Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Drink and be Merry
I crossed a new cultural threshold the other day. I was at the annual end-of-the-year lunch for a select group of moms who hang out at the park next door with their kids. A bottle of 15-year old Morgon was set out on the table and after it was opened, the only person deemed qualified to taste it was…me. Out of the seven of us, four were French de souche, and here I was tasting the wine. How this could happen to someone who 10 years ago could barely distinguish between white and red is mystifying, to say the least.
When I first moved here in 2000, I was convinced that French people were genetically conditioned to understand the subtleties of wine. It seemed like there was some massive collective unconscious that was the source of this secret knowledge, and that no self-respecting French person ever hesitated for a nano-second when ordering a glass at a bar or café. When I asked people how they learned about wine, they would just shrug and mutter something about the grape-growing region where their family came from, which only reinforced my genetic hypothesis.
When I finally understood French well enough to understand muttering, I realized that what they were actually saying is that they didn’t know that much about it, but were familiar with the wines their parents grew up with, or that a friend recommended, or that they stumbled across. Wine is everywhere here (almost literally—just about every region of France has vineyards), so it’s not too difficult to absorb information if you have any interest at all. But while there are lots of people who know a lot about wine, there are even more who don’t, which is very reassuring to an outsider from a relatively wine-challenged country. I guess over the past 8 years I’ve absorbed a bit of The Knowledge, at least enough to be able to tell if a bottle has turned or not. But I would have never dared to think that I knew more than the moms from the park. Is it that wine-tasting is a male activity and they hadn’t ever needed to develop the skill? Or was it simply that they were bored with the whole wine thing, the way Italians might be about pasta, or the Dutch about tulips?
So there I was, a glass of the red stuff in my hand and 6 sets of eyes turned upon me. I summoned my courage, held up the glass, and swished it around a bit for show. I suppose I could have sniffed, but considering the fact that I have no sense of smell, that seemed a bit too theatrical. So I just sipped. As far as I could tell, it was divine.