Tuesday, 17 April 2012

No reason to whine about an English bottle

Years ago, living in France, I introduced a role-playing exercise into a course designed to give the staff of a French company enough multi-cultural sense to handle relations with their English colleagues.

One group had to play the role of a French wine importer — that’s right, importer — selling English wine to a French potential client. To make the whole thing more realistic, we provided some Kentish wine from for them to propose to their prospective clients.

I won’t name the vineyard, partly to protect the guilty, but above all because I (mercifully) can’t remember what it was called.

The role-playing was a disaster. Group after group would start brilliantly, with the ‘salesman’ extolling the virtues of ‘his’ product, the ‘client’ questioning the assertions with scepticism but courtesy. Then they would taste the wine and all attempt at pretence would collapse, just as they themselves collapsed into hopeless laughter. The stuff was undrinkable. Ghastly. In the end, we used it for cooking a couple of times until we decided that it was spoiling the taste of the food and threw it out.

So it was with pleasure that some years later I bought a bottle of English sparkling wine for a French friend who is by a long stretch the most sophisticated wine connoisseur I know. He drank it with some reticence, and then with delight: his verdict? Outstanding.

Things have moved on still further since then. I read in the Observer at the weekend that production of English sparkling wine is growing at an awe-inspiring rate. And indeed that Champagne growers are beginning to look at the possibility of buying into English vineyards.

What I particularly liked about the article was its reference to the Cornish wines from the Camel Valley. We tasted a still white during our recent visit to Cornwall, and liked it so much we had some more the following evening. It has been winning international competitions, and it was easy to see why.

Another good reason for a trip to Cornwall
A long way indeed from that multi-cultural exercise with bottles that only strengthened the cynicism of the Frenchmen taking part.

Always nice to see a historical stereotype being reversed.

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