Monday, January 26, 2009
Back in time
Yesterday, I was remembering the very first time I had a glass of wine. It was in Williamstown, Mass. It was cold, the dead of winter, with 10º snowy blasts of air cutting under my coat as I walked across the campus to the home of my French professor, Prof. P., who wanted us all to call him by his first name. Who was hosting a dinner for the French club. We'd all help, and I was to prepare the stuffed mushrooms.
He poured me a glass of white Burgundy and set it beside me as I hunkered down over the mushrooms, stuffing them just so with the farce I had prepared from various finely chopped ingredients, and then painstakingly basting the tops with melted butter.
He came over to me and said, "Look at you basting those! You're like an artist trying to get just the right touch."
I was something of a laughing stock for the rest of the evening.
So I turned my attention to the wine. First that white Burgundy, which came on, to my young American palate, like something that was going to be lush and sweet, but... it just wasn't sweet; it had a hard angularity to it that was unlike other things I'd had to drink. Some kind of tannins, some kind of minerality. So odd. I didn't like it, but I was intrigued by it and could only mark it in my mind as something I would have to learn more about.
A lush and fruity red was then poured as the guests laughed and chatted in broken, heavily accented French and ate the various bites we had prepared. This wine I understood more. There was no hard spine to break over my palate, just soft fruit.
"Don't worry," said Prof. P. in French, coming back around. "Last fall, you didn't know how to use the passé simple. Now you're reading Flaubert."
He wasn't wrong. A couple of years later, I would find myself in Ligré, quaffing rustic Chinon.