I swirled the glass and feigned interest. The winemaker was blathering on about the south-facing slope in the vineyard that created this barrel. He was much more a scientist, from the sound of it, than an artist who played with grapes. Nobody cared about nuance anymore, at least, not in the way they once had. Now it was all nitrogen levels and terroir, but I wasn’t a firm believer that all that mattered to a wine was the dark space where a plant’s roots lived. Although good soil was important to many other things, I was sure.
He wiped a few beads of sweat off of his high forehead, sensing that I wasn’t impressed with the nose of the wine, but I gave him a little smile and wrote down my notes. I put down my pen on the top of the barrel.
“We’re very excited to have Royal Wineman visit us,” he said in his best English.
I told him in perfect French that we were happy to make a visit. I worked for the largest wine distributor in New York City, and his wines would be all over North America if I included the little French winery onto our list. He knew the stakes were high.
I rolled the wine around, brought in air to the glass, ran it all throughout my palate and breathed in all of the odors it had to this point created from the beautiful French oak barrel. So far it was a waste of very good wood. In another five years this cabernet would be a nice accompaniment to a standard French dinner of game or red meat, but it wasn’t going anywhere special. It was a lot of pomp.
“I’d like to taste the reserve,” I said, knowing that I was jumping up much higher on his wine list. I would taste the second tier if I liked the very top, but so far, I had low expectations.
“Certainly,” he said in French, and he bowed as he brought over a decanter, but he probably didn’t mean to give me quite so much deference. The French never really got over their sexism, I remembered. It was probably challenging for him to let a woman have so much power over him. I tried to remember to smile more.
Their top-notch wine was crafted from a dozen varietals, made in the Southern Rhône style. It was delicious from the moment the bouquet came to my face, and I tasted it slowly, marveling over the rambunctious fruit, sullen cherries, and bittersweet chocolate notes. It was a wine that hadn’t been on the earth in at least 200 years. It was a wine that I wanted to hold inside me forever.
Regretting it as I did it, I spit out the lovely vintage, making careful notes in my book.
“Did you— did you like it,” he asked, hopefully. He had no idea what pain he had just been spared, because of this wine.
I laid one hand on his shoulder, just for a moment, to comfort him before he fell over from his stress level.
“Monsieur,” I said, “I very much enjoyed this. I’ll make a recommendation this evening, but I’ll tell you now, don’t spend any more time making that mid-level cabernet sauvignon. Your genius is with this one.”
“Oh merci, merci beaucoup,” he said, rocking back on his feet. I thought he might jump up from the cobblestone floor. “I am so happy you could come to see us.” I finished the rest of the tasting, liking the second tier perfectly well, but thinking the whole time of the lovely reserve.
At the end of the tasting I asked for and received a bottle of the magnificent wine, cradling it in the nook of my elbow. Making my way back to my shabby hotel, I thought back on all of the wine I’d consumed over the years. It was a long, long list, filled with many pleasurable experiences. I always enjoyed returning to France, especially as nobody I knew anymore had heard it was my birth country. Secrets were made to be cherished.
A soft knock on my door and the young bellhop stood there with a crystal goblet and carafe, fulfilling my request to the front desk from ten minutes earlier. He had not yet grown into his frame, lanky limbs holding the expensive glassware clumsily, not knowing the importance of correcting poor posture. I motioned for him to come inside and put down the tray, and to be careful, I gave it two microseconds of resting on the desk before I sank into his neck, swallowing mouthful after mouthful of chalky, metallic, androgen-laden blood.
He had looked much better than he wound up tasting, but blood that wasn’t distasteful was very difficult to come by.
I set him in the chair, propped up, so that when he woke later, he wouldn’t feel as cramped or achy, but it would be some hours before he regained consciousness. I had more than enough time to let the Rhône wine mingle with the oxygen in the air, to release its bouquet and open up its complex flavor.
I drank it slowly and played with the cork between my fingers. It really was quite special, like nothing I’d tasted in hundreds of years.