Wine column no. 39: What it means to fall in love

I remember the first time I saw Greg. I remember the first time I realized writing was my passion. And I remember the first time I had a wine that stunned me into silence.
It was 2009, and we were all in St. Louis. My sister was in graduate school there, and there was a certain seafood restaurant in Clayton she wanted us to try. So we all gathered around a glass-topped table, talked and ordered our dishes as my father selected the 2007 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc from the wine list.
Then I was caught by surprise.
I'd had wine before, of course. You don't grow up in a French-American household without an exposure to wine. But this Sauvignon Blanc was different. First of all, there was the grassy nose. Then I tasted the passion fruit. And finally, I noticed how fun, how crisp this New Zealander was; how well it paired with the salmon on my plate. Put simply: I'd finally been startled into acknowledging greatness. Because that's what love does: It makes you come alive.
Here's another one. My father had given us a 1990 Domaine de la Bongran Macon-Clesse Quintaine so we could celebrate Valentine's Day in 2009. This white Burgandy, or Chardonnay, was a half bottle, one that only gives you a small amount of wine per glass. So we'd stopped by Winetree on Washington Avenue to get a 2006 Frei Brothers Russian River Valley Chardonnay Reserve, too. But the star that night was fresh lobster. We'd gotten it at Schnucks, and we'd boiled it in salt before getting our hands dirty cracking it open. Laughing, our hands sticky from salt, that was a good night. But the wine made it even better.
The first one we had, the Frenchman, was 19 years old by that time, so it had yellowed in the glass. It was slightly sweet, a bit honeyish, rich, and it reacted well to the salt that had seeped through the shell to the lobster meat. We had both proclaimed it a wine to remember. Meanwhile, the Frei Brothers Chardonnay paled in comparison. Too buttery, we both said, but it was worth it because it only made the Domaine de la Bongran better.
Some nine months later, we went to Madeleine's Fusion Restaurant. That's where we had a 2002 Orin Swift Prisoner, a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Charbano and Petite Sirah, for $50. Sure, this wine, at that time, sold for $20 in the stores -- if you could find it. But we'd never heard of it. In fact, we'd only picked it because it went with our meals (venison and lamb) and because of the
unusual name. After all, we'd wondered, who feels contained by wine? How could it possibly restrain you?
Yet we were unprepared for what it offered us, because the Prisoner shocked us with its gentleness, its class. We sat in silence and looked at each other, eyes wide open. What else can you say when you've fallen in love?
That brings me to September 2010. We'd spent the day in Le Marais in Paris, France, exploring the shops in one of the oldest parts of the city. We'd found a wine store, and selecting a half-bottle from the shelves, I'd asked the owner for an explanation of what to expect. It was a 2009 Reserve des Vignerons Loire Valley Saumur, and he said, I remember: Green peppers. Shaking my head, I'd said, "What?" I thought I'd misheard him; I thought my French must not be up to par. Yet he repeated it: Green peppers. It's a common description of Cabernet Franc.
So we get back to the hotel and pop it open and yes, he's right. Somehow, the essence of green peppers is in our glasses. There's a slight roughness, some black pepper, a freshness I didn't expect, too, but green peppers is the best way to describe this.
It's not excellent wine. It will not stun you with its subtlety. This is not a wine to serve at an expensive dinner.
Yet some wines still manage to lodge themselves in our memory. This was the trip that took us to Normandy's beaches, where Greg was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of visiting museums dedicated to the men who fought the Germans during World War II. I ran along Omaha Beach that trip, on a lucky day where the skies were clear and blue, and I paid my own homage to the men who had made that possible.
Many bottles later, we've discovered wines that are definitely worth mention. Maybe they're perfect matches with a particular meal. Maybe they are a great value for the price. Maybe they fit our needs at the time -- something light, or something heavy, that's bursting with flavor, or that isn't at all.
But we've learned since then that we can't force the discovery of a memorable wine. Sure, we can buy a pricey bottle, we can plan an artistic meal, and we can even don our best apparel -- but none of these are a guarantee of greatness.
The wines we remember are the ones that somehow grab our attention despite everything else that's going on. These are the wines that still, to this day, conjure up images of the scenes that made them
remarkable: A warm family meal in a loud, chaotic restaurant; a celebratory dinner in lobster bibs; a random guess that made the evening; or an eye-opening acknowledgement of flavors we didn't expect, in a country where we were both comfortable strangers.
It's all about welcoming the sudden shock of spontaneity. For us, there's no better definition of love.
Schnucks has sold other vintages of the Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc in the past for under $20. Winetree on Washington Avenue and Kwik Liquor have sold recent vintages of the Orin Swift Prisoner for under $40.

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