My first experience with French wine and food started with a Julia Child cookbook. I made tournedos Rossini and filet of beef with Bearnaise sauce. Such luscious dishes called for superb Bordeaux wine, and the owner of a local wine shop in West Hartford, Connecticut, provided it.
That same shop owner taught me a great deal about Bordeaux and shared wonderful bottles, including some from the great 1961 vintage. When I was ready to visit the region, he sent what must have been a very convincing letter on my behalf to Maison Sichel. Upon my arrival, the négociant sent an employee and car to take me on a three-day journey to the most famous vineyards in the world.
In the caves where the barrels of wine were aging, my sense of smell was so heightened that the other senses faded into the background until the winemaker would dip into a barrel. We would taste its contents and discuss what the wine might be like in five years, in 100. To this day, my memory of the pungent aroma of fermenting grapes is razor sharp.
In the tiny town of Margaux, my guide and I visited a small restaurant. The food was good but definitely not haute cuisine; the wine list was like no other in the world. Every single wine of the 20 on the list was from the appellation of Margaux.
It was like a poem, with each verse ending in the word Margaux. Throughout the course of dinner, we drank three bottles. None was close to Château Margaux, but all of them had the characteristic deep red fruitiness and balanced flavor of that I came to recognize as Margaux.
Unfortunately, many of the wines I tasted on that trip, from the early 1970s, were thin and not long-lived. Of course, I didn’t have a clue at the time.
It’s possible that I would have appreciated that trip more had I gone later, with more knowledge about wine. But either way, my experience left such an impression on me that whenever I taste a red wine from Bordeaux, I automatically search for echoes of flavors it had when it was in the barrel. Then, I am catapulted back in time to those chilly wine caves, with all of the fermenting aromas and memories.