Wine

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Wine
“If you like the people, you’ll like the wine.”  And Brendan Moore sure likes the people.  Our autumn experience in Bourgogne (Burgundy) was laced with the delicate and ‘floral’ tangs of Chablis Chardonnay, but it was also one in which we confronted the familial history and tradition that makes this wine-growing region so special.  Brendan, a seasoned wine expert and jack-of-all-trades (he has, in the past, run hotel barges on the rivers of central and southern France, in addition to working as a wine consultant for a celebrated wine label), knows that in order to conduct a successful tour one must have an utmost sense of versatility; he has equally expansive wells of knowledge in wine and history, as well as a sense of humor, all of which he can measure and maintain as the situation demands.  For those like me, with a decidedly unsophisticated palette for wine tasting, the prospect of a French wine tour can be intimidating.  But I am here to tell you, having come out on the other end, that the only real challenge is to try and describe the delicious tastes you experience as freely and creatively as those around you.   As with any niche culture with a ‘following’ – that is, enough people exhibiting enough enthusiasm to justify magazines and TV specials and sometimes even TV channels all their own – it is more than understandable why one would hesitate before jumping into something like a wine tour for the simple fact that there is always more to know.  There is always another level of expertise to reach.  I was a nervous debutant.  I had only begun to get into cheeses during the first phase of my French immersion, and that was already quite enough work.  I left the wine alone, leaving it to the experts who were always on hand, pointing at them discreetly when the bottle would come and someone needed to taste and approve.  A bit hastily, I decided a long time ago that I knew ‘enough’ about wine, knew enough to enjoy when the hollows of my cheeks and the tip of my tongue would light up and tingle with warmth.  From a young age I knew that I preferred ‘dry’ wines, but have never had a real grasp of what exactly that meant.  And years later I was left timidly searching the aisles of our local alimentation générale, in France, the damned country of wine, and I realized that knowing ‘enough’ was not really something I could claim anymore.  Only recently had I learnt about the ‘récoltant’ trick – if you see the word on the top of the bottle, it’s a good wine.  But that was all I knew.  I couldn’t back it up with facts or reasons as to why it was so.  Certain wines tasted good sometimes, and not as good other times.  I would always attempt to make a mental note of what I was drinking, but the information never failed to fall into that hole where you put facts of a similar nature; the street you want to revisit, the DVD you’re meaning to rent, etc.    But since wine was definitely something I enjoyed, the problem became evident that I had no idea how or why I was enjoying it.  One might argue that by investigating these things the risk of enjoying less develops, but I would argue that you should try a French wine tour before committing to such a hypothesis.   Before I went on the trip, I had a conversation with a fellow American friend transplanted in Europe (namely, in the beer city of Dublin).  He timidly asked me, “Not to be mean, but are you skilled to be a wine-taster?  I mean, I wouldn’t know what to do.”  I replied that no, I had no skill whatsoever, but that that would be the fun of it.  It brought me around again to the source of my slight intimidation; a cultural deficiency of sorts.  Wine is so…un-American, really.  Yes, of course, you have your Napa Valley and , but as I discovered in Burgundy all those grapes and methods come from the Old World.  In fact, most vignerons (wine growers) find it amusing or alarming (or a mixture of the two) that the nomenclature of American wines should follow the types of grapes grown here in France: meaning, the word chardonnay is not enough to convey what kind of wine you’re drinking in France.  Here, a bottle’s details go so far as to name the field within the vineyard, the family that produced it, and of course the year.  It is an artful science.    And as with any complicated and beautiful universe, it is indispensable to have a guide like Brendan.  We started out puffy eyed and excited in Auxerre, a sleepy but beautiful town in the west of Bourgogne.  I should really call it a city, since it is the biggest hub in that area, which indicates the veritable village feel of the rest of this stunning province.  Brendan whisked us into the hills immediately, beginning with his healthily wide but always accessible introduction of Burgundy and its wines.  I must admit that I wasn’t totally there at all times, simply because of the vistas passing…
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