a good year by peter mayle and the Flips Flipping Pages

Posted on September 26, 2010


A Good Year happens if the climate was consistent throughout, warm, offering the ripening grapes little surprises. If I understood Kathy’s explanations correctly, this plus good soil, careful supervision, and tender loving care were almost always sufficient for a good harvest. And the wine will flow.

During the Flips Flipping Pages book discussion last September 18, the wine did flow: red wine, light and exuberant; white wine, well balanced, crisp with the flavors of citrus and spicy ginger. Uncomplicated wine enjoyed with a variety of foods, from cold cuts to Gege’s divine cheesy churvas.

The reason for meeting was Peter Mayle’s bestselling novel, A Good Year. Published in 2004, it was adapted into a movie starring Russell Crowe in 2006.

The story follows Max Skinner, a London stockbroker, who loses his job before finding out that he inherited a vineyard in France from his late uncle Henry. In Provence he falls in love with wine, the people, and the simple life. Through the book readers get a glimpse of the highly competitive wine business.

The movie deviated on a few but very emphatic points in the story. It stressed romance and comedy, chose to combine feisty and alluring into one love interest instead of sticking to the lesbian lawyer and flirty café owner of the book, and completely did away with the fumbling Hardy Boy attempts of Max and company.

The uncle-nephew relationship was also prioritized, presented through flashbacks and wistful reminiscences. Said many of the Flippers during the discussion, they preferred movie over book–a rare event among booklovers. The book had exuberance but the movie had direction.

With Gege (IslandHopper) moderating, the book discussion transformed into another amazing eat, talk, eat, swap, and learn gathering. Sheila (aka Shy) had arranged to hold it at the Cyrano Wine Shop on Palanca St of Legaspi Village, Makati. Cyrano owner, Alex Sawit, presided over the bar, demonstrating at one point the Cyrano cut, kung fu technique of opening a wine bottle (Flippers, don’t try this at home).

Gege and Sheila (with Jeeve’s help) had invited Miss Katherine Yao Santos to give some pointers on wine appreciation. Kathy is the marketing director for Happy Living Philippines, importer of the Beringer wine from Napa Valley in California. She grew up loving wine, she said. As a child she learned how to tell good wine from bad, how to properly store wine, and how wine was produced. To enter the wine business, one must be passionate about wine or else the business will not prosper.

In the book, Max’s friend Charlie demonstrated the ritual of wine tasting. To truly appreciate wine, I feared one has to have en extensive vocabulary of flowery words. Kathy’s lesson in wine appreciation killed that fear–and initiated my palate to the wonders of wine!

White Zinfandel, very friendly, eased the Flippers into the first sip. Said Kathy, the  blush wine is good for those just learning to appreciate wine. It has a bit of sweetness, an attractive clarity, and nice with different food. “Bagay sa tapsilog,” she agreed.

Hold the wine glass at the stem (to avoid warming the wine with our hand), check the clarity (reject wine if there are particles), swirl (to make the wine come alive), breathe in the bouquet (dip the nose into the glass), and sip (don’t swallow right away, let the wine coat all your taste buds, savor the lingering taste).

“You want wine to still be there, so you get the combination of wine with food,” said Kathy. Wine primes the tongue for food. For Filipino food with lots of sauce, lighter wine is better. Color coding can even be applied: white wine for white sauce; red for red sauce. Heavier wine is good for heavier food like steak.

Kathy discussed other important points about wine, summarized below:

Glass and stemware are very important. Shape and thickness of glass affect wine appreciation. Use thin glass for wine.

Alex helped explain the mechanics of using the right glass for wine. With tapering glass, the wine hits the sweet center of the tongue first. For fruity wine, wider glass is better so the sweetness is diffused.

If not stored properly, wine will oxidize. If exposed to heat, wine starts cooking. Best use a wine chiller or store where temperature is stable.

Bottle-opening involves the right gadget and technique. In proper society, we’re not supposed to pop the cork, Kathy said (so Hollywood is not proper society?).

Choose quality wine. Price is a good indication. Wine priced at below 400 pesos are usually mass produced. Wine is expensive because of the extreme care given to the growing of grapes, making sure all the right conditions are met. Note the well manicured vineyards that produce good wine, said Kathy.

When ordering wine at restaurants, inspect the cork. “If you see wine stains on side of cork, the wine was leaking and not properly stored. Reject wine as the flavor might have been compromised.”

In wine tasting, spitting after tasting is the norm. This is done so the wine doesn’t get to you explained Kathy. Focus is important. To evaluate quality, tasting is enough.

Alex shed light on the heavy vs light bottle debate. Apparently, many people think that heavy bottles are better for wine. “Lighter is environment friendly. But consumer perception for red wine is for heavy bottles.” Heavy or light probably does not make a difference to the quality of wine.

Given all the elements of wine–taste, texture, clarity, fragrance, body, etc. appreciating wine can be a tricky business. But Kathy reassured the Flippers: Never let anyone dictate your wine. We enjoy wine differently.

No shame then if you enjoy Strawberry wine or some other very fruity wine. As long as you can appreciate it.

Said Gege, “I usually drink wine for the buzz.” So Kathy’s wine appreciation talk was an eye-opener.

Time was short after the wine appreciation session: another red and a white, the Beringer California Zinfandel and Chenin Blanc, were also appreciated. The Flippers had been so engrossed that they almost forgot to discuss the book! Gege routed everyone and asked several to describe Peter Mayle’s A Good Year in wine terms.

Welski wrote a very good recap of this part of the discussion. The book swap followed. Wine flowed some more. The grapes, cheesy churvas, pizza, cold cuts, pasta, and chips disappeared from the plates. Flippers brought home laminated coasters and glass-shaped bookmarks Gege made. The message, [name of Flipper] is having a good year, was repeated all over the place.

Of course the Flippers are having a good year. But maybe the Flippers needed the positive reinforcement. Unlike with wine, hot and cold, wet and dry, rocky and sandy help make the Flippers. What is a year without surprises? Boring? Clueless? Flat?

Unlike wine, Flippers mature well with all sorts of challenges. The book discussion proves it.

To find out more about the wine mentioned in this post, visit http://www.hlpcwines.com.ph and http://cyranofriends.wordpress.com.

For more interesting recap of A Good Year by the Flips Flipping Pages, drop by at Bookmarked and Musings_and_Writings .

The photos of good people, good books, good wine and good food are courtesy of Rhett de Jesus and Dianne Singson.