drink this

We spent an hour or so ferreting among barrels in the basement of R., who somehow grows grapes which turn into rubies and then when melted become wine. He is so good that last year, he made me cry. His wine, that is. Which is a tad embarrassing when everyone's standing around being very serious and nodding-like, thinking about Deep Things and Wine. I sniffled, profoundly.

Which is why meeting R. Sr. was a ticklish shock; he's a Pan in the wrinkled French suit of a 70-year-old, sporting cut-off jeans and thick, dusty glasses, who moves like an 18-year-old who's told he can have the car for the weekend. There were negotiations in the cellar with R. that didn't seem to go off too well; so, as an ameliorate, the taster extraordinare knocked on Dad's door. Just like any small-town family, there's a little friction between son and pop. So when we get a cold shoulder from one, we go to the other. R. Sr. opens the door, sees he has a small gaggle of foreign guests (one of which happens to be a petite female who, so far, appears younger than her real age. This, I have learned, gets one far in France) and immediately decides that it's time to open some bottles. Because that's what one does after a long life of getting up at 5 a.m. and toiling in mud and rain and mildewed plants at retirement; one opens a bottle of really damn good wine whenever one feels like it.

So we file into the kitchen and a bottle of 1990 Clos Vougeot is slammed on the table. Glasses follow. There's no spitton. This is not tasting time, this is drinking time. (And practically another reason to cry; the day has been filled with mid-malo Pinot Noir, at least 10 gallons' worth, and my gums are close to bleeding. Will I taste this? I certainly will try.) We swirl and gawk and pray to the happy Pan, who is rattling off his latest woes to our taster extraordinaire, who raps Burgundian French like the pro he is, and even in the process gets a couple of gentlemen's agreements for some extra-special bottles. And that's how business used to be done, we're told later (a reoccurring theme, told with a tinge of sadness, by the taster whose business goes back 20 years or more) -- the "younger" generation has no time for yarns and special bottles, infrequently pulls out that dusty special vintage if not asked directly. This kitchen sitting is purely for plasir.

And then our prince of old bottles (he has eight hidden cellars all over Burgundy; I can only imagine the complicated locks and keys he must keep) decides it's time to pay attention to the petite femme a table. How old am I, I'm asked. A rather pointed question, especially from a Frenchman; I tell him to guess. (Another fairly naughty thing to do.) He looks to the taster extraordinaire for assistance, and then answers quite diplomatically, that it's clear that I'm "young." Brownie points for Pan. I am 34; which puts my birth year at 1973, a year that couldn't have been more miserable for wine. I am not a good vintage. He pauses, then pounces on a box behind us, producing a 1972 Charmes Chambertin. This will do, he says, as he wouldn't serve us 1973. Well, shucks. I've always been into older guys, anyhow.