No, not a tacky holiday resort in the Caribbean, but an extraordinary evening in Paris.
Spent the last weekend in Paris, and on the Saturday night made plans to have dinner with the friends who have been so hospitable every time I passed through. In the event, the plans were to visit a friend of theirs and have dinner chez that gentleman.
Into the Metro, and I was told we were going to Pigalle – the significance of this was lost on me, till the hasty assurance, the NICE bit of Pigalle sunk in. I admit when we exited the Metro and the first thing I saw was a sort of shaded glass office block with huge neon letters flashing “Sexodrome” I had doubts there could be any nice bits in that neighbourhood … Oh dear, I think I just got in deeper…
Anyway, we all moved swiftly on, and several blocks later passed through a wrought iron gate into a secluded ruelle, and were admitted to the sort of grand classic stone building you think of when you picture Paris.
And from there, into the most beautiful and extraordinary flat I think I have ever seen. Our host is an art collector, and possessed of exquisite taste, not only in selecting objects but creating a setting for them. Paintings, sculptures, magnificent but empty gilt frames, furniture and flowers… and incredibly comfortable seating into which I for one sunk gratefully, having spent eight hours walking all over the Marais and the Left Bank.
Now I am struggling to find words to describe the evening – in my mind’s eye I can see different snapshots of moments in the living room, dining room, a quick peek into the kitchen, and I can even hear the conversation, the different voices and especially the laughter, the sound of the corks coming free of the bottles – but how on earth to convey that entire impression in mere words on a blank page?
For now I will stick to what can be described – starting with the Champagne Vilmart. Those who know me, know I am not a fan of champagne … but this was lovely and soothing, and very gently and effectively banished from my mind all the worries and frustrated half-formed plans of the past couple weeks and left it receptive to all the pleasures of the evening ahead. Magic.
Then, to table. Starter of melon and prosciutto, and Gevrey Chambertin 2003, le Prince de Bourbon Parme. Would not have thought of a red to accompany such a starter, but then, such a red… very smooth red and black fruit and integrated tannins, balanced. Bliss. Moved on to a main course of roast veal – a treat I’ve not had in years, given Britain’s opposition to veal. Roasted au point, our host is a skilled chef as well, it seems. The next bottle was of the same domaine, but a Latricières Chambertin 2001. Very smooth again, very fine and integrated, but a step up from the prior, more elegant, a wonderful partner for the veal roast. Beyond bliss.
A very well thought out cheese board, to which I did not do justice, as I stopped at the époisses, after only a brief dalliance with the chevre. The first wine was an 80 Clos de Vougeot Domaine des Lambrays which provoked some discussion. While admittedly past its peak, at least two of us felt there was still pleasure to be had – not just fruit but earth and spice characteristics, albeit not as pungent as might have been at peak, but no less interesting for that (think of Irving Penn’s portraits of cut flowers past their best – still objects of beauty and fascination, just of a different nature than one perhaps looks for or expects or wants every day). Admittedly there was almost no finish, and after a half hour or so in glass the wine was distinctly less vivid than at first. But no regrets, and stood up well to the époisses.
On the other hand, a good excuse to try one more bottle… again an 80 Clos de Vougeot, this one a Mommesin, and still drinking well, we all agreed, no dissenters.
The sort of evening that justifies tolerance of dozens of others, the sort that stays in memory for ever, and the sort that just re-enforces my love of wine and the magic it creates with food and with people.
Very long ago and very far away, when I was in the commodity futures markets and letting it get to me far too much, a friend once told me, when you find yourself getting upset over something, ask yourself, will it matter in five years’ time? In five years’ time will any one know or care whether your client made or lost a thirty-second on their GNMAs or a quarter cent on their pork bellies? All my working life, when I’ve stopped to ask myself that, the answer has always been an unhesitating no, this won’t matter in five years. It probably won’t matter tomorrow, if I were brutally honest.
But wine matters, evenings like this matter, and in five years’ time those wines will have evolved further and the pleasure they give will be different – but will still matter. And the memory of this evening will still be with me, and hopefully the friendships and laughter as well, and those matter more than anything.
As luck would have it, last summer I took a photo of Latricières Chambertin, complete with tacky rucksack and water bottle (most people can’t drink and drive, I can’t drink and walk!):
And, across from Latricières is the hovel where I always thought, if I get really down and out and am reduced to sleeping rough, this is where I would go. Now I’ve drunk the wine, I am even more certain of that.