Michael Ondaatje: The Cat's Table


This is a gentle book. It starts as a typical, a bit dreamlike experience of an 11-year old boy who takes a liner from Colombo to England to be reunited with a mother he hasn't seen for a long time. During meals, he is seated at the cat's table, the table farthest away from the captain's table, together with a motley crew of low-status passengers and two boys of the same age (about 11).

First it seems as if Ondaatje sees the ships as a big box, continuously putting in new characters. Some of them become very close to the boy, some seem only to touch him from time to time, like billiard balls in a pool game. Some are in a far away corner of the box, barely aware of his presence of the boy. And sofar it all slowly develops into a nice and slow story about a boy on a boat. Then things start happening.

One by one the characters move and seem to be thrown out of the story. To me they were like flares that go up and disappear into the night after you followed their trail through the dark. One by one the characters disappear out of the story, and only two remain in the last chapter.

I liked this book a lot. It is not spectacular, it is not a pricewinner, but it is lovely, and the whole story seems to follow the rythm of a sea voyage, slow but not to be distracted from its course.

Good reading in turbulent times.


Savagnin, Château d'Arlay, 2004

When somebody asks me for my favourite wines, the ones of the Château d'Arlay allways come to my mind. A long time ago a visit to this castle made me discover the Jura-wines (we went for the interior and the birds of prey when my daughter was still very young and i was not yet into wine). The more I learned about them the more they started to fascinate me and the more I started to appreciate them, and today I cherish my last Arlay bottles, and if there is one domaine I would like to revisit to stock up it is this one.

The tradition of winemaking in this place goes back to the 11th century and the history of the castle reads like a novel. Today it is owned by the Arenberg family, but if you look at the titles of the Queen of the Netherlands you will notice the title "Baron van Arlay". It goes back to the Comte de Chalon-Armay, Prince of Orange, who lost his life on the battlefield in 1530. His titles went to his nephew René of Nassau and so the William the Silent, the founding father of the Netherlands, and ancestor of the actual royal family. The words "Je Maintiendrai" in the weapon of he Dutch queen come from this castle, which according to some sources would be the oldest wine-castle of France.

For a period however winemaking disappeared here, and in 1960 earl Renaud de Laguiche replanted them. Today there is 25ha of savagnin, chardonnay, trousseau, poulsard and pinot noir. Winemaking is extremely traditional, though a bit secretive. You can't find a lot of info on these wines, but they are absolutely very special. Almost all of them are made to cellar long and are often bottled only after three years of ripening in the vats of the castle. They are strange and sometimes unsettling, and the Corail, a rosé is one of the strangest rosés I know, but i love it (it gets quite old). There is a very interesting video on the castle here: http://vimeo.com/10083888


I opened this 100% savagnin today to go with a mushroom risotto, a very good combination. It's a 2004, only bottled in 2008, and bought in the castle's shop. Only 2000 were made, and on the castle's website there is no mention of it, so I don't know if they continued this cuvée. Every time I opened one of the four bottles i originally bought, I had a completely different wine, from "dry whiskey without the alcohol" when just bottled to something buttery, almost chardonnay like two years later and to something rich and slightly sweet that reminded me of a dish with roasted chestnuts that have become mellow and caramelised. It had an immensely long and interesting finish. I loved it, it's drinking history and enjoying it. One really should try this at least once in a lifetime...

I did yesterday, and enjoyed it !! 

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Classified grapes

For the first time in France, a vineyard has been classified as a protected historical monument. It is situated in Sarragachies, in the Gers departement, in the Midi-Pyrenées, deep in the south of France. It is in many senses a real freak when compared to today's vineyards, and gives a unique view on how the vineyards in France were in the 19th century.

Concerning its age, there is no paperwork to prove a birth date. It is certainly pre-phylloxera (thanks to the sandy soil phylloxera did not attack) and as this way of plantation disappeared in 1850, it's definitely older than that. Today's guess goes towards 1830 or earlier. It is a miracle it survives: phylloxera, the 1870 war, two World War's, urbanisation and the massive disappearance of cheap land labour in the 50ies when a big part of France's vineyards disappeared, but it is still there.

There are some curious things here. First of all, it is a complantation vineyard. About 20 different varieties are planted in the same vineyard, many now almost disappeared, some unknown and without names. These "field blends" still exist in the Douro in the older vineyards and in Austria (gemischter satz), but it seemed to be quite normal then. In fact it was a lot safer: when one variety got an illness the other were often immune, and even the different ripening fases contributed to the minimaling of risks. Secondly all vines are planted in couples and in squares (see the video), to facilitate the working with oxen in all directions, and the squares are quite wide from each other.

The cave des Producteurs de Plaimont currently studies the vines to see if some of these old varieties have potential. Unfortunately no wine is made anymore from the parcel, a pity I think, but it is great that something like this still exists. You can find the video here: http://videos.ladepeche.fr/video/325c985d3abs.html. It's in French but gives a good idea of the situation.