Friday, July 16, 2010

Le singe et sur le branche.....

Well,we did it. In the third week of May of this year, the Husband and I left Big and Little in the care of someone very responsible and went to a wedding in France for six days. It was amazing. Aside from the usual annoyances of traveling via aircraft, I experienced so many moments of gratitude that my children were safely tucked in bed at home and not shrieking like rare birds for eleven hours across the Atlantic, like so many of the smaller passengers on my outgoing flight. Even earplugs couldn't cut the high notes of the macaw who sat four rows ahead of me.I missed critical parts of the four movies I watched due to his/her inability to get with the program. I had to physically restrain myself from walking up to the bulkhead and insisting they dose their kid with Benadryl or one of the Valium I had in my purse. Instead, I drank lots of the complimentary (if you are reading this, United, that means free) red wine and dozed,my head bobbing about like a bladder on a stick (thanks, Patsy).

Upon arrival, everything went ridiculously smoothly considering our complete lack of French language skills.The rendezvous with Husband, who had survived a serious automobile collision a block from our
house on the way to the airport the weekend before, and been in France for five days, was seamless.The acquisition of the rental car was a little too casual-they never did the exam for damage,so we had to do our own.The trip to the hotel on the French highway, with GPS that had us headed for Poland, was a small hiccup, and we spent an extra thirty euros going through random toll booths to get directions.The police pulled over to assist once, a weapon was brandished-giving us new found respect for Le Gendarmerie Nationale. We eventually made it to the secluded chateau, tucked away in many acres of woods, in time to have a very French dinner experience at a local pizzeria. The day trip into Paris was marvelous-an hour on the train and the subsequent miles of walking amongst incredible monuments and stylishly dressed Parisians en route to fabulous outdoor cafes was exhausting and exhilarating,culminating in a river boat trip up and down the Seine where the original Statue of Liberty resides and the Eiffel Tower flickered with a million little strobe lights( a little overkill,though, I mean, it is the Eiffel Tower).The next day was the lovely chateau wedding with the three hour cocktail "hour" and wonderful magical party to follow, with excellent company,wine and dancing until two a.m.I really have nothing bad to say about our trip.It was a romantic, adventurous, civilized, cultured,perfect getaway where we met interesting people from other lands and did whatever we wanted to do whenever we wanted to do it.Who could want more from a vacation? I haven't slept through the night in five and a half years,so it was quite strange to awaken with the sun and not the yowling of a small child.

I realize in writing this, that the lack of issues on the trip makes for a much less interesting story. Yes, we had a few language issues-one of the winemakers we met,who runs the place by herself, was describing, in broken English, about her daughter's blood test earlier in the day.She struggled with the English word for blood,which I figured couldn't be far off from the Spanish word sangre,so I nodded empathetically and said "sange?", which,when pronounced the way I said it, means monkey.I thought she looked at me oddly, but I didn't realize my mistake until we had gone, and the Eddie Izzard bit about French "le singe est sur la branche" started playing in my head.Oh well....

That little faux pas occurred during our scenic two day post wedding excursion to Beaune in Burgundy, where we stayed with a wine maker at his B and B and drank wine from his barrels and endlessly discussed the differences between regional and village appellations. My husband is a bit of a savant with his wine.He can remember the name of every single bottle we have consumed in the last fourteen years and where it was drunk. He rarely remembers what I said five minutes ago,but ask him what we drank back in 1997 on that weekend trip to Laguna where the waiter gave us the free appetizers, and he will know what we drank. It's a little bizarre, actually,since I can't even remember taking the trip.

Wine is fascinating stuff, but after awhile I couldn't help but think "BLAH BLAH BLAH, just pour the fucking wine already",but I nodded politely and oohhed and aahhhed when it seemed appropriate. We drove out in to the villages that we have seen on the labels of bottles in years past-Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault-and saw the plots where the best wine of its kind is grown on soil that has been handed down for centuries.The part that blew my mind was how two plots could have the same grape varietal and be five feet from each other,but one is at a slightly higher elevation and the finished wines are worlds apart. I see how people become obsessed with the process,and the hows and whys of it all.It has tremendous historic and national relevance in France, and they take it very seriously. California, on the other hand, being full of Americans, tends to do things the cowboy way- they ride in to town, throw some money on the table for the land, toss the seeds over their shoulder on the way back to town and voila- Au Bon Climat, for example, produces some of the most delicious white wine I have ever had. Obviously, I am being a little facetious about Au Bon Climat's random success. The winemaker did learn about wine  before embarking on his journey, but not that much. He was not born into it and did not have to struggle for decades to produce something that was good (and please don't call and harass me, Mr. Clendenen).It seems to be the opposite in France, and I think it makes them like us even less than they already do.

I personally don't really care about the process all that much.The whole "culture of wine" thing is a bit effete for me, with everyone sniffing and swirling and slurping. I just like wine and actually prefer California wines, in general. They lack the "elegance"- a word that we heard an awful lot with respect to white wines of France- of the rich buttery, oaked Chardonnay that I happen to adore. The French reds in that region aren't as bold and "fruit forward" as we grow in California.


My step mother reminded me of a song that goes perfectly with the theme of this post:



It is all so subjective that analysis seems pointless. Who is to say what product is better if it is all subject to someones opinion? To declare a winner with wine is a bit like saying that Thai food is better than Chinese Food. You just can't say that. Both cuisines are equally delicious and each offers flavors,aromas and subtleties that the other doesn't. The same can be said for wine, though the "chef" has a much longer shift and his product has a lot more variables. I never met a Pad Thai Noodle that was ruined by bad weather, or a Slippery Shrimp that had sediment issues.
Anyway, since our return, we have attended a fancy wine dinner and gone to Los Olivos to taste wine for the fourth time this year.We definitely suffer from oenophilia,which sounds more like a Who album than an affliction, but certainly are not wine snobs. I will drink 99 Cents store wine as readily as the decanted, massaged, coddled, rolfed Chateaux Lafite that someone has had in their cellar for a hundred and sixty years. It all tastes pretty good to me, and if it doesn't, add some Seven -Up and call it Sangria.
 I know, you can take the girl out of the trailer park.....

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