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  • loss of dignity
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      19.10.2001 17:08
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      • "loss of dignity"

      They told me not to swallow it! The tastefully printed invitation arriving in the post addressed to myself and my Chef husband was to a Wine Tasting afternoon in an idyllic village in Somerset. The request was from two very good patrons of ours who regularly visited our restaurant in West Dorset. They were the type of diners that every restaurateur adores. They’d arrive at eight; take their time with aperitifs while they carefully read the menu and the wine list; choose the wine to compliment the food and vice versa; eat and drink with obvious enjoyment; praise the chef when inspired; ask the proprietors (us) to join them for a cognac at the end of the meal; get us unspeakably inebriated; call for a taxi at two in the morning; and then do it all again the following week! The reason for the invite to this particular Wine Tasting was their first tentative steps at importing fine, classic wines from the Loire Valley. Each month they intended to travel to France in order to visit the various Chateaus. A Chateau being one or all of the following: stately home, mansion, castle, fortress or palace, and focus on one specific wine of the province. This Tasting was concentrating on the Sancerre region in the area immediately surrounding the city of Sancerre, south of Paris. The date was a Sunday afternoon at four o’clock, which did mean we had to rather rush our Sunday lunchtime eaters a little, as our restaurant had the reputation for leisurely, unrushed and relaxed dining and atmosphere. We managed to empty on time, skipped our own lunch, and drove into rural Somerset to our destination, the delightful, converted Farmhouse twenty miles distant. We imagined we were going to a party, with buckets of Sancerre, a few nibbles, laughs and lots of chats. How wrong could we be? We only knew this couple as clients, when they were laid-back and we were working, but of course, this afternoon was in reverse! Only, I
      was so laid –back, I fell over! I fell over and disgraced myself! But then, I didn’t know then how to ‘Taste’ wine, only how to drink it! I wished later that day I had know the three basic disciplines involved in tasting, contrasting and comparing wines: Sight, Smell and Taste! The large Farmhouse living room had six trestle tables put together in the centre of the comfortable, beamed room. They were bare, except for individual place names, a printed chart and a pen for each place, and sixteen narrow brimmed empty wine glasses lined up behind each name. There were no chairs, but a strategically positioned bucket, or spittoon, by each place setting filled with sand! I rather naively though these were for cigarette stubs. Are you getting there yet? If you are, I wish you’d been there with me, then perhaps you could have stopped me! Around the edge of the room were occasional tables with dry biscuits and breadsticks on plates. I wrongly assumed the French cheeses, butter, and other interesting munchies would be along shortly. I reflected on our missed Traditional Sunday Lunch with misgivings. The rest of the invited gathering numbered one dozen, and appeared to be serious wine drinkers from the commercial and private buying public, all men, and no couples except my husband and myself, plus our hosts. I realised this was about to be a solemn affair. ~~~~Comparing and Contrasting~~~~ We were about to taste and make notes on sixteen Sancerre wines, from the important vineyard on the Loire, located in the eastern premises of the valley at Sancerre. In the care of Augustinian monks at Saint Satur Abbey and the Dukes of Sancerre, these vineyards blossomed in the 12th century and have increased in appreciation ever since. Sancerre is known for crisp, flinty whites from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. The Cave des Vins de Sancerre (Sancerre Wine Cellar) groups together 160 vine growers spread o
      ver the fifteen communes which comprise the controlled appellation area. The “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” (AOC) is the label of quality of the Sancerre wines attributed as of 1936 for the white Sancerre, and we were to sample just sixteen, brought back from vineyards, and personally selected by our hosts. All this with the intention of taking orders from their invited guests! Unfortunately I was positioned several places away from my husband, situated between two undoubtedly professional wine experts, and I was already feeling rather intimidated. The named wines were listed down the left hand side of our graphs, while along the top were headed columns with characteristics, namely Sweetness/Dryness Acidity, Tannin, Weight or Body Fruit. The purpose being to enter our comments as we tasted each wine. The gentlemen either side seemed to spend an age just looking at the half filled glass in their hands, clasped gently by the elegant stem, holding it at angles against the white backdrop of the emulsioned walls, peering and examining the wine closely for clarity. They then sniffed the wine very deeply after swirling the glass and the contents for what seemed like an age. I heard my companion mutter something about a ‘full nose’ and pondered whether he had a cold and needed a Kleenex. At last they raised the wine glasses to their lips, took a mouthful and appeared to give a good impression of swishing antiseptic mouthwash and gargling simultaneously. I now know that this is done as different areas of your mouth taste different flavours. I didn’t know that then! Then to my utter horror, they squirted the liquid into the spittoon in a deadly straight aim, making a rather disgusting noise. I was shocked. Surely the wine wasn’t that revolting? They didn’t have to make such a performance over it did they? How rude! They both put these glasses to the back of their queue of spark
      ling wineglasses and began to make copious notes. I drank my half glass of Sancerre, considered it was delicious and wrote my thoughts in the appropriate boxes. And so it went on. By tasting number six, I felt distinctly light-headed and very hungry. My husband was trying to catch my attention, but I was eagerly anticipating glass number seven, as each different Sancerre was tasting better by the glass. Still no nibbles for the dry biscuits, although I saw my two gentlemen friends taking frequent breaks and eating a dry cracker. I thought I’d wait till the cheese and olives appeared. My comments on the wines, describing the palate, intensity, and condition were also getting rather light headed. Had I really written ‘Orgasmic’ under ‘Intensity’ of Sancerre number four? ‘Good here innit?’ hardly appeared suitable under the ‘Fruit’ for Sancerre number six. My comment under the heading ‘Length’ is unprintable! And as for ‘A shady little number’ under ‘Character’ My husband caught my eye and forebodingly shook his head from side to side. Without moving his head, his eyes gazed around the table covered with what seemed hundreds of wine glasses. It dawned on me slowly but with appalling comprehension, that my wine glasses were the only empty ones. Everyone else had taken a small sip from the half glass that had been poured for tasting, and then spewed out, leaving the remainder of the wine intact. I was the only creature present who had been draining my glass, and worst of all, swallowing it! I felt literally legless. Working hard since seven in the morning with no food, the drive to the Wine Tasting, adding to that my apprehension at being in an environment where I undoubtedly felt anxious and disadvantaged. And of course well over a bottle and a half of beautiful Sancerre, of mixed vintage, from an assortment of vineyards, of varying strengths had pass
      ed my lips, but even worse, had been swallowed by me! ~~~~The End Result~~~~ Our fellow guest tasters were busy ordering from our hosts, who would then make another trip across the Channel to buy personally for this gathering. The guests were signing for cases of Sancerre by the van load, according to taste, their professionalism, price, the demand and expectations of their own customers. My husband had alerted himself to the set procedure of Comparing and Contrasting and spewing, or Wine Tasting, but not as I had done, Wine Swallowing. I signalled to him that I needed the Ladies Room, left my set place at the Tasting Table for the first time in two fixated hours, probably in impossible shoes, and promptly tripped over one of the many strategically placed spittoons and went crashing face first onto the thick pile carpet. He gently got me to my feet ( I then got a giggling fit, Sancerre inspired no doubt, as I was wearing a ‘Lycra Body’ and all the poppers in the gusset came busting open with the physical exertion) We bade our farewells to our hosts with as much dignity as I could muster, telling them we would place our order for the remarkable Sancerres we had tasted due to their hospitality, later in the week. We remained friends with them for many years to come, buying some of the best Loire wines for ourselves and for our valued diners in our restaurant, whilst having many laughs about that Sunday afternoon. I have been to Wine Tasting soirees since that fateful day, discovering how to appreciate the style and flavour of different wines from many countries, conducting myself with total decorum while watching other novices, just I was, swallow and not spew…; {}

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