A Good Year (as in wines) finds Mayle back in Provence, the region that inspired his famous nonfiction debut, A Year in Provence (1990), and his first novel, Hotel Pastis (1993).
After his immediate boss steals his best client just as a huge deal is about to go through, Max Skinner quits his job as a financial agent in London. On the same day he receives a notice from France that he’s inherited from his uncle Henry a farmhouse and 40-hectare vineyard in Provence. Best friend and former brother-in-law Charlie, a budding wine snob who has just made full partner at a real estate firm, lends deep-in-debt Max £10,000, tells him that small vineyards can put out very pricey wines, and sends him forth for six months in his new vineyard. The farmhouse is rundown, but Nathalie Auzet, the notaire who gives him its keys, is stunningly upscale, and young Fanny, who runs the local bistro, serves lusciously delicate meals along with her cleavage. For much of the tale, Max’s big loan from Charlie undercuts unease, distress, or suspense in the plotting; nor do Mayle’s mildly lyrical descriptions add much excitement. Max’s inherited label, Le Griffon, tastes like pipi de chat; even Max can’t drink it, and even Roussel, who oversees the vines and makes Le Griffon, calls it “a little naïve, a little unfinished around the edges.” Then we are led to the mysterious Le Coin Perdu, a Bordeaux from a vineyard too small even for wine tastings, a vineyard that can produce only 600 cases at $40,000 a case. Pricey? Pricey! Happily, Charlie the plummy-voiced snob soon returns and gives the novel an amusing lift. So who actually owns this small vineyard but doesn’t know that it produces an indescribably complex Bordeaux laced with Cabernet?
Uncorks as a bottle without much nose, leaving but brief bloom on the palate: it needed perhaps a little more breathing time when decanted.