Au Lait Cru: Part One

Inspiration is a funny thing. When it strikes, I often feel the need to sustain it, to hold on to it so tightly it never leaves my grasp again. This of course has the adverse effect of promptly abandoning me, leaving with a great whoosh of deflated energy. So I vow to relax, let it all flow over me, the next time I feel that gentle intake of breath that lets me know I'm on to something. I often long for that which I don't have, but I always believe that it's near-inevitable arrival is just a few moments away. Marriage, a career that is utterly fulfilling, financial stability, children, travel , a house, publishing a book that becomes a wild success... And sometimes I get so wrapped up in longing I forget that it actually is up to me to somehow gently guide my inspiration with real live action and just do it already. Hm. Maybe I've seen too many Nike ads recently.

camembert
camembert

So when inspiration arrives, fresh off the plane from Paris, in the form of not one but TWO wheels of raw milk Camembert, I think of how best to document this glorious experience. I post a photo on the Facebook. I snap a dozen more iPhone pics with the intention of writing a blog post all about cheese and the demented US regulations that keep such lovely (and totally harmless) products out of our everyday grasp.

But then I eat. And I forget to take notes, instead closing my eyes and breathing in the ripe aromas. I nibble, letting the cheese melt on my tongue. I sip some Vouvray. I smile widely at my boyfriend. And I let inspiration just be, Nike be damned.

*Eternal gratitude to Mike and Angela for acting as illicit cheese couriers.

Wine Country Chronicles: The Shyness of Taste

Most of us have heard about the infamous tasting of 1976, where French and California wines were tasted blind by a panel of snobby French judges in Paris. The California wines rocked the house, much to everyone's surprise. They've made movies and written books all about it. If you haven't yet heard this fascinating tale, read the original Time article here Needless to say, I thought it would be fun to kick off my informally-formalized independent wine education with a mini-tasting here in the house. With Chris otherwise engaged preparing us dinner, I started off with two whites I had picked up at Cost Plus that morning. From France I had the Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuisse, a white burgundy. And my representative for California chardonnay was a Gundlach Bundschu from Sonoma. Both wines were from the 2007 vintage. I opened them up, gave myself some generous pours, and set about to write what I thought of them.

All of a sudden, I felt strangely nervous. Who do I think I am, that I can just presume to open some wines I know nothing about and then write what I think of them? What if I think it tastes like something that's not really there? What if I don't notice something about the wine that is painfully obvious to everyone else?

Why this sudden reticence? I'm certainly not one to shy away from speaking my mind, no matter what the subject. So it should be no different when it comes to my opinions about wine, right?

See, this is the funny thing about the wine world. It can be so intimidating to explore, with different people proclaiming opinions with an air of absolutism, magazines assigning points to "grade" wines and a plethora of different varietals and styles. Most of us simply don't have the knowledge, time, or money to be able to give ourselves a thorough education in all the dizzying aspects of the art of enjoying and understanding wine.

Plus, isn't the idea of taste subjective? I don't care for the taste of peanut butter, but it might be your favorite foodstuff in the pantry! Additionally, two people can like an identical dish but for different reasons. So, couldn't it be the same for our tastes in wine?

As our tastes vary, so shall our opinions. And if I think a wine tastes like hibiscus or seems flirty, that's just my way of expressing a personal opinion. There shouldn't be any reason to be shy about that.

Taking a deep breath, I sipped. Pen in hand, I boldly wrote my first impressions. The Pouilly-Fuisse was slightly sweet. It was crisp at first, then softened to something silky. It was pale. Light-colored. It had a fragrant perfume. And then came the chardonnay. It was so different! It was richer, golden-colored. It tasted like butter. It coated my mouth in a way totally unlike the French wine.

Excitedly, I sipped more. Chris jumped in, cautiously proffering his opinion as well. We were so taken with our new roles as wine critics that we forgot the whole tasting-in-moderation aspect of the wine tasting. Hm. I had planned on doing a red wine tasting that evening as well, but we polished off the last of the two bottles of white, I thought I might just postpone it for a day or two.

But we had so much fun! I liked writing about the wine -- it made me think about it more, and enjoy it even more than if I'd just absent-mindedly sipped it. Wine has always stimulated conversations, daydreams, pleasures, and friendships. Too often it can also stimulate depression, discord, and strife. I think the balance can be struck not just in moderation, but in always remembering to savor and enjoy the experience of drinking-- and feeling a little gratitude for the blessing that is wine.

Shyness simply cannot mix with unbridled enthusiasm. And so, I vowed that night to dispense with my hesitations and embrace this magical world of wine and words, sans fear.