Food & Wine


As a reptile – I like to think of myself as one of those lizards that runs across the hottest desert sands with a high knee action like an Olympic hurdler, though in reality I’m probably more of a slow-moving komodo dragon – waking up to yet another spring morning with a sky the colour of an iron lung is all too much.

Probably, you’re reading this with summer’s heat well underway but I actively resent the idea that most foreigners have moved to Mediterranean countries solely for solar delight. Not true. Speaking only for myself, there’s plenty of other reasons to live here long-term and I’ve written in detail about them in this column over the years.

But yes, I admit, I don’t remember a spring here in the last decade and a half that was so bloody gloomy. Apparently, March had the least number of sunlight hours in 50 years and April/early May didn’t feel much better. I want my money back. I didn’t sign up for these relentless, grim overhead conditions and general damp.

Simon Winder in his book Germania, makes an argument (with Germany as the exception) that “one very odd aspect of European countries is that if you start in their north-wests they are generally unattractive, harsh places but if you head south-east life gets better.” He goes on to put this down to fairly obvious factors like the existence of more sun, olives, melons and an outdoor life including wine and vineyards.

Then the author uncorks some wider history, quoting a British wine-merchant who maintains that for most people in England until the First World War, “wine meant drinking ‘hock’ (German Rhine/Mosel white) or [what was popularly called] ‘claret’ (French Bordeaux red). Following this, post-war, the German drop “tasted too much of steel-helmet” and apart from the sweeter “Blue Nun” it largely disappeared from many British tables.

It seems to me that a lot of 21st-century Europeans, including Catalans and Spanish of course, take good wine slightly for granted. In some areas, the geography supports that. Just travel [I almost remember what that verb means] down the roads or look out the train window between Martorell and down the line through the Penedès to near the coast at Sant Vicenç de Calders. The landscape is a non-religious hymn to the grape.

That great truth-teller Eduardo Galeano wrote, “We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine.” Personally, I can’t remember ever having anything better than an ice-cold Chilean dry white called Concha y Toro in a Canberra restaurant called El Rincon Latino.

With the recent scarcity of a penetrating heat and further east a war that must’ve taken any warmth out of any scattering of sun, I hope that rays of natural serotonin are soon seeping into our souls like “that first swallow of wine… after you’ve just crossed the desert.”

Now I’m reminded of the basic and essential difference between climate and weather, though I doubt Leonard Cohen was thinking about that when he wrote, “Springtime starts and then it stops in the name of something new.” What else is new apart from the season? Anything? Something?

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