A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine was appalled to learn the reason as to why I was still hanging on to a couple of the 2008 Haden Fig Pinot Noirs I bought from his company. He reminded me that only 14 cases had come into the state—my store being one of the few to carry it. Other accounts had long since run out of this fabulous find from Willamette. I explained that because there was so little to sell, and its fabulousness was rare to come by under $30, I wanted to be sure it was placed on deserving palates.
He was floored. His jaw dropped slightly, along with his respect for me, I fear. Struggling to find the words to respond, he resorted to one: snob.
I resented that. By no means do I reserve the crème de la crème for those who rigorously prove to me that they are worthy based on their wine eptitude. Personally, I just don’t hold myself, my opinion or my taste in such high esteem. No, I save those special wines for the curious—the ones who take a second longer to ask about a wine or learn a bit about is contents on the back label. They are for those who deserve an experience, because they are searching for one.
This customer is in sharp contrast to the one who rushes into the shop, short of breath and impatiently waits for me to just select a bottle already. No muss no fuss. A Cab or Pinot will do, as these are typically the only two reds that come to mind. Will they go home with Haden Fig? Uh, no.
Well, I decided on my most recent trip that my attitude is decidedly French. Though, quite honestly, I don’t believe they are quite so calculated with their ‘natural selection’ of those who are fortunate to receive the full French experience. It’s there for all to absorb, but open-mindedness is key.
Buried in the densely forested mountains of Jurancón lies a tiny Michelin starred gem called Chez Ruffet—famed for its regional foie gras, thoughtful wine list, and off the hook chariot d’fromage. Though I had to miss out on this epic meal, I eagerly anticipated stories from others who were able to get away that evening and check out the famous fromage cart for me.
A group of twelve or so I traveled with ventured up to the lovely little place. It fell upon their senses just as I had imagined—cozy, brick, cavelike…it was built as though always intended for the hopeless romantic.
The meal was divine, aside from their umpteenth meeting with foie gras. Though seared to perfection and actually quite delicious, only two people finished it. The rest had simply had enough after a few days in the land of the force-fed duck.
The waiters were assumedly offended, for when it came time for the signature cheese cart, it was not to be seen. When asked to allow them to order some cheese, they simply said, “no.”
I couldn’t stop laughing when I heard this (though, I may have cried if I had actually had the chance to be there myself). It reminded me of a couple I know—a man and woman—who once traveled to Paris. Both ordered hot cocoa. In an attempt to preserve my friend’s masculinity, however, he was served a café au lait, while my girlfriend got what she ordered. The servers never asked. They just did.
Dining that very night in Bordeaux with Jean-Charles Cazes, the son of the current owner of Lynch-Bages in Paulliac, he asked us what we wanted for an aperitif. Unfamiliar with the regional rosés, I decided on that to begin. My boyfriend found it equally enticing, but he was quickly dissuaded. “No, no, no… I will order something for us”, said the French gentleman.
Hmmmf. Well, I went ahead and helped myself to their bottle as well as my girlish rosé. I’m a self-starting, opportunistic American after all.
But returning to the point, while sometimes the ‘French experience’ leads me to places, meals and situations that clearly reflect their acknowledgement that I am an American tourist, my openness and distinct fascination with their culture has equally led me to individuals who are eager to roll out the red carpet and really allow me a fuller interaction with both them and France. This may come in the form of special barrel tastings, extended tours, additional teaser courses at dinner, and honest wine recommendations that would best suit a meal.
Are the French a little snobby and proud? I don’t know… perhaps to some degree. But this time around, armed with suppositions about my own personality, I started to get it. They just want you to connect with their wine, food, what have you. When words get lost in translation and Frenglish fails to transmit communication, it is the food and the wine that becomes the medium for understanding.
I feel very much the same when selling wine. If I sense that someone just wants me to pull something—anything—from the shelf, I’ll still give them a nice bottle within their budget, but it will likely not be the one I come by with rarity. The more unique wines that pepper the shelves in my store are for those who come to take an extra second to seek them out and know them better.
So stop by anytime and just ask to see some of these special selections. They aren’t always expensive, but they are waiting for someone who really wants it.