Despite above appearances, this wine did not sprout one afternoon alongside my tomato plants. It grew further afield, in the Constantia vineyard of South Africa, and I imagine hitched a ride on a ship or two on its way to me.
Messrs Mason and Dixon let the wine stay put and did the seafaring themselves. Sent from Britain to Cape Town to have a squiz at the Transit of Venus, hanging around carousing awaiting said Transit, the pair drank a bunch of the stuff. Here are the lovable astronomo-surveyors drowning the stresses of life in the colony town:
They do, to be sure, go out that Evening, as into various others together, in search of Lustful Adventure, but each time Mason will wreck things, scuttling hopes however sure, frightening off the Doxies with Gothickal chat of Headstones and Diseases of the Mind, swilling down great and occasionally, Dixon is told, exceptional Constantia wines with the sole purpose of getting drunk, exploding into ill-advis’d Song, losing consciousness face-first into a Variety of food and Drink, including more than one of the most exquisite karis this side of Sumatra— that is, proving a difficult carousing partner, block’d from simple enjoyment in too many directions for Dixon to be at all anger’d,— rather marveling at him, as a Fair-goer might at some Curiosity of Nature.Mason & Dixon, p. 70.
A good dose of the gathering care and friendship Dixon feels for Mason is evident already in this drunken scene, pretty early in their time working together. Dixon’s status as the “grape person” that I wrote about back drinking Madeira shows up too — it’s Dixon who notes the exceptional quality of the liquid Mason’s getting annihilated on.
I might have benefitted from Dixon’s closer guidance in picking this particular Constantia wine. According to the bottle, the Klein Constantia vineyard has been around since 1685 and has counted Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Napoleon among its fans. Plus presumably some of their product joined the deluge down Mason’s throat. No doubt they still have their moments, but this one, a 2015 Chardonnay, is not so exceptional. It’s prominently oaky, a bit buttery, with some slight cardboardy oxidation and generally the feeling of a bottle that might have spent good while too long stewing aboard ships and in hot warehouses.
A few pages on in the book, we get a song celebrating Mason and Dixon’s voracious gourmandising:
Curried wild Peacock and Springbok Ragout,Mason and Dixon, p. 82.
Bilimbi Pickles, and Tamarinds, too,
Bobotie, Frikkadel, Fried Porcupine,
Glasses a-brim with Constantia Wine, singing,
Pass me that Plate,
Hand me that Bowl,
Let’s have that Bottle,
Toss me a Roll,
Scoffing and swilling, out under the Sky,
Leaving the Stars to go silently by.
My Constantia didn’t encourage brim-full glasses, but it did participate in some pretty tasty risotto. A bit unadvenurous for M&D perhaps, but united as they are by an all-encompassing love of eating, I feel they couldn’t disapprove.