When you meet someone for the first time, you have options. You can be yourself or you can be the person you always wanted to be, and the same is true for the other person. Regardless of whether or not you become friends, the possibility of friendship casts a glow over your first impressions of each other. A certain degree of beginner's luck is involved. The trick is to keep your expectations from sabotaging that luck.
When you taste a wine for the first time, it's not all that different. If you pay two hundred dollars for a bottle and expect the wine inside that bottle to change your life, chances are, the wine will taste like wine. But if you pay thirty dollars for a bottle and have no idea what to expect, the wine will show you its strengths, its weaknesses, and what lies between them. If the wine is a wine of character, it will not attempt to flaunt its strengths or disguise its weaknesses. Instead, it will show you-sometimes during the first sip-how its strengths and weaknesses complement each other. When a wine does that, it makes sense to buy a case.
I find that the best time to taste a wine for the first time is while I'm cooking dinner. About an hour before we eat, I've usually got a hot pan on the stove and a bunch of raw ingredients-cilantro, garlic, scallions, and shallots-on the cutting board waiting for me to slice them into smaller versions of themselves and sear them in the pan. Or, if I'm grilling something, I might be outside by the grill, waiting for the flames to die down.
What I do at this point is open the new wine and pour some of it into a small juice glass. I don't know why I don't use a wine glass. Maybe to take the pressure off the wine, maybe to take it off myself-it's hard to say. All I know is that the juice glass helps. When I take the first sip, I don't swirl or spend time with the bouquet. I just taste the wine and let it make its statement. It's like listening to music. You pay attention, and the attention you pay is a form of action, but it's not an action you take. It's more like an action you allow.
Which brings us to the 2003 Domaine du Gros' Noré Bandol Rouge.
Gros' Noré is a vineyard in the Bandol region of Provence, about six miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Alain Pascal is the owner and winemaker. Alain's father, Honoré Pascal, used to sell Gros' Noré's grapes to Chateau Pibarnon, one of Bandol's established wineries. (Gros' Noré-pronounced "grow nor-Ray"-is a contraction of Gros' Honoré, or Big Honoré.) In 1997, Alain Pascal stopped selling Gros' Noré's grapes and started making his own wine. Since 1997, he has acquired a reputation as a rising star in Bandol. In 2003, he took everything he knew about winemaking and distilled it into his rouge.
The original Honoré was Honoratus of Amiens, a Catholic bishop who was born in the sixth century. Honoratus grew up in Port-le-Grand, a village on the Atlantic coast of France northwest of Amiens. The day after Honoratus was named bishop of Amiens, the nursemaid who had raised him was baking bread in Port-le-Grand. When she heard the news, she refused to believe it. She said she would believe Honoratus was the new bishop when the peel she used to bake bread put down roots and turned into a tree. (A peel is a large, wooden paddle used by bakers to slide unbaked loaves of bread into the oven and take them out when they're done.) Someone took the peel and placed it on the ground. The peel turned into a tree covered with blossoms and ripe fruit. The tree became a pilgrim's shrine in Port-le-Grand. It survived until the sixteenth century.
Saint Honoré is the patron saint of bakers, candlemakers, confectioners, and pastry chefs. His feast day is May 16. The Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré in Paris, sometimes called "the most fashionable street in the world," is named after him. In 1659, Louis XIV decreed that each baker in France should observe Saint Honoré's feast day by making a donation to his local parish.
The cepage of the 2003 Gros' Noré Bandol Rouge is eighty percent Mourvèdre, fifteen percent Grenache, and five percent Cinsault. In the glass, the color is royal purple with cardinal red at its edges. The bouquet is deceptive. It does not prepare you for how good the wine is going to taste. The attack, as a consequence, leaves you defenseless. You don't drink this wine as much as you surrender to its beauty. The finish is like the view of the ocean from a mountaintop. Its only flaw is that it doesn't last forever. This is a wine that makes you appreciate the air you breathe and the food you eat. It is not so much a miracle as it is a statement about how rewarding the simple life can be.
The more desperate life gets, the more important good wine becomes. If you were a god and didn't have to worry about death, you could afford to procrastinate. You could pour bad wine for yourself and your immortal friends and never worry about shortchanging anyone. You would have all the time in the world to upgrade to the good stuff so what, exactly, would be your hurry?
As a mortal, on the other hand, you don't have a moment to waste. Your soul may be immortal but your body is not, and your body knows the difference between good wine and bad wine, even if your mind can't decide. As for your mortal friends, they deserve the best. Not only do they love you for who you are, they love you in spite of who you are. If for no other reason than that, they deserve a seat at your table, an honest meal, and a wine they will never forget.
One Bottle is dedicated to the appreciation of good wine and good times, one bottle at a time. The name One Bottle, and the contents of this column, are © 2008 by onebottle.com. If you need help finding a wine or building a cellar, write to Joshua Baer at firstname.lastname@example.org.