The Ashley Book Of Knots explains that in a knot of eight crossings there are 256 possible over-and-under arrangements. Make only one change in the sequence and either an entirely different knot is made or no knot at all may result.
I know little about wine but the danger of unsuccessful variations seems significant. One way to combine the ingredients correctly; hundreds if not thousands of tiny tweaks which would ruin the distinctive flavour.
I can appreciate there is a precision and history unseen by the drinker but there are connoisseurs who would be horrified by my ignorance. Others would, perhaps, be mortified by a heavily pregnant woman attending a wine tasting in an area famous for its vineyards. This, though, is the first and only glass of wine I've had in seven months and it tastes as good as the view.
We're at a tasting in the Languedoc in south-eastern France, an area increasingly synonymous with fine wines. Mild winters, hot, dry summers, the aspect of the slope, unique grapes, the timing of the crushing, the length of the fermenting process, and hundreds of years of experience – all coalesce with perfect timing to create a taste to please the most discriminating palate. I know to savour the aroma, swirl the glass and then sip a little and gargle. Something like that. I'm told to truly appreciate wine and its journey is an art form. To my uneducated palate there is a warming pleasure but little understanding of the detailed factors which lie behind such a taste.
Yet sipping fine wine chilled on the roof terrace of a 19th-century castle while the sun eases softly downward, it's difficult not to savour the moment. Built in 1896, Chateau les Carrasses was originally a summer house for the Hue family of the Toulouse aristocracy. It had previously been a relais, or rest stop, for pilgrims on the Route de Saint Jacques de Compostelle. In its heyday it was a significant wine-producing estate, producing around one million bottles a year. It remained in the same family until 2006, then last summer, after years of restoration, it opened to guests. And in the same way that vintners can fail in hundreds of ways, those embarking on new projects within the hotel business or service industry must be conscious of the incredibly narrow conditions which make such a venture a success. Unappealing lighting or decor, the wrong staff or attitude, bland food or poor customer care and demanding holidaymakers will fret, fuss and fail to return.
To get the right balance of laidback and lavish, tasty and affordable is uncommon. Chateau les Carrasses is, perhaps, an exception because it aims to blend the space and freedom of luxury self-catering apartments and villas with hotel-class facilities and has a casual atmosphere for families and couples. The grounds are extensive, tasteful, edged with ancient pines and plane trees. The floodlit clay tennis court, volleyball court and boulodrome prove too active for the seventh month of pregnancy but the infinity pool and brasserie are ideal.
The countryside offers an endless array of vineyards, ochre terraces and pretty villages adorned with medieval clock towers, stone bridges and fairy-tale chateaux. We learn the system of awarding the prettiest villages special symbols on the roadside and the map does little to help when nearly every hamlet and village is enchanting. The 150-mile-long Canal du Midi runs through the nearby village of Capestang, and an hour to the north we explore the Gorges d'Heric, which slices through the Black Mountains and hosts countless cooling pools for swimming. Half an hour to the south lie long, sandy beaches which prove over-busy in August but are said to be quiet after the school holidays.
In September and October the temperatures dip from sizzling to splendidly warm. For outdoor enthusiasts it is still warm enough to enjoy the kite surfing, mountain biking and climbing trails, while wine lovers can enjoy tastings at some of the best vineyards and foodies can visit the oyster beds in Bouzigues to sample the fresh oysters with a cold, light glass of Picpoul.
Ryanair has return flights to Carcassonne from Prestwick from £56. Visit www.ryanair.com.
WHERE TO STAY
Chateau les Carrasses offers a range of winemaking and wine tasting courses. The rate for a stay at Les Combles, which sleeps two to four people, in October is £155 per night, based on a three to six-night night stay. Visit www.lescarrasses.com, call 0845 686 8067 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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