A month ago, I was honored to win The Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, and my award for doing so was to create the theme for this month’s challenge (#MWWC29). The theme I came up with was Winestory: The story of how and why we chose to tell stories about wine. Though my story begins with a jug of Boone’s Farm in the back of a ’69 Cougar overlooking the lights of southern California with She Who Would Claim My Virginity, the story really takes off about thirteen years later.
It was springtime in Paris, and I was on my honeymoon (which is the second-best way ever to start a story, next to “I was backstage at the Forum, partying with Keith Richards”). We’d arrived only a few hours earlier, checked into our hotel with the single bed and shared bathroom, checked out, checked into the new hotel with the Queen sized bed and bathroom sans German tourists, and made our way onto the street. We were jet-lagged, bleary-eyed and stupid in love; that blissfully ignorant, untested love, where the word itself could still mask reality like self-adhesive wallpaper.
We stumbled into a small café, literally because we said to each other, “we should stumble into a small café, because that’s what you do in Paris.” Unfortunately, service at this particular café was between lunch and dinner, and our waiter, Francois, was heartbroken to inform us as much. However, when he learned that we were on our honeymoon, he became extremely animated, and though I’m only semi-fluent in French, I swear he said, “that is so wonderful! You are going to have so much sex today!” which is an extremely French thing to say, in retrospect. He handed us a wine list, implored us to pick out a champagne, and promised to fire up the oven and make us a pizza.
I thumbed through the list and checked out their selection of about a dozen different champagnes, all of which I had no idea even existed. We were on a budget, and more than half of the selections were an entire day’s cash flow in a 750ml bottle. But damnit, I was on my honeymoon, I was in freaking Paris, and I was going to have so much sex today, so it was time to go big. I told Francois to bring us the Pol Roger, vintage 1985.
Boom. France dropped the mic on my palate.
I was 29, and though I’d been a wine hobbyist for a handful of years by that time, honest-to-God champagne from the Champagne region was either hard to find or too expensive. Therefore, most of my “champagne” experience was centered around Korbell or Cook’s, with the occasional Mumm when I was livin’ large, yo. Champagne was something that foamed up into your nasal cavity and tasted like Uncle Jim got wasted and poured baking soda in the Chardonnay.
But this was something entirely different. Hyundai vs. Mercedes different. McDonalds vs. French Laundry different. It was creamy, it was subtle, it was layered and complex. There was a splash of intense fruit across the front of the palate and this bright acidity that played in the bubbles. And the finish was like this long, lingering, pan-dimensional journey into terroir and tradition and all this old world Frenchie stuff I’d read about in Wine Enthusiast that before this moment was just so much pretentious vomit to me.
It was So. Not. Cook’s.
I smiled silently at my new wife, and she smiled back at me in that way lovers do when they’re still enamored by the things you think and feel. Funny, I don’t even remember the name of the restaurant.
Vive la difference. The difference between men and women, the difference between love and lust, marriage and blindness, good and great, great and sublime. Vive la difference between young and old, wisdom and baggage, land and terroir. Me and this bottle? We got a story to tell you. Lend me your ear, hand me your glass, you’ll never believe how this one ends, and it only gets better with time.