Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Of This I Am Sure

“She’s making chicken soup, what should I bring?” a very new to wine me asking our then store manager what wine to bring to dinner that might pair well and impress my boyfriend’s parents. I had already begun my wine obsession, spent countless hours along with most of my paycheck, tasting, taking notes, geeking out and frankly falling in love with the wines of Burgundy, Alsace, Rhone and the Loire but food and wine pairings were still something of a mystery for me. I was a tad uneasy when she placed the squatty bottle in my hand; this was the same woman that told me to pair Amarone with a salmon in cream sauce…to this day one of the most gawd awful pairings I have ever had the displeasure to put in my mouth and really? Champagne and chicken soup?

This is when I confess to you all that even before The Wine Country there was one wine that I adored. One wine I would purchase from Luckys and Save On (both no longer) when it was on sale, for those, “special” nights when “getting it on” was on the menu. It might come as no surprise to you but it was a sparkling wine…that I called Champagne of course and I would happily plunk down my $3.99 for the plonk when the mood called for it. No matter that it made me burp, (oh so sexy right?) and gave me a raging headache the next day, I thought that was just the price of being fancy, what all wine lovers dealt with which was why I was a bit reluctant to hop on board the wine loving train in the first place. Blame it on the Ballatore Spumante…ewe.

So I forked over my $80.00, a far cry from the $3.99 I was used to spending on bubbles and tossed the bottle in the cold box until it was time for me to punch out and head to dinner. I was nervous as hell when I walked into the boyfriend’s parent’s house, nervous just being there and concerned that the wine I brought was going to be a burp and headache inducing joke. I stood back silently as my boyfriend’s father removed the foil and popped the cork (and there was a real one in there unlike the plastic bullshit ones in my Ballatore) and made small talk as he filled up our glasses. The smell of fatty chicken broth and simmering carrots thick in the air as I wrapped my fingers around the glass, the chatter, my nervous tummy, all thumping around me in that “bigger than I had ever seen in person” kitchen. I brought the glass to my lips, was planning on skipping the whole sniffing business, just needed a shot of something to kill the butterflies that were banging themselves against the walls of my stomach but, but something happened.

That night some thirteen years ago, standing in that kitchen, boyfriend’s parents sizing me up, chicken carcass being bounced around in a deep pot of bubbling broth, tummy fluttering and head spinning I got lost in a glass of wine like I had never been lost before….it devoured me, stole me and my attention away from every single other thing in the room, I fell in love. It was a bottle of 1989 Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Nicolas Francois that obliterated the memory of the gassy, sweet, headache giving Ballatore. Took my breath away, had me pulled so deep in the glass that I felt like I was bathing in it, paired brilliantly with the steaming bowls of hot broth flecked with bits of chicken and tender macaroni and began the love affair that would consume me. My time, my want, my money….all of it free that I had went to feeding and fueling that love, my passion and understanding of them inspiring Randy to make me the head buyer for our Champagne department…the first department aside from cheese that was mine and mine alone.

“Welcome to our final Champagne tasting of 2010” my voice Friday night trying to spread out across the full house of people in attendance. As those of you that have been reading this blog for some time know, leading classes in the only part of my job that I dislike. It’s not the classes themselves but my very real fear of speaking before a group that makes the hours before I have to lead one down-right unbearable for me. This past Friday the store was too busy for me to wind myself up too much, didn’t have time to fester and stew and before I knew it I was standing before the group welcoming them…eagerly. Comfortably talking about small growers, why I always serve potato chips at my Champagne classes, (the salty crunchy thing is a lovely partner for Champagne and I rather like the contrast of snack food with something as refined and decadent as Champagne) and discussing the stylistic differences before each flight was poured. Never occurred to me to even feel nervous, one of the great loves of my life doing what true love does….making me feel comfortable and loveable in my own skin.

I buzzed around the room pouring wine, answering questions, reprimanding my rowdy little bunch of very loyal regulars….the ones I always seat together and often away from the rest of the group pretending to punish them but secretly (or not so much) stopping by their table just to visit with people I truly adore and whose support also goes a long way in making these events easier on me….and was so deeply into the wines, so confident in their quality that even the heckler that seemed hell bent on getting under my skin could not break through my little love bubble.

“This will go perfectly with the Champagnes right?” the guy holding up a bar of milk chocolate in my face. He had been to a couple of my Champagne classes before and was very aware that I always make it a point to tell people that sweets and Champagne are a terrible pairing, at least for the Champagne. He was wearing this rather smug smirk on his face and as I launched into my “why it doesn’t work” diatribe he started cutting me off and laughing at his own jokes….awesome. I knew the guy was going to be doing the same sort of “Smug Funny Man” act all night, sadly I was correct.

I just poured, tasted and ignored his glib little jibes. Let the rest of the room feed me and the wines inspire the comments that flew from my lips. Okay I took a shot back in his direction after he made a snide remark following my description of Camille Saves as a librarian in fishnets (the way I always do, explaining that while they are intellectual wines they are also sexy as hell) “So this is a pilot in high heels?” he quipped as I filled his glass, “Dude, it’s whatever you need it to be…whatever turns you on” I responded, (okay I might have added, “You cheese dick” in my head) before giving him my own little smirk and moving on to the people that were there to enjoy Champagne…and to learn something.

The wines were truly stunning, the most brilliant to me and backed up by the sales at the end of the night:

2004 Marcel Moineaux Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs ($60.99) Amazingly complex and layered, deep roasted citrus, white flowers and herbs with just a bit of savory yeastiness. Powerful, remarkably powerful but the texture and weight is as all great Blanc de Blancs should be…delicate and refined.

2005 Jose Dhondt Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs ($70.99) Loads of primary fruit and bits of butter pastry, quite full and rich in the mouth with a finish that reminds me of roasted apples in buttery crust.

2002 R.H. Coutier Grand Cru Brut ($59.99) One of the most feminine wines of the night which was a bit of a shock considering the high percentage of Pinot Noir here. All grace this wine; rose petals, herbs, lemon custard, red apple skin and brioche. Full in the mouth but so gentle, seems to almost tiptoe across the palate and leave behind the softest kiss of sweet cream and apples.

2002 Camille Saves Grand Cru Brut ($65.99) Not only a librarian in fishnets, a tall, curvy librarian in fishnets. Massive structure, big mouthfuls of dark red fruit and pie crust with holiday spice and lemon curd. The flavors change with each sip, reveling something a little different….a little more. Painfully sexy wine that stains the palate and goes on forever.

After pouring the last flight I banged two glasses together in order to nab the crowd’s attention for one final word about the wines, to thank them for their support all year and to tell them that while I have many opinions on how to drink Champagne; not too cold, no sweets, in a regular glass, it is only because I love the wines so much that I want them to show the best they possibly can each time they drink them but…well the thing I wanted most of all was for people to drink them. Too cold, in a flute and with a bar of chocolate…just drink them.

I stood back and watched people buzz about the wines, some excitedly, others quietly sniffing and sipping, taking their own bath in aromas and developing flavors…marveled at the watching of others either revisiting with an old love or falling in love for the first time. Thought about the changes my own love affair has gone through, how Billecart-Salmon began breaking my heart, leaving me flat and disappointing me more often than pleasing me. How Pierre Peters, Agrapart, Camille Saves, Billiot were able to stoke the flame that pushes me, makes me purr, inspires cravings and burns in me still…..

I love all the wines of France…okay I’m not hot for Bordeaux but no other regions wine can do to and for me what those of Champagne can. It’s true love of this I am sure…..


TWG said...

Amarone with salmon in cream sauce and you still let her choose the next selection? Glad she came through for you in the clutch.

TWG said...

Your experience with the Ballatore Spumante reminds of the time I bought a bottle of "Bordeaux". I think it was basic B&G that was served too warm, we kept drinking it wondering what all the fuss was about.

Samantha Dugan said...

I know right?! Have no idea why I asked her but I have to tell ya, she was a total Champagne freak, (more of the big names but still) and she was the one that put that bottle in my hand....really did change my wine focus for many years.

Yeah I think that those crap versions of things like "Champagne", Bordeaux and Vouvray do so much more damage than good. Chaps my hide!

Anonymous said...

God I love a good Vouvray, one that makes you sit up and take notice, then makes you relax as it starts to have it's way with you.

Samantha Dugan said...

Another Day of Crazy,
Either you have been or need to be Chidained!

Anonymous said...

I haven't been, but it sounds like I'd like to be!

Funny, I could apply that same description to what I want in a man...

Charlie Olken said...

Ah, those Dhondt and Moineaux B/Bs. The absolute highlights of our tasting you made possible up north, and now they are starring again. No need to spend three digits on one of the fancy houses when folks like Dhondt and Moineaux are around.

And potato chips. Back about a decade or three ago, when my first CA wine book was published, my co-author, Norm Roby, organized a little gathering at his house with some of our mutual wine world friends. I had met Darryl Corti a couple of times by then, and he was both larger than life and a regular guy, but a guy who was, like you, always seeking out new and interesting tastes.

So, this nice little gathering of no more than a dozen people gets assembled in Roby's backyard when Mr. Corti walks in with a quart Mayonnaise jar filled with Sacramento River caviar. Of course, any amount of caviar is amazing, but to a couple of beginning winewriters, it is like manna from heaven--and we don't have to stint because there is almost a quart of the little black beads of goodness.

But, we are totally unprepared. How to serve it? Well, what about the potato chips someone asks. Now, you understand about potato chips. They are there for the godawful dip that someone purchased at the Safeway.

PERFECT, and I do mean PERFECT. Caviar does not need sour cream and buckwheat blinis to get in the way of its flavor. It needs potato chips. Crunch, salty potato chips. And, not surprisingly, so does Champagne--especially if you put caviar on those chips.

Samantha Dugan said...

Another Day of Crazy,
That can be arranged...the Chidaining can't say there is much I can do about the man thing.

I thought Saves did pretty well at our little tasting as well but I agree, would take Moineaux over Dom, La Grande Dame, Cristal and Krug any day.

We also do a Champagne & Fried Chicken night once a year....oh mother of all crunchy goodness is that a brilliant pairing. Being that I am not a fan of fish embryos when I have to eat it I prefer Vodka to kill the flavor...

Romes said...

I'm dying here, reading about these beautiful bottles that I can't just rush out and buy. But, the light at the end of the tunnel, you ask? I'm going to be in CA next Mon/Tues nights so if a most fabulous champagne slinger would be so willing maybe we could find a special bottle to fit in my suitcase? I know Monday is date night, so maybe Tues night?

Samantha Dugan said...

Sounds great and I will stash a bottle of whichever you wish!

Nancy Deprez said...

Yum yum, thank you Sam for stocking the best Champagne department in California, as far as I'm concerned. Thank you for stocking my favorites so I can sneak in at regular intervals and buy bubbles that always taste good. And while I do use a flute most of the time, I never have them with sweets. I had to stop a retirement party where I was asked to bring the Champagne when the hostest suggested we open the Agrapart with dessert and I said "NO!!!" So she obliged and served the Champagne with verbal toasts only, then allowed desserts to hit the table when we were done admiring the Agrapart. And it was admired. :)