Scene: Dinner at my house.
Guest of honor: My friend Jean of the Cahors winery, Chateau Lagrezette.
Subversive mission: to show him a wine made from the same grape as Chateau Lagrezette's (malbec) but more naturally made. I picked one of my all time favorites, the Clos Roche Blanche cot (Loire's local name for malbec).
Clos Roche Blanche (CRB) cot is made from 110-year-old vines in the Loire's much cooler than Cahors climate and from a very dissimilar soil. CRB is as pure as wine gets. On the other hand, the infamous winemaker, Michel Rolland makes Chateau Lagrezette and uses quite a few of the Rolland tricks. For the record, not as pure as wine gets.
Being a cheerleader for his own wine, Jean approached the CRB cautiously. He smelled. He sipped. He applauded. He was fascinated by its complexity. He went on to say that it is very expensive to make wine like this, how much is it? $19, I told him. Chateau Lagrezette's range in price from $28 to $70. We dropped this thread in the conversation.
Meanwhile, another invitee, let's call him Bob, nearly spat out the wine. “This is green!” He barked.” I don't like it.” He might have been talking about the mushy peas instead of my beloved wine.
Green? I wondered who told Bob about 'green?” Green refers to under ripe flavors like bell pepper, which is not always a bad thing. But, this wine was a 2003 vintage and anything but green. True, the wine wasn't 'fruity.' Fruity is not its nature. When I drink this cot I feel as if I am sucking fragrant and delicate violets through a chalk, limestone straw.
I quickly redistributed the violet scented minerally wine into the waving and empty glasses of eager guests. I have Bob's number; I knew exactly what to pacify him with and poured Bob a 2001 Gigondas. "Wait." He said, upset I was pouring with too heavy a hand, "What if I don't like it?"
"Don't worry,” I told him. “You'll love it."
All wise and knowing, Bob proclaimed the wine delicious, “Now, THAT's a wine.” And he was absolutely correct. It was a wine. And it was a wine that was lush, velvety, spicy and obvious. You don't need to think about wines from the southern Rhone you just shut up, drink, have a good time. The Gigondas to the CRB is the Beethoven's Fifth to Beethoven's quartet in C# minor.
Now, Bob concedes that I know more about wine than he does. So, why wouldn't he ask, “I don't get this wine, tell me about it? Why do you think it is good?”
I'm reminded of the first time I tasted bitter melon. It was bitter! But the next time I tasted it the bitter was riveting. I couldn't get enough of it. The lovely half-moon shapes of complex flavor were addictive. The first time I tasted a tight Cote Rotie I thought it smelled sulfurous. Now northern Rhone syrah is another wine (with sensual leathery, horse sweaty aromas) I'm crazy about. In both cases--bitter melon or syrah-- I was first confused, I found the flavors difficult but then my passion for them blossomed.
Perhaps bitter melon is a food geek thing in the way most of the wines I love are geeky as well. Geek wines are for those who can't help but ponder and examine, for those who like to be challenged, surprised and delighted. They are complex. They are layered. They are like the men I have loved, the friends I choose. And if “Bob” would have allowed me to open this world for him, I believe it would have been better than all of those years of therapy. But he didn't ask. And his lack of curiosity is as telling as his “green” proclamation.