“And we’ll serve French wine!”
The twinkling lights of the Eiffel tower still in our eyes, and my new engagement ring sparkling on my finger, we were fresh off the plane from Paris and already planning our French-themed engagement party in Atlanta. The food was easy but the beverage…hmmm. Our nascent wine knowledge leaned heavily towards the usual Californian suspects, supplemented by the occasional cheap-but-a-nice-change-of-pace Rioja, and most easily found at Kroger.
Armed only with a French wine class four years past, we trouped to the local wine shop known for its French imports. Our demands were minimal: French, red, affordable, party wine. Help?
Though the words on the label meant nothing to us then, we left with several cases of a 2000 Cote de Bourg. Fast-forward 10 years, and I now know that’s a none-too-sexy but fine, Right Bank Bordeaux AOC producing Merlot-based wine. Not that the wines are bad, mind you, but these are fruity bottles meant to be enjoyed young – as compared to a bad-assed, multi-Benjamin Paulliac (Left Bank Bordeaux) that needs 10-12 years before you even consider yanking that cork.
But our little wine came recommended by the patient manager, had the requisite amount of French on the label to complement our party aesthetic, and boasted a friendly name, Chateau Robert – promptly renamed Bob.
We loved Bob. He had a tad of that yummy Bordeaux stink (excuse me, “earthiness on the nose”) and indeed, lots of fruit. Bob was a smoothie. And, since our engagement party attendees leaned more towards Bud than Bordeaux, left-over Bob made lots of friends at subsequent parties and dinners. You could take Bob anywhere.
Amateur appreciators that were then, we didn’t realize Bordeaux already played a role in our love story. The fateful April night in Paris that culminated in all that sparkling, we dined at a quietly posh yet warmly welcoming restaurant in the shadow of the Eiffel. The prix fix menu was priced, well, Parisian, with a wine list to match. My fiancé-soon -to-be chose a value-priced Chateau Pitray, and when it arrived, paused. Shit. Surely he’d missed a zero on the price – it was delicious. Screw it, he thought, you only propose once or so.
But no, the low price was right. When we gushed about the wine, the proprietor explained that chateau was no more, the restaurant had bought the last of their production, so no, we wouldn’t find it at home. Pity about that Pitray.
Fast-forward with me again about 10 years. Last month I attended a 2009 Bordeaux tasting with my wine school buddies. Rationalizing tasting 37 reds in the middle of the day as perfect preparation for our upcoming Bordeaux Master Exam, we got to swirling and spitting.
There were the silky Margaux’s, the approachable Saint Julien’s, the chocolate-covered punch of the Pauillacs and – I swear – a Second Growth from Cos d’Estournel that tasted like money. Big and roasted and toasted, it was the wine equivalent of a Russian oligarch, holding court on his mega-yacht in Monaco. Damn.
But I didn’t go home with the Russian, soave as he may be. No, tucked on the “starter table” of wines under $20, was Chateau Pitray! Peppery and fruity and easy to quaff – Pitray didn’t take me to the yacht in Monaco, or even Lake Lanier, but it did take me back to that sparkly April night, and that’s more than enough for me.
And that’s why I want to write about wine, that’s why we’re here: it’s not the big-breasted, collagen-lipped, rich-and-famous wines that make most of us – ok, me – happy. It’s the tasty juice at a comfortable price that becomes a priceless part of our sensory memories. And in the end, making memories is where it’s at.
Oh, and Bob? In March, we dusted Bob off and carted him to dinner to celebrate the 9th anniversary of that engagement party. The waiter raised an eyebrow; this little guy will surely be dead, he offered? But Bob is a party animal, and with a little air and patience, Bob woke up and celebrated with us. Even at only $10 a bottle, you can’t keep a good man down.