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PERPIGNAN TO PORT-VENDRES.
ment with the peasantry, there was a most uncommon silence; and, being dark, there seemed no way of cheering up my fellow-travellers. But it occurred to me that I would try the effect of Bürger's Leonora in the original upon them; so, at the full swing of my voice, I roared out,
Leonora fuhr um's Morgenroth,
and although I heard a tittering beginning, I kept resolutely on till I came to
Und jedes Heer, mit Sing und Sang,
when they could stand it no longer, but kept laughing till the end of our journey, and whispering to each other, Ah! que ces Anglais sont bizarres.'
Except having a fortification with a large garrison, and being an old, irregularly-built town, formerly belonging to the kings of Arragon, there is nothing much worth seeing in Perpignan; but I remarked that the farther south I went, the less courteous and polite the people appeared to be, contrasting unfavourably with Northern France; and this drawback to the pleasure of travelling seemed to prevail still more on getting into Spain.
The next morning I hired a cabriolet, which took me in three or four hours to Port-Vendres. I wish I could describe in adequate language the journey. On leaving the town, there is a magnificent view of
During the whole ride, the Mediterranean was within a stone's throw on the left, Collioure being washed by its waves; while on the right there is a succession of hills and vineyards; and in and around the village are trees covered with figs, oranges, olives, and flowers of the most brilliant hues. Ascending a steep hill, we soon arrived at Port-Vendres; an unpretending little place, but with a deep harbour, completely protected by hills and mountains from any gales that can blow. As the railway will soon be finished, it is probable that its proximity to Algiers will ere long make it a town of considerable importance. At present, it is known for a safe harbour, and as a great dépôt for the wines of the district. I went through the two largest establishments, and found both on a scale of such magnitude, that, although I had seen many, in various countries, these altogether exceeded every other.
Here, for the first time, I saw wine-rooms formed entirely of masonry, each capable of containing about 8,000 gallons. They are called cuves, and are used to form cuvées of one quality, from the growths of many vineyards, which have been put into this cuve to remain till the whole has become homogeneous. Ascending by a ladder to the top, I experienced a strange sensation, on looking through an opening into the lake of grape-juice contained in each of these vast chambers.
When the various kinds have lain long enough to be sufficiently amalgamated, the clear wine is
LAKES OF GRAPE-JUICE.
conveyed by tubes to the great store-casks, containing two or three thousand gallons each.
It is easy to imagine the mass of 'marc,' of stalks, and of skins which must be left in each room.' In parts where wine is not so plentiful, these are collected together, water is poured over them, and they are put into the press; and that which is pressed out is made into wine for the workmen. In other places it is converted into brandy, but here the residues are usually thrown into one or two chambers, to keep them fresh; when pieces are cut off as from a haystack, to feed the mules, pigs, and sheep during winter; and are found very strengthening and fattening.
We must not go to that quarter to seek for fine qualities; still, it is from the South that France receives her great supplies, and from which the means are gained of rendering more palatable many kinds from the more northern provinces, which are usually too thin and poor without admixture.
As a rule, in all wine countries, the actual farmers or growers of wine rarely keep it even for a year, selling it, if they can, to merchants, so as to have their casks ready for the next year's vintage; and, for some time past, there has been so great a run upon the South wines, that scarcely such a thing exists in the growers' cellars as even a '62. They are now in the hands of merchants and speculators.
The first time I tasted the wine of this department was about forty years ago, when I was shown sample hogsheads sent over to try the London
the range of the Pyrénées Orientales, which divide France from Spain, varying in height, shape, and colour with the shades and reflections produced by the almost tropical sun; and in the distance was the ever snow-capped Carrigou. Stopping at Elne, I went into a wine-shop, where I tried several kinds of the wine made in the neighbourhood, and found one bottle, which my host brought from some quiet
corner, covered with cobwebs, very good indeed. The country from Elne is one of hill and dale, with a loose argillaceous soil, and with such aspects that growths might apparently be produced there that would vie with any in Médoc or Burgundy.
The driver informing me that he knew one of the principal growers in Collioure, I requested him to
A BOTTLE THREESCORE YEARS OLD.
take me to his house, and, after winding through two or three narrow streets of that little place, we halted at his door, which was opened by a nicelooking old man, who invited me to enter. Nothing could exceed his or his wife's kindness, and from him I gained a great deal of information.
He gave me some of the wine he drinks himself, which, like all other that I saw in this country, was common and without fine flavour, but being almost invariably taken as a beverage, diluted with water, is as good as he and others care to have. After chatting and becoming good friends, he told me he would give me a bottle that had never left the bin it was put in at first, and that it was as old as myself. I thought this must be old indeed, for he might easily see I was past the threescore; but down he went, and soon returned with a venerable-looking, strange-shaped bottle, from which he drew the cork with great care, and filled a glass for himself, his wife, and me.
After hob-nobbing, I put it to my nose, looking very solemn and thoughtful; then repeating the same ceremony, raised it to my lips, and having moved it in my mouth long enough to appear a very critical judge, pronounced the word Doux! This was enough to set him agoing. He then told me that it was part of a cask of white sweet wine which his father had made, and that there were still half-adozen bottles remaining. It had never been equal to a good Rivesaltes, and I was again forcibly reminded of the proverb about the silk purse.'