Ah, the darling buds of May, well, in the Rhône 2014, make that late March. The winter has been mild, there is a good level of water in the vineyards and the buds are starting to show - early after the late maturing of last year. Another season, another set of hopes and dreams.
I had a busy day at the end of July 1966. Apart from attending the World Cup Final for the Jules Rimet Trophy between England and Germany, I met a few people at Wembley Stadium. My father was responsible for the catering, and I was in with the VIP guests and high profile personnages of the day. My first and outstanding triumph was to meet and shake the hand of MUHAMMAD ALI, THE CHAMP.
He was seated in a corner of the Reception Room, no big crowd around him. I walked up and asked him for his autograph, while his couple of minders (would have been x10 in the USA) urged him “C’mon Champ, we gotta go see the football game…” to which My Hero responded, “No, I gotta look after my fans here in England.” I thought it would be good to have his autogrpah in the right place, so I opened the page of the Final programme where the teams were written out, bang in the middle, he signed, we shook hands, my paw disappeared, and I departed. Years later, after the death of my parents, the programme was thrown out in the house clear-out. Gutter.
When living in Aix-en-Provence in the early 1970s, I wrote Muhammad Ali poems and pranced around, shuffling in my espadrilles, weaving, shadow boxing, bobbing and all, as some of my wearied friends will testify. Like a gnat or a stringy bluebottle on speed. Ali's Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire on the night of my birthday, 30 October 1974, had me up all night in my flat in Aix, twiddling the radio dials for some scrap of information on the fight. Nothing. Total anxiety.
One particularly horrendous line of homespun poetry ran: “Why, Muhammad he got brain, he ain’t come from no drain, he make ‘em pay their dues . . . with those flashin one-twos.” [I admit to minor plagiarism of the Louisville Lip].
The Mighty Legend is the subject of this account since he is invoked in my review of the 2012 CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE REDS, which I have just published. This is a FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE A BEE vintage. It has grace, charm, inner strength, and is the one year when just maybe the growers will realise that they do not have to churn out obviously heady, high sucrosity wines, and can make a decent living reverting to the finesse present in the best Châteauneuf-du-Papes of my youth.
This theme and over 200 wines that range from 2.5 to 5 stars are looked at in depth. As in such matters, the review is discursive, since I am my own Editor. In the matter of vintage comparison, I go back to possibly 1964, possibly 1979, and most possibly not, but for a fleeting moment, 2006.