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 Thursday, 23rd May, 2013

It's been a peculiar time for me this past month, peculiar for a poor soul with fierce nomadic tendencies because I have been rather sedate of late. I have not, as is my wont (this rhyming doggerel just keeps popping out, sorry), even spent a night out. Strange, and I would think that with my normal nomadic routine disrupted, a serious dose of cabin-fever would by now have set in. But it hasn't for the simple reason I have, in a way, been travelling, quite extensively mind you... albeit vicariously.

When one thinks of 'armchair travel', the normal impression is of reading about exotic travels and adventures in a book. I have certainly been doing that. I have dug up some old once-off editions of French explorers traipsing across the Kalahari in the '50's, then following the colourful and magnificient travelling 19th Century life of the great impresario, G.A. Farini,  as well as the equally colourful and magnificent travelling life of a certain Deneys Reitz, a South African country-bumpkin whose epic travels during the First World War from the rebellion on the plains of the Orange Free State, to hounding the Germans out of South West Africa, then having the tables turned on him in German East Africa, then to a series of dangerous, life threatening adventures on the Western Front where he led a battlion of Scottish troops into the teeth of the fighting, are as gripping as they are unique. But despite my spellbinding literature, this kind of armchair travel alone would not have been sufficient for my restless spirit were it not for a different kind of armchair travel, a sort that is quite negelected, or should I say, gone unnoticed. Physical travel titilates the senses. Reading is merely imaginary. Yet I have discovered something that bridges the two - drinking wine.

Ok, ok, before you whisper things about dipsomaniaism, I have discovered that drinking certain wines from a certain terroir transports the imbiber straight to the wine's place of origin. It's very Star Trekkie, like Scotty beaming Captain Kirk from a spaceship down to a new world. For example, a nip from a Modigliani-necked bottle of an Alsatian Riesling with its dry but fruity lingering aftertaste immediately conjures up gothic churchspires of little villages where the French are German, or the German French, I forget which. It's a region with a unique blend of opposing cultures and languages all garnered up into a single taste.

You might think I've gone a bit dotty, but try it for yourself. Last night I had a wee dram of sherry from Jerez in southern Spain. For those of you who don't know, Jerez IS sherry, like Oporto in Portugal IS Port, and Champagne IS champagne...you get the drift. Jerez is where the drink and the name originates and sipping a sherry from here brings out everything about the region. The taste is dark, sharp and lingering depicting the dark and long history of the place, with a flavour that speaks of a hot dusty landscapes surrounded by a sparkling blue sea, with castles and fortresses on hill tops to protect against invading hordes of Moors and Saracens. This is the land of El Cid or Don Quixiote, or even Orwell but better and more real than any homage of his.

Better still was a wine from Sicily, where a certain grape varietal, Nerello, has morphed itself from the standard Nebbiolo to something somewhat different thanks mainly due to the volcanic soils on the slopes of Mount Etna upon where it grows. Tasting this wine takes you right up there onto those sulpherous slopes because it's a flavour so unique that you can't help but imagine yourself in a little trattoria under vines beneath a hot sun with a congenial Sicilian proprietor plying you by the gallon with the amber nectar.

Then there is the shiraz from the Rhone. Despite common legend about Persia and Xerxes, Darius, Cyrus etc, this variety orginates in the Rhone Valley, where it is know as the syrah (not shah)...and any dip into a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape or Cote du Rhone will present no illusions that the Rhone valley terroir and the Syrah grape are one and the same. And I could go on...the flinty cool soils of Burgundy that make a chardonnay and a pinot noir taste unlike any other, or a sauvignon blanc from it's true home in the Loire valley and lets never forget the sharp dry bubbly from France's most northernmost wine producing region - Champagne, where my new friend Deneys Reitz dodged bombs and bullets in the trenches in 1917/18.

So, you can see I have travelled a fair bit this month - in France and liitle of Spain and Sicily. I think tonight I'll take a gander up South Africa's West Coast  by cracking open a bottle of Tobias Steen. I'll be sure to get some good old traditional Swartland pasture country coarsing through my veins with this silky Chenin Blanc while I nonchalantly recline on an armchair.