PARIS, CLARET, ROBESPIERRE, JEAN-BAPTISTE
I tasted my first bottle of that timeless Mouton 87 in early 1793: still young, dark and unrevealing. So was Robespierre at the time, although in his mid 30s but wore it well considering the pressures of the job and how hard he was working to keep the momentum going. We were soon to fall out, terminally, after he set up the ‘revolutionary dictatorship’ (as historians later came to describe it; I called it a pain in the arse of the nation) in the autumn of that robust year. I’d liberated ten cases as payment from the Marquis Léoville de Beaufort and forgave him his crimes against the people. I’d also got involved in confiscating and redistributing vineyards in Burgundy, by the way. I made sure a long-standing colleague of mine, Edouard Cassenous, received a few holdings in a village close to Beaune to divide among his substantial family, as a reward for his services to the Revolution. In fact, one small domaine there is still in his descendant’s hands, who’s changed the wine’s style a little; but it’s, nevertheless, one of the best Pinot Noirs I’ve ever quaffed. And believe me, I’ve polished off some great reds over the years.
I’ve still got three bottles of the towering 1787 – no, two actually – of course, I opened a second one the day after I met that mysterious naive young man two hundred years on from the very first apprehensive bottle. Those sips of lush old red the night before, so heady and strangely intoxicating, put him in my grasp; the next fused him to me forever. I’m afraid I didn’t give Robespierre the pleasure of a further sampling; I ensured his life-blood was removed by another’s hand, not offered for eternity. A disappointment, malheureusement. But also with deepest regret. Anyway, this story drifted through my consciousness over two centuries ago; so let’s return to that particularly poignant point.
I don’t remember exactly when I assumed French nationality but I was known as Jean-Baptiste Lefèvre. Certainly thirty or forty years before this; I think it was the name of an old acquaintance of Voltaire, who disappeared in suspicious circumstances without trace. Or was it one of his characters? It’d been a trying year, to say the least. Paris was intense, very intense; the air was as concentrated as the Mouton, the streets were redder still.