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PICNICS, ME AND CHABLIS

Picnic
Picnic

It seems to me that we worry much too much about the wrong things.  Like Russia, China, North Korea, monkeypox and Manchester United.

We don’t worry about the really serious, enduring problems.

Like picnics.

Apparently, according to surveys, we now spend over £50 on average on one picnic. Which is a lot of money on something which no one really enjoys , most actively hate and many simply pretend to  think worthwhile.

As someone who has taken part, always reluctantly, in many picnics over the years I can think of many things which might make picnics more enjoyable and more endurable.

Like if they took place indoors more.

If golf is a waste of a good walk, a picnic is a waste of a decent meal.

I get great satisfaction from eating off tables and even trays. In fact , any level surface whatsoever. I don’t enjoy eating off the ground. I prefer sleeping under blankets rather than kneeling for hours on top of them trying to eat off a not-very-rigid paper plate.

Picnic1
Picnic

I prefer solid china plates not wobbly ones which fold in on themselves as soon as you put anything weighing more than lettuce anywhere but in the middle of the plate. Keeping food on a small , temperamental paper plate for more than ten seconds is an exact science.

I prefer eating in my own kitchen or dining-room rather in a lay-by.  I just happen to think that is more civilized.

I prefer to go out to eat in a restaurants rather than a fields. I like to overlook a river rather than a trunk road. And have walls around me rather than millions of midges.

I  enjoy sharing meals with friends and family.  Not wildlife. I don’t particularly like sharing them with ants , crows and little red snarling sociopathic spiders that make you itch. I don’t like paying for a wasp colony’s lunch.

I don’t like treating a hundred cluster flies to tea. If I had to be honest, I don’t like socializing very much with insects. Nor do I find it easy to relax at social gatherings which might at any moment bene interrupted by a charging bull or a randy horse.

On the food front, I like my cottage cheese cold not hot. I like my salads cold and crisp . Not hot and limp.  In other words, I don’t like picnics at all. They are extremely over-rated.

As much as I respect a lot of people , I cannot help thinking there are a lot of stupid people about. Especially those who like going on picnics. And travel miles to do it.

What is this compulsion to picnic ? When you own a nice table with nice chairs and a cooker to cook in why , as soon as the weather turns hot , do we all pack our food into not-quite-airtight and not quite hermetically-sealed  plastic containers and head off to put it all on a rock? Or spill most of it over the grass.

The necessity we all feel of having fun in the sun explains it to a large extent. As soon as we get a heatwave , we all start looking for our wicker hampers and  force feeding ourselves spring-onion related cold collations  and speciality samosas which have been allowed to sweat for a couple of hours in the car boot and then rolled around in grass for two minutes for extra flavour.

In my family, picnics engender irritation and conflict. There is always a row about the best location. Then there’s the row about which way to face and the row about who had the missing mayonnaise  ( “It was there when we left”) and the row about who forgot to put the lid back on the baby beetroots. I have been caught red handed many times.

The kids get bitten just about everywhere  and come out in a terrible facial rash which make them look like they are Scotch eggs.

My wife always gets stag beetles in her hair and a slowworm up her skirt. And there  is always a terrible panic and scene when she thinks it is an adder.

Somebody also always gets hay fever and sneezes all over the pork pie and a gust of wind always comes from nowhere and  blows over the  coldest can of beer.   And I always manage to mistake   rabbit droppings for the black olives.

And I always accidentally sit on something. Can you imagine anything more humiliating than sitting on a green olive  and not knowing until the next day at work when someone points at your trousers and you have to explain the stain away?

Race-Chablis-1
Race-Chablis

Wine makes a difference. Especially Chablis. I wouldn’t go a yard for a Scotch egg but I ma willing to traipse across fields if I can see a a bottle of Chablis at the end of it.

Rather than order, rather pretentiously, “ A succulent wine combined with an austere soil to shimmering effect”  just say less pretentiously : “Chablis. No any old Chardonnay. The only Chardonnay. As long the vines have their roots in the right place.  Kimmeridgian soil or on Portlandian limestone.”

Americans are now catching up on the UK as consumers of Chablis.  3.1 million bottles were imported in 2021. Chablis wines account for approximately a quarter of white Burgundy exports and 15% of all Burgundy exports to the US.

Gautheron-Chablis-1
Gautheron-Chablis

Margaret River ( the superb Vasse Felix), Tasmania and Chile’s Limari Valley produce great Chardonnays but they are overshadowed by the French wine growing-region which is closer to Champagne than the rest of Burgundy.

Chablis shares the Paris Basin with Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and the Aube part of Champagne. It is characterized by chalky marl and thin marl limestone called Kimmeridgian.  Fossil molluscs , ammonites and other invertebrates give the wines their famous flinty, shellfish character.  This is undoubtedly a key reason for the shellfish and flint character

There are four Chablis categories: Petit Chablis, village Chablis,  premiers crus and  grands crus, comprising seven climats.

Names and places to look out for are Montee de Tonnerre, Vaulorent, La Fourchaume, Montmains, Domaine Louis Michel, Butteaux, Forets, La Moutonne,  Blanchot, Grenouilles , the Dampt family, Domaines Alain Geoffroy,  Louis Moreau  and Jean-Paul and Benoit Droin ( which goes back  to 1590), William Fevre and Les Clos.

François Raveneau, founded in 1948, is now headed by Francois’ two sons, Bernard and Jean-Marie. Most its vineyards are dominated by premier and grand cru designations, including the coveted  Blanchot and prized Les Clos.

Grand-Régnard-Chablis-1
Grand-Régnard-Chablis-1

Domaine René et Vincent Dauvissat is one of the region’s greatest producers, perfect for pairing with seafood and classic French fare.

Less well-known and more affordable quality Chablis comes from Domaine Paul Nicolle, three miles  from the town of Chablis in the village of Fleys. The estate was founded in 1970 by Robert Nicolle and Josette Laroche.  Seek out also Eleni & Edouard Vocoret.r

With nearly two billion wine label scans and hundreds of millions of unbiased reviews and ratings, no one is better placed than Vivino’s 60 million-strong community to recommend the best Chablis.

Its favourites include Regnard (est. 1860),  Isabelle et Denis Pommier ( Poinchy), Denis Race, yj fifty generation Joseph Drouhin ( Yonne), Jean-Marc Brocard, Oceana and Alain Gautheron.

One of the honour-bound duties  and pleasures all Chablis lovers have is to convert the uninitiated and wean them away from inferior Chardonnay expressions.

As soon as you hear the word “buttery” says “wet stones”.  As soon as someone says “Yellow Tail£ say “Defaix  and the master vintners of Préhy, Courgis and Chichée. If someone mention’s Hardy’s , respond quickly and emphatically with “La Chablisienne Co-operative”

If someone says “oaky” riposte with “vapid” and effuse lengthily about “white peaches, tidal pools a silky polychromatic selection of  unforgettable aromas and flavours.”Then tell them where to go.

Pommier-Petit-Chablis-2018
Pommier-Petit-Chablis-2018

Vivino.

And then try and get inside as quickly as possible. And dig into a Chunk’s Devon pie!

Give me four walls and a round table anytime. Disdaining picnics is the sign of a truly  sophisticated person. I am not interested in eating out in gold splashed meadows , amidst a sea of cloverheads ,  buttercups and flaring poppies or the mellow damask haziness of twilight. The countryside is to be walked in. Not eaten in.

If I was a foreign agent or a spy and my captors wanted to make me talk all they would have to do is threaten me with a melon baller and suggest a picnic. Long before the crusts are cut off the egg sandwiches  I would have spilled the beans and told them everything they want to know.

Show me pictures of the Chablis vineyards and I’d break.

Pour me a Chablis and I’d squeal.

If the wine isn’t sufficiently chilled , a cider will do. Just spare me the rug.