Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Lost Love

Somewhere between the undulating hillsides of the Rhone Valley lies a lost love affair. Jean and Jeanné were two people who found each other through their passion for wine. Many years have passed since Jean first set eyes on his true love. Whatever happened to this fantastic affair? Continue to sip your wine and envision two hearts colliding in the midst of Jean’s wine cellar….

Jean spent the past seven days sorting through grape clusters from 10 different vineyards. Although this year’s harvest was superb, Jean wanted to make a statement with his first Rhone wine he would make in over five years. Jean saw his wine making as an art form; a way of seducing the earth and creating a wine that men and women would lust for. This first release also needed to impress the family of a special woman he had met years ago. Jean usually had a quiet personality, unless he was with people he knew well, then his true nature would come out; a fun, humorous, and cunning man when it came to games. His light brown hair was cut short and he parted it to the side; this allowed his blue eyes to gaze freely. He was an avid runner. He always enjoyed jogging the rolling hills wherever he went. His slim frame and toned shape brought many opportunities for him to meet young women. But Jean could never settle down, he had taken exception to Jeanné years ago and no “le belle femme” ever seemed to steal his heart away as she did.   He enjoyed the last five years he spent in Austria, but he longed for the smell of France and the romance he had left behind.

Jeanné was a vision Jean could never extinguish from his mind. Their romance was like a fairy tale; an affair that crossed the boundaries of family tradition and public acceptance. Jeanné was a slender, athletic woman who stood near Jean’s height; he remembered how superbly their two shapes molded into each other’s. Her hair was dark brown, silky and flowing. She had graceful arms, beautiful hands and perfectly manicured fingernails. Jeanné had brown eyes that could capture Zeus himself and Jean had fallen victim to her eyes the first time they met. Her smile was sincere which showed off her perfectly shaped lips and cheek bones. Jean could still smell her perfume; it was locally made from the flowers, herbs and honey at a neighboring winery.

They had spent countless hours talking and sipping wine next to the stone wall, near the chapel on the hill. Jean was working with Jeanne’s family at the time as an apprentice wine maker. Jean had a radical mind when it came to making his wine. Of course, when you are young you want to be different and put yourself out there to get noticed. But it all backfired when Jeanne’s family exiled him from their winery. Her family was traditional and followed the strict guidelines allowed by the Appellation Contrôlée of the Rhone. Jean always wondered if he made the right choice by leaving. Hindsight tells him now that he should never had left, because a piece of him would always be in France.
After all those years Jean never found what he was searching for; the glamour and love always seemed just out of his reach. So, he headed back to France willing to be conventional and wondering whatever became of Jeanné. Little did he know that she had heard of his return and was anxious to see him. Over the years, Jeanné never married. Although her family and friends tried diligently to find a suitor, Jeanné never found the honesty, compassion or friendship she had with Jean. She enjoyed his company and her memories of the little surprises he would bring her for no reason. She longed to hold him in her arms and set out to make sure he felt the same way.
Jean had just finished washing his purple stained hands when he heard Baucus, a Cocker Spaniel half-breed that came with Jean’s new winery, barking. He walked towards the cellar door. The evening sun was shining its rays through the seams of the doorway and as the door opened the silhouette of a tall, slim frame appeared. A breeze blew in from the doorway and Jean could see the hair of what seemed a vision flowing like wheat in a field--then a perfume that he could never forget stopped him in his tracks.
“Bonjour” a soft voice called, “Jean est-ce vous?”
Jean thought his heart had stopped beating and caught himself out of breath. Soon he felt his heart racing and a rush of happiness seemed to lift him off the ground and plant him directly in front of the vision that came through the door. As Jean collected himself, he caught his breath long enough to say,

“Bonjour Jeanné, Oui, cest moi, je suis très heureux de vous voir?”Jean confirmed.
Jeanne’s voice awakened, “J’ai entendu que vous revient à démarrer voltre proper vignoble.”
“Oui, je suis arrive juste avant la récolte. C’est une tâche ardue sans embauchè l’aide. Mais, je m’ennuie de l’odeur de la France, et maintenant je reçois de vous voir,” Jean testified.
She could hardly believe it was really Jean. Jeanné wanted to run into his arms and never let go. They sat down at a small table in the room and talked for hours while sipping wine. Finally, Jeanné asked if Jean had eaten dinner, she was hungry and the wine was starting to go to her head. Jean recommended he bring out some Veau Marengo, a veal stew he made yesterday. The wine they were drinking was a Côtes-du-Rhône rouge Jean picked up at the market. He thought he would try some of the local wines and use them as a gauge. After all, winemaking is serious business here and he wanted to be the best. The wine had a youthful magenta color and a nose full of red berries and herbs. The flavors of raspberry, dried strawberry, pepper and herbs paired well with the stew and the soft tannins worked harmoniously with the rich dish. Jeanné reflected on Jean’s cooking skills. She always came over hungry anticipating the wonderful aromas and flavors Jean would develop in the kitchen; or if they went on a picnic she would pack the sandwiches. She would sit at the table with friends laughing and talking; occasionally she would glace over and watch Jean prepare their meal with focus and precision. Jean enjoyed cooking almost as much as he enjoyed making wine. He liked the chemistry of cooking; he took note of how different herbs worked with each type of meat and sauce, and how each dish paired with the wine he would pick.
After more talk about Jean’s adventures in Austria, he went back to the kitchen and brought out some homemade goat cheese, almonds, and dried fruit; he opened a bottle of Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc to pair with his dessert. Jean took notice of the toxic aromas of the white wine: pear, apple, white peach, anise and herbs. Jean was a red wine guy and never had the knack for making white wine, although he did enjoy consuming them. Jeanné shared her experiences as the marketing director at the local museum and her sales for some of the local wineries. Jeanne’s personality was perfect for any type of public relations; she was always smiling, accommodating, gracious, and of course she was beautiful. They talked for hours and caught up with each other’s past; it seemed the only thing left to talk about was their future. The evening grew to night and the night was greeting the morning when Jean took notice of the time. He knew he had to get started with the grapes soon.
 Jean pardoned himself, “Il est Presque matin, vous devez être sur vitre chemin.”
“Je ne veux pas aller, quand puis-je vous revoir?” Jeanné sighed.
“Je vais être occupé avec le vin pour les deux prochaines semaines. Après la fête la récolte, je serai toute à toi,“ explained Jean.
As the two walked towards the door, Baucus was just coming in from his morning tour of the grounds. The birds were singing in the trees and Jean could smell the morning dew. As the eastern sun pierced through the windows it cast a glow on Jeanne’s face. When Jean looked at Jeanné he could see his life shining brightly with her by his side. The sounds of children playing and friends laughing rang through his thoughts. He always knew Jeanne’s free spirit was good for him. He wanted to share his travel experiences and discoveries with her. For a moment, time stood still as Jean reflected on his future.
Jean was awakened from his trance by the close whisper of Jeanné, “Jean… Jean, vous semblez perdu”
Jean’s passion raced through his veins like the whitewater of a swollen river in spring. His gaze was planted directly into Jeanne’s eyes as he placed his hand on the back of her graceful neck and pulled her towards him. Her hair was soft and Jeanne’s neck buckled to the gentle touch of his hand. Jeanné had a look of surprise and longing dancing within her eyes. Jean could smell the scent of wine on her warm breath. They leaned into each other and their lips joined simultaneously with their figures.
As Jean waived to Jeanné, he knew the addiction for her had never vanquished. He now had a place of his own and a reason for staying here. No matter what obstacles confronted them they would stay together. Jean had all the inspiration he needed to become the most recognized vintner in the region.
I hope the wine told its story well.
C’est la vie!

by Bryan Bennington

Monday, September 3, 2012

Before and After

Mid-September 1990, I was looking for a bottle of wine at the Wine Barrel on Home Avenue in Akron, to save for a special occasion. I never collected wine before and I was hesitant in making my choice; until I spotted a wrapped bottle tucked behind some California Cabernets. I proceeded to move two or three bottles out of the way so I could remove the bottle from it's chamber. I carefully peeled back the cocoon hiding the wine. After all, I was not sure I wanted it and I may have to re-wrap it and put it back. It was a 1986 Beringer Reserve Cabernet.

Now this 25 year old did not know much about wine at the time, just taking baby steps back then. But I was enthralled by the shape of the bottle; it had wide shoulders, a hefty weight in the glass, and the label was quit sophisticated. The price of the Beringer was $29. I thought this is cool, I think I'll get it. When I approached the sales counter the clerk assured me that I picked a "really nice bottle." "Thanks," I said "I think I will keep it awhile."

Well, as we all know that bottle put Beringer on the world stage. Ed Sbragia, the man behind the wine became quite famous and his wines are sought out all over the globe. The 1986 Reserve Cab he made took the #1 spot on Wine Spectator's Top 100 list that year. Once I got news of that, I told myself I would never drink it, for sentimental reasons. It was then that my love for wine really started and my collecting of finer wines began.

Years went by and the millennium was approaching. We all thought the world was coming to an end as we knew it. So, after 14 years I decided it was time to savor the secret essence inside my fabled 1986 bottle.

I must say, I was disappointed. The bottle had experienced three moves and hadn't been stored properly the whole time. The wine showed signs of greatness. But like an old man who can tell many stories about his past, there are parts that he can not remember. From that day on I made sure my storage facility was less compromising.

The other day I was at a friends home. We were deciding what to imbibe when my buddy pulled out a 1997 Beringer Reserve Cabernet. Wow, I told him my story and the decision was made to open the 1997. I was anxious to discover how this newer version, which had been stored correctly, had developed over the past 15 years.

I pulled the faultless cork from its prison; only to reveal a dark burgundy stain on the bottom of its foot. Two short pours, a couple rigorous swirls and a deep sniff of intoxicating aromas revealed an exceptional wine. A wine that could not be dissected into multiple layers of aromatic attributes. Rather, a wine that developed into something unique that could only be described as a 1997 Beringer Reserve Cabernet. Outstanding, we both agreed.

It was a fine moment, as we finished the bottle along side our $5 Little Caesar pizza. We told each time we are grilling fillet Mignon!