Yesterday I bought the most expensive bottle of wine I’ve ever bought. A Château Labatut Saint Émilion at €9.50. Three hundred percent more than I normally pay. But I had no choice. It was the cheapest in the shop. I was in Saint Émilion.
Famous Saint Émilion: a roadshow of geriatric Americans plugged into their tour guide headsets like they were life support machines. Tiptoeing down the steep cobbled paths cautious in the knowledge that one misplaced step could be their last. All desperate to drink a bottle of 1996 Clos de Menuts at €350 a bottle before they expire and their sons and daughters gobble up their cash to spend on Hummers, Botox and Dr. Pepper.
I ended up in the Caves of La Famille Rivière that produces the fabled Clos de Menuts to see what all the fuss was about. It’s basically a dungeon without the skeletons or the rats. Just thousands and thousands of bottles of very expensive wine.
For a moment I thought I’d taken a wrong turning and was somewhere I wasn’t meant to be. A flicker of terror ran through me. Thoughts of being buried alive raced through my mind. Trapped in an airless fetid dungeon wearing only a thin T-shirt and a pair of shorts with nothing to eat or drink except…
‘Oh my God,’ I thought. ‘What am I thinking. Trapped in a dungeon with some of the best wine on the planet.’
But alas it was not to be. Two Americans blundered their way in shortly after and started asking me where the wine tasting was.
‘Not here,’ I flatly replied. ‘I think it’s upstairs. These are the cellars. Can’t you tell? It’s kind of dark.’
They disappeared upstairs and I followed them, deciding against shoving a few bottles into my bag to flog at the markets in Bordeaux next week. I’ve only thieved once in my life and that was a chocolate bar from Woolworths when I was at school. But that was when stealing from Woolworths wasn’t considered a crime. Every school kid did it. It’s probably why they went bust.
Back above ground I headed off to find a bottle more in line with my budget and eventually found a tiny shop with DISCOUNT written in big letters on a chalkboard outside. It was the size of a newsagent you find at bus stations. Cramped, untidy, fusty.
I asked the lady for the cheapest bottle on offer. ‘What have you got for under a tenner?’
She tried to sell me the next one up at €12, but when I told her about my job centre interview last week she agreed that the 9.50 one would better suit my budget. She didn’t want an unemployed Englishman on her conscience any more than she wanted rich Americans blowing their family inheritance on €12,000 bottles of Pétrus. ‘But such is life,’ she added and smiled.