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Malcolm Jolley: Château Cissac: A fine French wine for the Welsh countryside (or wherever you find yourself)


Before the interruption of COVID-19, my family routinely spent an August holiday every year in rural Wales to visit the branch of my in-laws that live in the U.K. I am back for the first time since 2019, the reunion and re-access to the wine cellar at Cefnperfedd Uchaf, has got me thinking about a wine I have got to know here, and the pleasures of revisiting it year after year, vintage after vintage.

My first visit to Maesmynis was in the mid-90s before I had anything like a family of my own, and just an interesting girlfriend who thought I ought to see where she spent her summers as a kid. (My wife was born in England to Canadian ex-pat parents, and moved to Canada with her mother as a kid when her parents divorced.) What was a weekend and summer house in Wales is now the permanent home of my father-in-law and his wife Nancy (another Canadian ex-pat). Now the house and the barns that surround it are a working lavender farm,“The story of FARMERS’ and Wales’ first lavender farm begins in 2003 with the Oxford philosopher, Bill Newton-Smith, and international journalist Nancy Durham, wondering how their sheep farm might be put to new use under the blustery, grey skies of Wales. One fine spring evening in Wales, Nancy thought of the lavender hedge in their Oxford garden and wondered if she might be able to grow one on the farm. Never mind the hedge, by September that year an entire field of lavender had been planted. This is how the philosopher and the journalist became farmers, distillers of lavender oil and creators of lavender gifts.” cosmetics business, agriturismo, shop, and tourist attraction.

I was instantly impressed by the beauty of the green valleys and hills of mid-Wales in the shadow of the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains. The routine for us in Wales then has not changed very much over the last quarter century or so, and I was glad that we got right back into it after the pandemic pause. Days are spent hiking across fields full of sheep and searching for panoramic views on the high moorlands. Evenings are spent preparing dinner, made from local ingredients, supplemented by whatever looks good from the garden, and raiding the wine cellar.

Bill, my father-in-law, earned his doctorate and then taught at Oxford. (One of his students was Boris Johnson.) There he developed an interest in wine and took the first opportunity he could to join his college’s wine committee. The Oxbridge tradition in wine, as I understand it, is firmly rooted in what the English still call, in some circles, Claret. In any event red Bordeaux was the order of the day in the 1970s, but the only one of the wines on the list that a young academic could afford was Château Cissac, a Cru Bourgeois from the Haut-Médoc.Blend: 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot So his first purchase was a case of the 1970, and he hasn’t looked back since.

The English wine critic, author, encyclopedist, and broadcaster Jancis Robinson calls Cru Bourgeois “a category of red wine properties, or crus, designated bourgeois, or a social stratum below the supposedly aristocratic crus classés.” The idea being that those of us who have to work for a living might be able to enjoy well-made wines that don’t break the bank but exceed the reds headed for supermarket shelves. Recent vintages of Cissac, when they get to Canada, usually sell for about $30-$35 a bottle.

Bordeaux bottles more wine than all the other French regions combined, so while the few hundred Cru Bourgeois producers may be at the modest end of the classification spectrum, they are still very much at the pointy end of the quality pyramid.

Cissac is, in my humble and extremely biased opinion, one of the best of the Cru Bourgeois. In 2003, Robert Parker praised the Vialard family who have made it since the late 19th century. Writing in Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines (4th Ed.), he states plainly that “their beloved Château Cissac produces one of the best Bourgeois wines of the central Médoc.” Parker adds [Cissac] seems to have a growing following among American connoisseurs who have the patience to wait for its slow (for a Cru Bourgeois) but sure evolution.”

Note Parker’s emphasis on Cissac’s ageability. Because I married well, I have had access, albeit intermittently, to a rolling vertical library of Chateau Cissac that has spanned about 50 years. In addition to buying each vintage of the wine “en première” when it is first released, Bill also buys wine at auction, and so I have had the pleasure of tasting Cissac from storied vintages like 1961.And 1982, but I have no notes for either because I am feckless and live in the moment when I am not consciously on the clock. It didn’t occur to me at the time that I would ever write about them. I do certainly recall they were very, very good.

1995 and 1996 were good years for Cissac, and I think Bill must have stocked up on both because there was a run of a few years when he’d serve them both at once. At first, the ’96 was the crowd-pleasing hare, but then the tortoise of ’95 opened up and won the race.

Bill won’t open a Cissac that’s longer than 10 years, and we don’t have it every night; it’s still a treat. On this year’s trip, we have enjoyed the 2008 in bottle and the 2009 in magnum. Both are mistakably Cissacs with left bank Cabernet Sauvignon driven notes of black current and a finish of cedar. In this way, it is a pleasure to be reunited with an old friend of a wine.

Of the two, despite being younger and in a larger bottle, it was the 2009 that struck me at point, mellowed, still good on fruit and acid, and holding a tannic structure that melted into a velvety wash. The 2008, on the other hand, was zippy and full of energy, with blackberry violet notes to complement the black current. If the 2009 was a wine of quiet contemplation, the 2008 still held some raucous character of youth.

Bill told me over dinner with one of the wines that there has been some talk among Cissac fans about whether recent vintages are being made to be ready to drink earlier. This may have as much to do with global warming, which has flattened vintage variation in Bordeaux and all but guaranteed ripe fruit every year, than a pre-meditated marketing decision.

It really shouldn’t matter how old a wine is if it’s well made and brings pleasure to its drinker. And yet wine is more than just a drink, and the tension between the consistency of a wine made at the same place over generations and the unpredictable variability of the wine from year to year makes tasting wine that much more fun. I guess we’ll see what’s happened at Cissac in a few years when we get into the 2010s.

Rudyard Griffiths: WEF conspiracies are antisemitic and a moral stain on conservative politics


On a recent editionWhy did Stephen Harper endorse Pierre Poilievre? The Hub Roundtable breaks it down of our Friday Roundtable podcast, I unwittingly kicked over a proverbial hornet’s nest. It wasn’t because I was railing (as per usual)The leaders won’t be talking about this issue. It may be the most important one against central bank’s easy money policies. And, no it wasn’t my consistent advocacyTime to face the unpleasant truth: Reforming our health system is an urgent necessity for some kind of sensible private health care delivery that ticked off listeners. Rather, what got our email humming along with my Twitter feed were critical comments I made about how conspiracy theories related to the World Economic Forum had inveigled their way into the Conservative Party leadership race and the campaign of frontrunner Pierre Poilievre.

It seems for the WEF obsessed (who knew there were so many!) I had the temerity to state the obvious: there is a more than a casual association between the surge in WEF-related conspiracy theories and rising antisemitism in Canada. The many DMs and emails I have received over the intervening weeks (most thankfully civilized, others not) are uniformly incredulous. “How could I possibly think this?” “Don’t I know that Klaus Martin Schwab isn’t Jewish?” “He is a German you idiot!” And many more along the lines of “I’m an antisemite? This is a horrible smear.” Followed by the chilling sentence: “Don’t you know ‘they’ are controlling our government?”

For the outright delusional to the simply uncurious WEF hater, let me explain. Unwittingly or not, you are keeping very bad company when you are publicly espousing your belief that the World Economic Forum is a worldwide conspiracy for global domination. The toxin you are helping inject into the body politic is the antisemitic meme called the “Great Reset”. For the uninitiated, this is the core tenet of the WEF conspiracy whereby global elites, coordinated by Klaus Schwab, the organization’s executive chairman, are using the pandemic as a “false flag” to enact radical social engineerings, such as digital ID cards, forced vaccination, and the abrogation of private property rights. In short, a Gotterdammerung of our basic civil liberties is coming soon to a theatre near you, all courtesy of WEF and its acolytes in governments around the world.

“…a Gotterdammerung of our basic civil liberties is coming shortly to a theatre near you, all courtesy of the World Economic Forum and its acolytes in governments around the world.”

I will leave it to othersThe Great Reset: What is it? to explain just how ludicrous it is to assert that the WEF’s actual stated agenda for its post-COVID “Great Reset” recovery agenda is a secret plan for global domination. Or, that Klaus Schwab is not planning for a world without pet cats.The World Economic Forum has not planned for a future without pets or animal charities Or, that the Forum is increasingly criticized by its own members as ineffectual and out of touch.

No, what is important here and needs to be called out, as the ADL has documented in great detail,‘The Great Reset’ Conspiracy Flourishes Amid Continued Pandemic are how WEF conspiracy theories abound with antisemitic tropes. Namely that Jewish financiers (queue George Soros and the Rothschilds) control the Forum. That “One World Government” is the latest manifestation of (oh what a coincidence!) of a “worldwide Zionist conspiracy.“ That a “virus,” in this case COVID-19, is the means to enact this evil agenda, playing to the very oldest of tropes that Jews are carriers of disease. I could go on and on with parallels between key features of the WEF conspiracy and longstanding antisemitic beliefs but do not take my word for it. Instead, spend a few minutes on Google searching for the terms “WEF” and “Great Reset.” Before you know it you will be in some very dark places on the Web where antisemitism abounds unbound.

I can hear the protestations of WEF conspiracists. “I don’t believe these things.” “My beef is with WEF controlling our government.” “I am against antisemitism too!” Yes, you are entitled to your delusions. It’s a free country. But do not be deluded about the company you are keeping. Or the dark memes you are unintentionally feeding. And how other people will hear a dangerous dog whistle when you are enthusiastically declaiming on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube about Klaus Schwab and his sinister plans for “One World Government.” What is insidious about antisemitism is how it creeps into societies, slowly at first, then suddenly it bursts into the open as a surge of violence and hate. We know this movie. It contains some of humanity’s darkest moments. WEF haters, I implore you, don’t be enablers of the rise of antisemitism today.

“I am not accusing Poilievre of being an antisemite. Let me make that clear.  His record of support for the State of Israel and the Jewish community speaks for itself.”

Two final observations on the sorry affair that is the growing WEF delusion in Canada today, one political, the other cultural.

To state the obvious, the rise of WEF and “Great Reset” as powerful, associated conspiracy theories are concentrated in the conservative moment. More recently, and more worryingly, the WEF conspiracy has penetrated Canadian conservatism’s blood-brain barrier, migrating from the fringes into the political mainstream. I document the moment of febrile infection to Pierre Poilievre’s bizarre statement during the current Conservative Party leadership race that as Prime Minister of Canada he would ban federal ministers from attending the World Economic Forum.

I am not accusing Poilievre of being an antisemite. Let me make that clear. His record of support for the State of Israel and the Jewish community speaks for itself. What he risks being guilty of is giving unwitting succor to conspiracy theories that are closely associated with undeniably antisemitic tropes and memes. This is unacceptable for a would-be leader of one of Canada’s mainstream political parties. And, for any presumptive premier of Alberta too.

Is it possible that, like many of the Klaus Schwab obsessed, Poilievre simply hasn’t paid much attention to the darker elements of anti-WEF moment? I am happy to give him the benefit of the doubt. But to be a worthy leader of the Conservative Party of Canada he must call out the lunacy of WEF conspiracists in his own party and walk back his ridiculous ban on cabinet ministers attending the Forum. Absent such moves, it is hard for a thinking person not to impute to him the worst of political sins or dog whistling. Again, this is unacceptable and should be a disqualification for leadership.

“The rise of ‘conspiracism’ as its own potent ideology is a consequence of the failure of public policy and elites to foster a society of broad-based optimism and opportunity.”

Lest readers think I am an anti-anti-WEF fanatic, let me end on a note of sympathy for those caught up in conspiracy theories like WEF. What some WEF haters are experiencing isn’t nice. There is something wrong with our society. Their feelings of powerlessness and a lack of agency are real. But, Klaus Schwab, George Soros, nor the Rothschilds are not to blame. Instead, it’s our politics and society, and dare I even say our elites. We have subjected a large segment of Canadians, for a generation, to stagnating living conditions through economic mismanagement and conspicuous rent-seeking. We have eviscerated local communities with relentless globalization, urbanization, and consumerism. We have told ourselves that the totality of our history is racist and exclusionary. And we subjected our citizenry to the ruthless amplification of disinformation by unregulated, predatory algorithms. The rise of “conspiracism” as its own potent ideology is a consequence of the failure of public policy and elites to foster a society of broad-based optimism and opportunity.

There are no easy fixes here. No convenient scapegoats. Antisemitism must be confronted in all its guises. Not doing so is to invite a moral stain that will smother all of us. Same for ignoring the real anxieties of many of our fellow citizens who are experiencing the world today as if it is spinning out of control. While the theories conspiracists are peddling are beyond fringe, their existence is a loud warning that everything is far from alright for many Canadians. Complacency isn’t an answer here either.