The ruby-rich cassis, he said, was so loaded with vitamin C it could stop the common cold. It helped fight Alzheimer’s, even cancer. The 10 of us had become a bit rowdy by then, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether the cassis would have all those hints of almond, coffee and tobacco — maybe even forest floor — of the six whites, six reds and two sparkling wines that had preceded it.
Beaune is the capital of the Burgundy region, and what good is a visit to wine country without sampling the product?
It had been fun, sitting for more than three hours in La Cave de l’Ange Gardien with eight members of the Sonoran Desert Chorale, including two of our oldest friends, Margie and Bob Rice. Pierre is a raconteur, a charmer on the order of Maurice Chevalier, and a man who knows good wines (he says his own wine cellar has more than 1,000 bottles).
There was method, too, to his madness in serving us some of the best wines I’ve ever tasted at no charge (more on that later). The wines ranged in price from $15 to $95, and in body from the light and dry to the rich and complex (sorry, I’m a work in progress on my wine vocabulary). Most had “legs”(streaks that form on the side of the glass) and hints of, lord knows, just about every fruit, flower and mineral known to mankind.
“A tasting is to know if you like it,” Pierre announced as we began. “You can dislike all the wines. I will not be offended.”
I doubt that’s ever happened. He moved slowly between “courses,” teaching us about smell, taste and the flavors of the vineyard. Winemaking is a a bit of a gambler’s art. The best wines often are made from grapes that stay on the vine the longest — raising the risk that a hail storm or some other natural disaster will wipe out the crop.
As we sipped, our cheeks began to resemble the rich colors of Pierre’s second six offerings — the reds.
“We each have our own taste,” Pierre cautioned, in asking us to rank first the six whites and then the six reds. “Each man does not chase the same woman. We are talking about your taste, not your neighbor’s taste.”
But of course. And later:
“Gastronomy everywhere in the world means you have to balance the food and wine.” With dry wines, for example, fat food is in order. The dryness cuts the fat in foods like ham and sausage.
This is France. So a jab at the wines of California seemed in order. Americans he said, hide flaws in chardonnay by burying the taste in burned oak barrels. “It gives a strong taste of oak but not the taste of wine.”
As for French wines, “The older they are, the better they are, like men,” said Pierre. That drew shouts of approval from our over-50 crowd.
After offering one wine, he noted: “This one is beloved by the English and beloved by drunkards,” he said. “I know that doesn’t make two different categories.”
As I said, Pierre knows how to close a deal. Before we left, the group had bought nearly $1,000 of wine — most of it on its way to Arizona. Kathy and I settled for a mere three bottles (total $70), which we’ll consume in France before we leave July 1.
We’ll save our sparkling wine — only sparkling wines made in the region of champagne can use the common term for bubbly — for our last day before flying home.