The Lesson of Terroir

The story of how I, a wine amateur, ended up preaching the gospel at the Wine Bar on the second floor of Bistrot Lepic is not worth telling.

I tasted. I looked through books. I looked up grapes and regions and appellations. I asked questions of the French crew and received choice words, such as ‘inky’ and ‘sauvage.’

After one hectic Sunday night, the manager decanted – sniffing it in a big glass with satisfaction – a Pic Saint-Loup. He poured me a glass and I swirled it, and within, magically, was the manure from the manure spreaders of my childhood, along with the shale-y underground on which everything in our part of the world grew.

Each time we taste a wine we get that lesson of terroir. This is what makes wine enjoyable – not to hoard, but to sample; to understand the earth a wine comes from, the weather, the slopes, the soil and its minerals; a sampling of the DNA of a particular place, its creatures, its flora, the traditional local dishes.

I decant a Madiran for two French gentlemen and they savor it along with a venison fricassée, singing its praises with Gallic pride when I pour. A lady, a sommelier, orders a Bandol. She tells me she only decants vintage bottles. “Really?” I reply. “I would decant a young pinot or even a Beaujolais,” I say. “Beaujolais, I cannot stand Beaujolais,” the lady says, and we chuckle.

A venerable vigneron from a small town in the Languedoc, in excellent shape well into his seventies, brings a rosé and a red for a wine tasting. I asked him about the vintage. “Every year is good in the South of France,” he says, and he smiles.

For all my homework regarding French wines not of the modern style, I have a new crush: a varietal exotic to me, with a long history, a grape not easy to handle. I’ve been hearing how every seafood restaurant in New York is pouring Greek white wines. There have been whispers about the Xinomavro grape, dark red wines of northern Greece.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I’m breaking out of my own routine, discovering the beauty of something new, beautiful, different, earthy and enjoyable with just about everything, sipping this foreign beauty in new company.

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