30 Nov 2010

Winter skies and snow

Changing seasons and the changing light effects that go with them constantly amaze me. It has recently snowed here in Paris, which adds an almost surreal effect to the light, making it seem to emerge from the ground at times.

all photographs by David Cobbold

And yes, that IS a rugby field at the bottom of the last 2 pictures, which I guess makes me doubly lucky!

28 Nov 2010

Wine of the week 1

 Domaine Sarda Malet, La Carbasse, Rivesaltes Grenat, 2005

I have decided to introduce a "wine of the week" column in this blog. Whether I manage to keep up the schedule will depend, to some extent, on the quality of the wines I taste each week, but there are usually quite a few candidates. I will only select wines that I think are really good, and maybe often a little bit off the beaten track.

The sweet red, amber or white wines from the Roussillon region in Southern France, near the border with Spain, are just a part of those insufficiently-sung glories of French wines. Overshadowed in international markets by ports and sherries, and relatively ignroed even in the French domestic market (which, paradoxically, imports vast quantities of poor-quality ports), they form a category to which only a few aficianados pay much attention. Production, fast shrinking, is kept alive by a few tenacious individual estates and a number of cooperative wineries. Most of these wines used to be of the amber/tawny coloured, oxidised type, raised sometimes for decades in large oak containers, but, to counter the port styles of vintage and lbv, growing numbers of sweet reds, bottled much younger and sometimes with tannins as in vintage ports, are now available. The designation "Rivesaltes Grenat" on the label of this wine signifies its red colour and therefore indicates, to some extent, its style. Rivesaltes is a far-flung appellation that covers large parts of the Roussillon area near Perpignan.

Some of the Rivesaltes vineyard area from the air

Sarda Malet is one of the very good producers of this unsual type of wine, as well as of a fine range of dry reds. The wine's colour is deep and its smell reminsicent of very ripe plums, overlaid with a strong touch of spices and something almost like wax. The fruit is totally scrumptious on the palate, and the balance of the wine finely set so that one cannot feel the 16% alcohol (these are fortified wines, like port). It fact is feels fresh and very more-ish. There is also a lively tannic grip to it that slightly puckers the mouth and, by its dryness, balances the sweetness. This is absolutely delicious on its own, or with strongly-flavoured cheeses, but I would give it a go with one of those chocolate desserts that is runny in the midddle and crunchy on the outside. This is not a hugely expensive wine and should be available in most markets for around 20 euros or the equivalent. It is well worth this sum, especially as it lasts very well for a week or two after opening and welcomes slow and meditative drinking.

both photographs by David Cobbold

27 Nov 2010

Who will win, and how?

I never make predictions about rugby games, as the game is, almost by definition, unpredictable (just look at the shape of the ball!), especially between two nations whose levels are similar but whose styles and strong points are quite different. This is especially the case for this evening's test match between France and Australia.

I will be going to this game, which will be held in Paris under very cold weather conditions. The thermometer will probabaly be around 0° when the game is due to start at 20h45. I would say that this factor should favour the French team, who are more used to such weather conditions, and of course are playing at home.

All commentators have lauded the Australians' play from the back line, which is full of young talent, as well as their excellent third line in the scrum. France has a front five that should make mincemeat of the Australian scrum, but their backs have lacked singularly in terms of cohesion and creativity on their previous two tests, even if they have a couple of players with huge experience, like Jauzion and Traille.

My feeling is that the key to the game will be in the turnovers and therefore lie with the third row of the scrum, as well as with the creative capacity of the backs. Here are some of the key players, in my opinion :

Sébastien Chabal, number 8

Not because he is a planetary rugby phemomenon, but because the French coach has finally decided to let him play where he is at his best, at number 8. His capacity to sift the ball from a probably dominant French scrum, and do so quickly, could be a key element in tonights's game.

Thierry Dusautoir, the French captain and flanker

A captain's role is often crucial in a close game, and Dusautoir is also in a key position for tonights's game, where he will have to counter the redoutable David Pocock in the rucks. He has proved his worth many times, especially against the sternest opposition (eg. the All Blacks in the 2007 world cup quarter final).

Alexis Palisson, winger

I would have preferred to show a photograph of the new French full-back, Jérôme Porical, who is extremely promising, but who does not yet have an international career that results in his photograph being available on the web site Sporting Heroes, source of all these photographs. Palisson and Porical both epitomise the young genration of French back players whose task will be crucial tonight, in providing both adequate defense and inspired attack to defeat the redoutable backs from down under as thoroughly as the English did 2 weeks ago, by outplaying them  in every way. 

Qade Cooper, fly-half

NZ-born Cooper is, for me, the most creative fly-half in international rugby, even if he lacks the experience (and capacity to kick the ball in all circumstances) of Dan Carter. He could be the one to destabilize the French defense, and his speed will be essential (as that of the excellent Wallaby scrum-half, Will Genia) to dynamise the balls that the Australian scrum manages to keep.

Will Genia, scrum-half

See above. With Qade Cooper, this is a pair to watch as they play together a lot, and are fast and creative.

 David Pocock, open-side flanker

This very young player impresses me a lot. He used to played centre back, and so has speed. In modern rugby terms, he is not very tall (about 6 foot+) , but look at the strength in his arms. This guy puts his head where few others would dare to go with any part of their body, and is able to recuperate balls that he turns around real fast for his backs. A key play, along with the captain Rocky Elsom, who also has a fair turn of speed and who plays alongside Pocock in the back row of the scrum.

Wait and see....

25 Nov 2010

How NOT to sell wine in a restaurant

A Paris bistrot to avoid if you like wine!

Paris is one of the world's main tourist destinations, and many people come here thinking that this, the capital of France, must have great wines of which the people are proud, and that it will be properly served and available at accessible prices in all restaurants and bistrots. This indeed sometimes happens, but not always, and rarely in those areas most frequented by tourists. Here is a word of caution, based on recent experience.

The other day I had an hour to kill in the Madeleine district of central Paris, near the Place de la Concorde. Armed with my favourite sports newspaper, the bi-weekly Midi-Olympique (see above: devoted solely to rugby and also distinguishable by its pages that are the colour of the now defunct yellow maize-paper cigarettes that used to make one of the national French cigarette brands, Gitanes, stand out in a crowd).

Walking down the Rue Duphot, I came upon this pleasantly ordinary-looking bistrot (see above) on an angle between two streets and decided to walk in, sit down, read my paper and order a glass of wine. One look at the short wine list told me that I was unlikely to enjoy myself much as none of the wines mentioned their producers' names, and few even had a vintage attached to them. Now it is sad to say that this is much-too-standard practice in French cafés, alongside the use of horrible little glasses made of thick glass, called "verres ballons". I saw a Fleurie on the list (at the very high price of 7,40 euros, but it was the cheapest wine on the short list) and asked the typically surly waiter who was the producer of the wine. He said he didn't know, so I asked him if he would mind at least showing me the bottle. He obvioously minded dreadfully, but plucked a bottle out of a line-up that was stored just above the coffee machine, in the hottest place in the bar. It turned out to be from an obscure cooperative winery, and, knowing that such a bottle would have cost them quite a bit less than the price they were asking for a small glass, I looked for something else. He suggested a Crozes Hermitage (selling for close on 9 euros). I again asked to know who the producer was and was told "Moulin something". A glance at the wine list told me that the "Moulin" in question was in fact a Médoc, so the guy didn't even know the 4 or 5 wines he was selling! I called it a day and left without ordering and found something marginally less evil and expensive across the road. At least they were friendly there!

If anyone wants a course on how not to sell wine, (and how to rip-off customers), this is a good place to start! The name of the bar is Les Trois Quartiers, Rue Duphot in the 8th arrondissement of Paris. Be warned! The saddest part of this miserable story is that this kind of blight on the wine scene in France is all too frequent.

Next time, to cheer you all up, I will tell you about a place in Paris that IS worth visiting.


24 Nov 2010

Jump together!

I just love this photograph.

I have no idea how the story finished, but it may not have been a pretty sight! Most probably the girl lost her glasses (at the very least) on landing, but, for the moment, she is in a state of suspended expectancy. The clothing is politically incorrect for contemporary bike attitudes and safety rules, but the man may have been wearing a tie, which of course improves the situation. The main problem is the total lack of helmets and other protective clothing, as well as the fact of being two on the machine in the air. The machine, by the way, is a very nice looking Matchless, almost certainly a G80 from the 1950's (see below, but without the pillion seat). Times have changed!

Speaking of Matchless, below is a painting of the famous racing model G50 which gave the Norton Manx a good run for it's money on short circuits a bit later. The example of this model rebuilt by the excellent Atelier Chatokhine was, for me, the best-looking bike at the recent "Moto-Legende" show in Paris, held between November 18th and 21st at Vincennes. I don't have a photograph of the Chatokhine machine beacause I had run out of battery by this stage. Shit happens! But the painting is very good and is true to the brutal elegance of this bike.

22 Nov 2010


I do hate people bragging about all the great (and usually expensive) wines that they have had the good fortune to taste. So this may seem like a bit more of the same thing and I could easily be accused of not doing what I recommend! But this article is really intended as a hommage to the remarkable generosity of a friend of mine, who, every year, shares some of the jewels of his very fine wine cellar with a group of friends.

On Saturday November 20th (the eve of the Beaune Hospices annual wine auction) there were 25 of us to enjoy the following wines before and during an excellent dinner prepared by his wife.

The main theme was Burgundy

before dinner
Champagne Taittinger non-vintage (in magnums)
Corton Charlemagne 2004, Olivier Leflaive (in magnum)

with spiced foie gras
Château Yquem 1979
Château Yquem 1986 (in magnum)

with roast beef, mushrooms and other accompaniments
Beaunes Grèves,Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus 1995, premier cru, Bouchard Père et Fils (double magnum)                                                                              
Clos de la Roche 1990, grand cru, Hubert Lignier (magnum)
Clos de Tart 1999, grand cru, Mommesin 
Charmes-Chambertin 2000, grand cru, Dugat-Py (magnum)    
Grands Echezeaux 2001, grand cru, Domaine de la Romanée Conti 

there was also, for those who were still thirsty, a magnum of Chamberin Clos de Bèze 1996, grand cru, from Armand Rousseau

with the cheese
Bianco Gentile from Yves Canarelli (a Corsican dry white: we are agreed that white is usually best for cheese, aren't we?)

with the dessert
an amazing sweet red wine, also made by Yves Canarelli in southern Corsica from the Sciacarellu grape and with only 7% alcohol (just as well, given what had gone before!)

My personal favourite on this occasion was the Charmes Chambertin from Dugat-Py, which had that incredibly velvety texture that only great red Burgundy can procure. Its combination of discreet power and lovely refined and sublimed fruit flavours, just beginning to turn like autumn leaves but still full of youth, was glorious. Close behind came the Grands Echezeaux, also wonderfully refined, somewhat more delicate and tapering off for ever in a gentle echo.

Thank you to OD for this!


20 Nov 2010

The canal du midi, near Carcassonne

all photographs in this article by David Cobbold

The Canal du Midi is an amazing engineering achievement that dates from the late 17th century. It runs from Toulouse to Beziers, in South-West France. In Toulouse it links to the Garonne lateral canal which runs to Bordeaux, and hence provides access to the Atlantic, and, at Béziers, to the southern Rhone canal which runs to the Mediterranean.

Thanks to this canal, one can thus take a boat (provided it has no mast and a short keel!) from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean without going all the way around the Iberian Peninsula.

This waterway was responsible for the fortune of many merchants and producers from this region, who thus obtained access to wider markets for their goods: wine, pastel, cereals, olive oil and so on. Autumn is perhaps the most beautiful season for gliding down this canal on a house boat.

For information on the local wines, see my article on the Minervois region in October in this blog (French version only for the moment, but this will change soon). There are of course other options, as the canal crosses many wine districts, touching also on the appellations of Corbières, Cabardès and Malapère as one moves north and westwards.

19 Nov 2010

Moto Guzzi V8, sight and sound


This bike was so in advance of its time (1955/1957) technologically speaking, that this alone probably explained why it never made a lasting impression on results. Maybe the financial strain was also too much for the factory. Even if it never worked that well for long and was reputed to be difficult to ride, just look and listen! 8 cylinders for just 500cc, the so-called "dustbin" fairing for streamlining and some exceptional craftsmanship, not just in that jewel of an engine, but also in the glorious aluminium petrol tank. Anything else strike you, compared to modern bikes? Look, no advertising! Those were the days.

16 Nov 2010

Night club

With thanks to VonSontag, author of the excellent blog "Le Dépassionné", who published this picture a few months ago

14 Nov 2010

Swing low?

The performance of the English rugby team is finally improving after some rocky and erratic years, following the domination they showed during the build-up to their victory in the 2003 World Cup. It is fair to say that they were lucky (and gutsy) to reach the final of the 2007 edition in Paris, but their play was far from exciting and their loss there to South Africa came as no surprise to anyone who, like myself, had witnessed their 0-36 thrashing by the same team in the pool stages. At least the final game was fairly close (6-15), but the best team clearly won the game.

Since then (and ideed since 2003) erratic is about the only word that can describe their performances, despite an impressive pasting (34-10) given to the French during the 2009 6-nation series. The current series of test matches is interesting as, at least on the strength of the 2 games played to date, against New Zealand (16-26) and Australia (34-12), their play shows a somewhat new facet of English rugby, which harks back to that impressive victory over France in 2009 (and indeed to the closely-run match against France in the 2010 6-nation series) : they are playing and passing the ball, and not just the man in front or booting the ball into the back-field. The techniques of frontal wall-crashing and pick-and-go seem to have been used, in recent games, as tactical alternatives rather than sole options for the ball carrier.

Maybe playing under (almost) Toulouse colours helped England against Australia!

If the scrum-half Ben Youngs had a very impressive game against Australia on November 13th, and indeed won the man-of-the-match award, I would have given something to Mark Cueto (above is Cueto escaping from the Australian fly-half Qade Cooper) who regularly avoided several Australian tackles in his runs, producing considerable danger that was sometimes used to advantage by his colleagues. Other backs, like Hape and Ashton, played  especially well as did the two very mobile flankers, Moody and Croft. The English domination in the scrum was no surprise, but their excellent defense and more than usually creative attack were clear signs that this team has potential. They had not seemed ridiculous the week before againt the All Blacks, but their game against the Australians (recent winners against the same All Blacks) showed guts, talent, cohesion and creativity.

Samoa next week and South Africa in a fortnight will provide good tests of their regularity at this level. Keep it up boys!

I will post a general topic on the ensemble of the autumn tets match series in Europe one these are over.

Bye Bye Casey

For those who like motorcycle racing, and the performance of Ducati in particular (David against Goliath, with the Japansese quartet of manufacturers in the role of Goliath), here is one of the last images (on a Ducati) that you will see of the rider who won the world championship for the Italian manufacturer in 2007: the Australian rider Casey Stoner.

Stoner's record has been pretty good, and he has been the only Ducati GP rider to make his bike show regularly at the front, with plenty of pole positions and a lot of top placings, as well as one world championship. He has now signed with Honda for the next few years, and is replaced by an Italian rider, one of the greatest ever, Valentino Rossi. Now I am not a great Rossi fan, as the guy has seemed arrogant and generally "over-the-top" on many occasions over recent years. And the rumours have it that he is very greedy in his financial conditions. But there is no doubt as to his skills as a rider. We shall see whether he still also has that incredible will-power to get ahead of the others, despite sometimes adverse circumstances. The "killer" instinct that made him win races even when suffering from injuries. For Ducati's sake, and for ours as spectators, let's hope so. An Italian rider on an Italian machine will certainly add some spice to GP racing. 

11 Nov 2010


I have never been a great fan of commemorations. But there is no escaping the fact that we owe a lot (and perhaps everything, in a sense) to those that came before us and who gave us life. So, on this 11th of November, here is a word about a couple of those who are my direct ancestors and who fought in two world wars.

My paternal grandfather, Ralph Patteson Cobbold, was a case! He was a small and often mischevous man, who always wore a beret (unusual in the England of the 1950's, when I remember him). He was as tough as nails and led an adventurous life, having served in India in the Rifle Brigade, as well as in several other places, including the first World War in the Somme, which he survived. During his time in India he went on a year-long "walkabout", ostensibly on a hunting expedition, in and around the Pamirs, in that shady area where Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, China and Russia come together and vie with one other (and, in those days, with the British Empire) through rival tribes for power and influence. In 1900 he wrote a book (called "Innermost Asia") about the year he spent wandering around this very remote area, officially hunting mountain sheep and tigers, but in fact almost certainly acting as a spy for the British government. At one point the Russians must have tumbled to what he was up to and put him under house-arrest, but he manged to get away. He was given a DSO for his exploits. Here he is at that time (nice coat!):

This was in 1899, and at one point they slept in yurts at minus 27 degrees (the coat must have come in handy). Towards the end of the book he says "it is time to return home as I have no leather left on the soles of my boots".

When, as a child, I asked my father why my grandfather never spoke about the First World War, my father placed me in front of a photograph of my grandfathers' regiment of the Green Jackets (as the Rifle Brigade were known), posing for a group photograph before leaving for the Somme and told me to count the men in the picture. I think I got to about 70. He then told me that just 7 of them returned to England, and that was why my grandfather would never talk about that.

My maternal grandfather was also a professional soldier, although of a far more regular kind. The Hon. Everard Humphrey Wyndham served for a long time in the Life Guards, and won the Military Cross. He also survived the First World War, having started as a captain and finishing as a major. He bacame a Lieutenant-Colonel in 1933 when he also became commanding officer of the Life Guards. He was aide-de-camp to King George VI during the second world war. He was always known as "the colonel". I don't have a photograph of him, but here is a picture of some Life Guards (they are Britain's oldest surviving regiment).

His eldest son, David Wyndham (my uncle), served in the 2nd battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps (aka the 60th Rifles) and, having previously fought in Egypt, was killed after the Normandy invasion during the Second World War, in the battle for the Falaise Gap, which succeeded in cutting off a large chunk of the German army in Normandy. My father, Ralph Hamilton Cobbold, survived (luckily for me!) the Normandy invasion, during which he served with the Coldstream Guards in the Guards Armoured Division, finishing with the rank of Major.

Today I think of these people, and so many others.

9 Nov 2010

Girls on motorcycles

I like to see ladies on motorcycles. Here are a few, and not of the pin-up kind (although they are indeed beautiful)...

Above are the Van Buren sisters, who rode from New York to California in 1916, often on dirt roads. It took them 2 months.

Below is Elspeth Beard, who, when an architectural student, became the first Englishwoman to ride around the world on a motorbike, in 1984 (at the time a second-hand ten-year old BMW R60). She survived an almost fatal crash in Australia and returned to become an architect.

And to finish on a more sporty note, a girl on a beautiful HRD-Vincent at a race meeting somewhere. I don't know her name, but she looks like she means business...

More power to them, and watch this space for more...