Our wine scribbler, Jim Walker and his wife Hélène have recently returned from a month in Provence, the last week of which they spent with friends at a castle in the Luberon. Cocktail hour conversations one evening drifted onto the subject of ghastly wine experiences. He relates three of them for us here.
We joined five other couples at the Château de Goult, a thoroughly modernized pile of 12th and 17th Century stone located in the heart of the Luberon. Hélène had used this marvelous ediface as the base for many of her ‘Tours of Provence’ and was delighted to have the opportunity to share it and the experiences that go with it with ten of our good friends. Each day we would visit a nearby destination (the Sunday market at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a wine tasting at Domaine Roger Sabon followed by lunch at Le Verger des Papes, a visit to Le Pont du Gard then lunch in Nîmes and so on). After the day’s adventures we would repair back to the château for apéro hour (hah, make that hours). Dinner then ensued, sometimes catered and on other occasions prepared ourselves from local delicacies.
The apéro hours were great fun, characterized by reliving the day’s activities, telling favourite tales and recounting childhood memories. On one such occasion the conversation drifted around to nasty situations we had witnessed that involved wine. It is amazing how many fabulous faux pas and blatant blunders have involved that glorious elixir we so thirstily enjoy.
Following are three tales of vinous woe with which Hélène and I regaled our fellow travellers:
My brother Doug was once a sales manager with responsibilities for western Canada. He had the habit of rewarding himself with a fine dinner whenever a meeting or sales call went particularly well. And that is exactly what he did one fateful evening in Winnipeg. He had landed a big account and decided to grace the main dining room in the Hotel Fort Garry with his august presence. He spied a bottle of wine standing on the nearby grand piano as he entered the formal eatery. On closer inspection he determined that it was a 1953 Château Margaux, a very fine bottle that definitely aroused his interest. He asked the mâitre d’ what it was doing there and was informed that it belonged to a Doctor Johnson who would be celebrating his fortieth wedding anniversary with his wife there that evening.
Doug proceeded to ensconce himself at his table and after due consideration ordered his meal and a decent Burgundy to wash it all down. Nothing special, mind, but a tasty little village wine. Presently the Johnsons arrived and settled happily at their table. The bottle of Margaux was ceremoniously decanted for them and left to breathe. My brother, never one to let a propitious opportunity pass him by, called over the mâitre d’ and asked him to bring a couple of glasses of Champagne to the Johnsons. Doug waved to the celebrants and mouthed a happy anniversary when it arrived and the donor was identified. The Johnsons appeared to be very pleased.
A short while later the mâitre d’ appeared at my brother’s side holding a glass of wine, slightly brown at the edge. He set it down before my salivating brother and pronounced that it was sent to him by the Johnsons, precisely as Doug had deviously calculated. He turned slightly to his right to wave a gesture of thanks to the Johnsons. At that precise moment his efficient waiter topped up his glass of Margaux … with the Burgundy!
Back in the vapours of time I was between assignments at the bank and was thus seconded to join the Latin American and Caribbean group as they prepared to move lock, stock and barrel down to Coral Gables, Florida. My task was to assist the senior lenders by updating the financial reports and analyses needed to support multi-million dollar advances, often syndicated deals, to major borrowers such as Pemex, the Mexican oil company and others. While the work was tedious, I did get to know and quite enjoy the senior bankers there. We would toddle out for a nice long lunch whenever a noteworthy bit of business was concluded and I quickly came to appreciate that most of them really knew their wines.
The time eventually came for the LAC group to shut down its Montreal operations and head south. A big goodbye party had been scheduled for that noon. It would be a potluck affair with the diverse staff contributing ethnic specialties. The senior folks were to provide the libation. My adoptive group had been very kind to me, so I wanted to contribute something special. Mid-morning I trotted over to the wonderful La Maison des Vins on rue John F. Kennedy and selected two Grand Cru Burgundies for the occasion, a 1978 Charmes-Chambertin from Domaine Armand Rousseau and a 1976 Clos-Vougeot from Château de la Tour. When I returned to the office, treasures in hand, I asked a confrere where I should put them. They were still in the SAQ bag as I wanted them to be a surprise. “Over there on that filing cabinet,” he suggested.
Just before noon, to everyone’s surprise, the senior executive called a meeting of the management employees. The others had already started laying out the cornucopia of luncheon delights. The session was nothing more than the gentleman wishing everyone a good move and thanking them for keeping the business going through all the turmoil. It was over in a matter of moments and we all returned to the large, open general area where the festivities were clearly under way. Across the room I could see the filing cabinet … but not my wine! Then, to my abject horror I spotted the innocent little creatures – uncorked, upside down and in the process of being unceremoniously dumped into a large glass bowl. Sangria! It was all I could do not to let out a primal scream. By the way, fine Burgundy makes wretched Sangria.
It was now Hélène’s turn. Back in the annals of time her employer used to help mark employees’ birthdays by having a senior staff member take the celebrant out for a nice lunch. It was Hélène’s turn and her boss, Brenda, knowing her love of good wine, had decided to treat her at a very fine Italian restaurant called Via Allegro, noted for its extensive carta dei vini. The two ladies settled in at their table in the ornate and clearly Italian-themed dining room. The mâitre di sala handed them the menus and voluminous wine list and left our heroines to select their fare and wine.
At this juncture Brenda pointed out that her budget was limited, so would be ordering a glass each, not a bottle of wine. She left the choice to Hélène who judiciously selected a nicely aged Brunello di Montalcino from Castello Banfi (two glasses of which surely cost more than many of bottles of the more plebeian selections on the list). Brenda seemed fine with this and then requested that the sommelier also bring her a can of Diet Tab. He stifled an expression somewhere between amazement and horror. “I am sorry madam, but we only have Diet Coke.” “Oh, that will do quite nicely,” she responded.
The two ordered their meals, gossiped about work and many other things and were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Presently the sommelier reappeared with two large glasses of the Tuscan beauty and a small vessel of the Diet Coke. “Oh no,” said Brenda. “I wanted it in the glass with the wine. It makes it taste just like Sangria.”
So there you have it, three blood curdling tales of vinous misfortune. I hope you enjoyed them and that have very enjoyable Canada Day punctuated by suitable libation.
PS: I invite you to visit my Arthur’s Cellar Wine Club homepage to find out about the delicious wines from the Southern Rhône that we have on offer at LCBO.com.
PPS: My recommended wine for this post is the 1er Cru Extra Brut from Champagne Forget-Brimont; a perfect bubbly with which to celebrate Canada Day at just $52.40 the bottle.