Friday, December 01, 2006

Cold and warmed

The cold weather’s here, and with the overheated metro and all the people sniffling and coughing in it, I was bound to pick up something unfortunate. Lucky me, the head cold I caught has stayed in my throat and not affected my nasal passages and that all-important sense of smell. Because I’ve been to some interesting tastings lately.

After hitting the Salon des Vignerons Indépendants at the enormous Porte de Versailles exhibition center last Thursday, we wondered whether we were going to go back Saturday for another round. But Friday evening, Arnaud got a phone call from Vianney; his girlfriend Anne-Juliette, who recently moved to Cairo, had come back to Paris for the weekend and was teaching a comparative literature course at the Censier branch of the University of Paris, which is around the corner from where we live. Arnaud invited them over, for sometime around 11 o’clock.

We aimed at sleeping late, but the noise of chainsaws in the public garden woke us up (the city of Paris had scheduled a big tree for branch-by-branch elimination. Ah, the poor birds... the unforgettable warblers that used to crap on us last summer when we played table tennis...).

Around eleven-thirty, Vianney and Anne-Juliette showed up. We settled in the living room and Arnaud gave them the choice. Coffee? Orange juice? Tea? Water? A glass of red?

Chinon 1996 "Panzoult" - Henri and James Desbourdes. The wines of Panzoult have more body and are more robust than other Chinons; this one was round and rich. Notes of fallen leaves around the edges, but a rich center of stewed fruits and some smoke and torrefaction. Rustic in the good sense of the word.

But while sitting and talking with our glasses of wine and some chips I’d put in a bowl, we were drifting into lunchtime. Anne-Juliette had to go teach her class a little after 1pm. So I interjected. "Do you want some lunch?" My initative was greeted with quick nods and yeses.

Did I have things on hand that could be whipped into lunch for four on the fly? I had some duck confits and a bag of frozen salsify; that would work. And luckily, we had by the purest chance a rather sizeable cheese platter, stocked with well-aged chunks and wedges.

So I went to the kitchen to put the duck confits on the stove, and separately, the salsify in a little butter, and ran out to buy a couple of yeasty, country-style baguettes. Twenty minutes later, we were ready to sit down to lunch.

Arnaud came into the kitchen to get the salt and pepper. "Open a good wine..." he said.

I nodded vigorously. What sweet and gentle words! I knew exactly what to do.

We sat down at the table and started to tuck in to the duck confit and salsify. Arnaud poured the dark wine into our glasses.

Haut-Marbuzet 1996. An autumnal clearing in the middle of the woods. The wine has age to it and you can feel the grain of its dissolved tannins on your tongue, but it’s still round and full-bodied. Very ripe fruits, chocolate, some faint pot-pourri, and notes of torrefaction and tobacco. I found it exquisite... and fleeting, like a leaf that goes soaring away, and you watch it with longing as it goes.

We were taking our time over the cheese when Anne-Juliette had to go. But one hour later, Vianney went to get her and they came back for coffee.

Everything was calm, it was nice and warm in our home... but we had a much more ambitious project ahead: the Grand Tasting at the Louvre.

So half an hour later, I was putting on my black beret and my light blue scarf and we were heading out to the subway so that we could go taste even more wines worthy of interest. I coughed; I had a very sore throat. But my sinuses were in perfect health...

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