.S. – Why is that story about the review of BBC Online classified as “Entertainment”? Since when is everything associated with the BBC necessarily entertaining?

A place in the sun

As usual in August there’s little real news, so the BBC is reporting on the weather, which is just barely newsworthy. In French heat deaths ‘up to 3,000’ it states:

The French health ministry has said the deaths of up to 3,000 people in recent weeks could be attributed to the European heatwave.

That number of deaths is plausible depending on the number of weeks concerned, but the report goes on to say:

Police trade union officials have called on the army to help remove the bodies of the deceased, saying that undertakers have been “overwhelmed” by the number of dead.

This misleading statement makes it sound like the plague is revisiting France. Here in the south I have yet to see a single dead body (not to mention any Police trade union officials), and we have experienced the same hot weather as the rest of Europe. As I write, it’s 35° Celsius in the shade!

I must admit that even the locals are complaining about the weather now. It hasn’t rained significantly since May, and everyone is feeling the effects of such a long dry spell.

La Vallee de la SiagneStill, it didn’t stop Sudsy Dame and I from hiking in La Vallee de la Siagne on Monday. The Siagne river runs at the bottom of a beautiful gorge overlooked by the village of St.-Cézaire-sur-Siagne. The hike begins in the village, but immediately descends to the river 200 meters below. It involves walking along a precipitous canal wall, and straight through a waterfall just before reaching an old Roman bridge across the Siagne, the Pont des Tuves. You then walk along the river for a few kilometers before re-crossing it at the Pont du Moulin. The best swimming is available at the two bridges, where there are incredibly refreshing (i.e. cold) pools of clean water that are easy to reach from the riverbank. You then return to the village by hiking up the east side of the valley back to St.-Cézaire.

It’s important in hot weather to take lots of water to drink. Between us we consumed 4.5 litres while walking, but nothing matched the drinks in the main square in St.-Cézaire at the end. They were pure bliss.

It’s hot, hot, hot…

Fountain in VidaubanLike most of Europe, the south of France is in the middle of a hot, dry summer. Three weeks ago there were serious forest fires near the town of Vidauban, and we could see the effects as we drove past on the autoroute two days ago. The forest was completely destroyed right up to the edge of the highway. A few metres more and the gas/petrol station that services the motorway would have gone up in flames too. How demented must you be to start a fire like that intentionally? I’m sure the French authorities will incarcerate the arsonist for a very long time (both before and after his trial!).

It’s so hot in the Var that all serious activity needs to be completed by noon at the latest. Consequently, we haven’t done much since we arrived. We did attend a recital in the village church last night, which was interesting largely because I hadn’t set foot in the church before. It’s a big cavernous room with a vaulted ceiling, and is in serious need of more windows. It was stifling! The church is well known for two reasons:

  • the gloire (literally “glory”, but it’s a big wooden carving behind the alter illustrating Christ or sometimes a Saint) is so artistically important that it’s listed as one of France’s national monuments.
  • every time the 3rd of May falls on a Friday (i.e. once every 11 years?) huge numbers of pilgrims descend on this small village to walk through the church’s porte du pardon in order to have all their sins instantly forgiven.

I’ll have to make an effort to attend the next pilgrimage in 2013 if I’m to have any hope of making up for lost time.

There’s lots going on in the village at this time of year, so we have made our plans to accomodate the brocante (rummage sale) on Sunday and the bio foire (organic produce fair) next weekend. In the meantime I have cleaned the aquapack, configured the GPS, and calibrated the altimeter in my wrist watch, so I think we’re almost ready to go. If only it would cool down a little!

Thought for the day

Rabbi Lionel Blue had some helpful hints for holiday makers on this morning’s Today programme in his talk entitled How to survive a holiday (RealPlayer required). Chief among his recommendations was not to make love in an airport, which strikes me as wise advice no matter who you are, but particularly if you’re a rabbi.

Thought for the day is part of the BBC’s religion and ethics programming, and its web site allows you to search for and listen to previous reflections from all your favourite “thinkers”.

Early bird still catches the worm

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, FranceMost of Europe will go on holiday at some point this month, and the Economist has obligingly published an article on the resurgence in tourism titled Crowded out. It’s introduced as follows:

As British Airways' latest dispute with its unions shows, travel and tourism companies are finding it difficult to modernise as quickly as they would like. They need to keep trying, because the internet and the trend towards late booking have brought about the biggest revolution since the start of scheduled flights.

If last month’s wildcat strike over punching in and out at British Airways wasn’t sufficient proof that the airline is struggling, an acquaintance provided anecdotal evidence not long ago. He travels regularly to the south of France and noted that while the discount airline easyJet operates with a cabin crew of four, BA provides 11! No wonder BA announced a second quarter loss of £45m last week (see Losses batter bruised BA), especially given that BA has been forced to reduce its fares:

Full-service airlines are being forced to slash prices (and costs) to compete with low-cost airlines like easyJet, Ryanair and Southwest. The advent of the internet has made prices transparent, and made it beguilingly easy for customers to shop around. Customers, in turn, have become more comfortable in using the web to find last-minute deals. The effect is nothing short of revolutionary.

My wife and I are flying to Nice on BA this week, and the airfare is the lowest I’ve paid in a decade of travelling that route, which used to be the most expensive per mile of all BA’s destinations. Never before have I paid so little, which is even more astounding when you consider that we’re travelling at the height of the summer season. British Midland, Buzz (now part of Ryanair) and easyJet have finally forced BA to offer more competitive fares, and it will be interesting to see if BA has managed to simultaneously reduce its costs (i.e. the size of the cabin crew).

Although I booked these flights on-line, I did so in June, which can hardly be considered “last minute”. Experience has taught me that on popular routes cheap fares are only available if you book early. Leave it to the last minute and you’ll be lucky to find seats, let alone a good price. The Economist may be correct to say that “The web has become a vast clearing house for the travel industry's overcapacity: the more deals it offers, the more buyers it finds”, but the overcapacity only exists because the destinations are comparatively unpopular for some reason. If you are happy to go where few wish to travel then by all means use lastminute.com, but if you want a real bargain at a popular resort book as much in advance as you can.