When we woke up at 9am on Sunday morning, it was icy outside in Tours. A half-hour later, we were walking down a stone staircase to the banks of the Loire, where our car was on a curb next to a full parking strip. We used a pocket mirror to scrape down the ice and got in.
Forty-five minutes of winter wonderland by the banks of the Loire river led us toward Bourgueil, then we turned to Azay-le-Rideau and took the long, smooth, hilly road straight for Chinon.
We drove the car into Yvon’s cave, where eight people – three of them Arnaud’s cousins – were standing by a big vat, with Yvon filling bottles and different participants moving filled crates toward the corking instrument. The bottling of the 2006 would go fairly quickly. We tasted a glass of the 2007 rosé, but it was still in some fermentation stage and we spat it, laughing. The 2006 was cold but rolling around on the tongue gave notes of perfect Chinon-ness; violets and light sour cherries.
Then we turned the car around in the different pits and valleys of the cavern and drove off with five clanking cases toward Arnaud’s family cave in Beaumont-en-Véron, beneath the vineyards. We would have to make room for the 2006 amid the other years and other regions on his concrete shelves, right across the way from his father’s very orderly rows of Saint-Emilion, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil and Morgon.
The yearly bottling and stocking of the Chinon is a ritual you get through as quick as you can, because it’s cold – it was colder outdoors than in the 12°C caves – and because afterward, the whole clan gets together around a long table in a local restaurant to feast on coq au vin de Chinon.
But as we corked bottles with the plunging metal apparatus and then clacked cases into our cars, we were far from those steamy, suave aromas of stewed wine and mushrooms and pearl onions.
You have to work for your pittance! And so we did, assiduously, and with great self-abnegation, not touching the wine that flowed from the spout into bottle after bottle that we would cork. And so, after driving to the cave and storing the new wine among the old, as we refilled a case with mismatched years to take back up to Paris for daily consumption, my stomach growled.
I looked over at Arnaud, who smirked at me. “Come on,” he said, as we rounded up two passengers – Benjamin and Anne, who had been meticulous in arranging their stash – and revved up the car to go meet our happy reward, washed down with some 2006 Chinon. And damn if it wasn’t delicious.