“The Vintage Caper” by Peter Mayle is BCBG!

by Holland-Mark | December 13, 2009

Over the rainy Thanksgiving weekend in Bar Harbor, I rushed through the copy of Peter Mayle’s “The Vintage Caper” left behind by my oenophile uncle, before my stepfather could get his hands on it! Why? For the style Mayle trademarked in his 1989 travelogue: “A Year in Provence” — cheeky insidery descriptions of all pleasures French: champagne as an apertif, duck breast as an entree, Bordeaux as a background.

Never mind that “The Vintage Caper” is light on caper (spoiler alert: freelance insurance investigator Sam Levitt steals back $2.3 million worth of stolen wine), completely lacks suspense (no one stops him), and except for the fingerprints on the bottles, neither the crime, nor its motive, is ever verified. (Can you tell I’m rereading Sherlock Holmes, the master of the scientific investigation?)

Being a white wine drinker, Mayle’s wine details were kind of lost on me. But any red wine lover, or curious oenophile, will be drawn into Sam’s visits to several of the great Bordeaux châteaux in search of clues to the stolen bottles from the great vintages of premier cru (“first growth”) claret (red blends) (’53 Lafite Rothschild, ’61 Latour, ’83 Margaux, ’82 Figeac, ’70 Petrus).

What I will remember from this book is the explanation of the initials BCBG, used to describe Sophie Costes, Sam’s French contact from the insurance company. For years, I’ve seen the fashion label on shoes and clothes, but never knew that it meant “bon chic, bon genre,” or “good style, good attitude.” A term that could easily apply to Mayle: the man who wrote about buying $1,300 hand-built shoes in London for GQ (included in “Acquired Tastes,” 1993), the man who sparked the American obsession with the south of France, and who was awarded the Legion D’Honneur in 2002 for his efforts to promote France.

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