Sunday 2 January 2011

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Some places seem timeless. You can feel the genteel force of an all absorbing continuity making sure things go on more or less the same and more or less forever.

Everyone arriving here gets surrepticiously assimilated. Linger just a little too long and generations of your family will live and die beneath the Iron Age fort on Table Mountain.

Llangattock church tower was built by the fierce, expansionist Normans some 900 years ago.

Today it's policed by contractionist Christians repelling invaders through smugness rather than battlements. It's just a short stroll across the graveyard and across an ancient bridge, to Crickhowell.

Here I still regularly bump into the descendant of a man who fought with Henry V at Agincourt (himself born just down the road in Monmouth). Often in The Bear Hotel, founded 200 years after that famous trouncing of the French. Recently it's crackling fires warmed Johnny Depp's breeches after a hard days filming at Tretower Court, a medieval manor near by. It's a lovely bar with real ale, passable food and a good wine list. There's a slightly different experience to be had across the road where the pretty exterior of the 18th Century 'Brit' belies what lurks within.

The last time I opened this door on a Boxing Day it was packed to the gunnels with people dancing, singing and screaming... high on life and quite a lot else. I was bear hugged by an old friend not seen in years who shouted in my ear, "Bloody marvellous to see you! I got married!"... before pointing to a woman lifting her top while dancing on the pool table and shouting, "That's her there". Well, what do you say?

Continuity don't do it for me. Maybe that's why I'm so fond of wine. Variability, surprise and endless contradictions all make life more fun. Amid some Jacobean warmth this was the finest wine I drank all Christmas...

From the 1990 vintage. Over the years the power and tannin of Cornas has given way to a beautiful, complex, fragrant wine more Burgundy than Rhone. I could drink it for breakfast. Not that I'll get the chance. The wine maker Robert Michel retired in 2006 and sold his vines to various concerns. There will never be any other wines like these.

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