No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tigers, Champagne, and the Shock of Ammonia and Wine

It is snowing again. Though only lightly the whole town is a bit edgy when it falls. We were buried for more than a week, just recently, after having been buried for almost a week earlier in the season as well. Now people are ready for it to stop. They tell us it'll snow shower all week, the side effects of the record storms affecting the Eastern coast of the continent.

The ten-year old is at drum lessons. I want to visit with a friend, so I stop to taste champagne with one, and listen to music. It is a slow paced day. We chat.

I'm excited to taste the Jean Vesselle. It's supposed to be a wonderful champagne, and a respected winery. The daughter of Vesselle is now carrying on his tradition and is considered to do so in great respect, but also an interesting manner. They produce a range of well-regarded champagnes. Their brut reserve is one I have not tasted. It is mostly pinot noir, with some chardonnay. They mostly grow pinot noir on their property.

1. Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve

The color is lovely. A slightly pink-tinged gold in the glass. Smooth, consistent bubbles, foamy in the mouth. Light, well-balanced flavors. Lemon and ginger present. Tart, and a bit crisp. Just a hint of vanilla.

Pairs brilliantly with triple cream cheese, the classic pairing for champagne --brings out the tender sweetness of the cheese, and the elegance of the wine. Would suit well any lighter flavored foods. It would pair flexibly. I like this champagne.

The two of us are talking as I drink my flute of champagne.

We are both tired, we agree. Things are going well enough. But we're tired. He admits too that he wonders if something is about to go 'wrong.' The last years have worked that way for him, he says.

I end up ordering a sampler of French cheeses. The triple cream is brilliant with the champagne. It is my favorite.

I am tasting a goat cheese from the Loire Valley. The smell is ripe, slightly sour, and pungent. I take a taste. It is shocking. The ammonia flavors are so strong it is almost difficult to eat. My friend gives me a taste of Sauvignon Blanc to drink with the cheese--this is its natural pairing. The wine makes the ammonia flavors even more intense. I turn my head, and close my eyes trying to swallow. He nods, and says he can't eat it either. "How would you describe it?" I ask. I've never been partial to sauvignon blanc, though I try to be fair to a grape knowing it can be interesting for what it is in the hands of the right grower, and wine maker.

"The classic response, to be honest, is 'cat pee.'" He answers. This is the flavor I don't like in such a wine. The perfect description. Unfortunately, it's true. Still, this is a flavor many appreciate.

I move on to the next cheese, a french blue. He pours me a taste of something red but I missed looking at the bottle, still trying to rinse the flavor of the goat from my mouth.

I taste the blue cheese. It is a mild blue, wonderfully smooth. A lovely flavor. I taste the red beverage with it. It is exquisite. "What is this?!" I ask. "The combination is like eating candy and cake at the same time." It is not sweet, exactly. It is simply rich, fully flavored, and smooth. The cheese tastes brighter, more creamy with the beverage.

"A blue and a tawny," he responds. "The classic pairing." He'd poured me some tawny port. Wonderful.

2. Rene Geoffroy Brut Rose

I have stopped on the cheese now. Ready just to taste a brut rose champagne.

This vineyard is one of the older ones in its area. It has been established since the 17th century, and the family that runs it speaks as if they have great reverence for the land itself. They speak of trying to learn the land, and respecting the land. It is alive in their language. They speak of it like a person with unique characteristics, and its own demands. They grow their vines among ground cover plants, and use organic fertilizers. Their way to give to the soil, they explain.

A rich, pink color, almost touched by the orange-toned colors of peach. Soft bubbles, though it pours foamy, the bubbles barely make it to the mouth. Clear rose flavor. Light lemon in the mouth. A metallic touch. It has a floral nose, and a slight floral fragrance in the front of the mouth as well. The body of the wine carries with it fruit flavors. A light cherry taste, but dry in its fruit. There is no sweetness in this flavor. It is a gentle, almost odd taste. Well-balanced in its range of flavors.

People that have written on this wine have compared it to music, and the vinters work on the land and the juice as that of a composer. A composer of flavors, and aesthetic elements. I like the idea of champagne as a composition. A musical performance is a range of sensations, and experience. Not just one of sound. Champagne too is an experience not only of flavor, or scent. It is broader, more encompassing than this. Just like a composition, this glass tells a story.

Not every glass is a story we want told to us.

My friend mentions it is Valentine's Day coming up. He speaks of it in order to be cynical and make jokes of what not to do. I respond. I am ignoring the holiday of red and pink this year, I explain. That same day is the beginning of the lunar new year, or Chinese New Year. It is going to be the year of the tiger. I am a tiger. For this day I am ready.

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