From A-List to Riffraff in 12 Hours at Vinexpo

One very important aspect of Vinexpo is the industry’s effort to
flatter the press. On Sunday evening, the Conseil des Grands Crus
Classés en 1855 Médoc et Sauternes hosted a black-tie dinner at Château Lafite-Rothschild
in honor of the international press attending Vinexpo. Lafite is one of
five chateaux ranked as €œfirst growths,€ literally the peak of the
pinnacle. About 300 guests €“ press and winemakers €“ strolled about
the lawn sipping on champagne or sauternes and slurping oysters or
devouring foie gras. (€œWhere is that itinerant mi-cuit
vendor?€ one peckish British publisher moaned.) A gong summoned us to
dinner, and we filed solemnly through two barrel rooms, with candles
atop the barrels lighting the way. I felt we should be carrying candles
ourselves, for it had the air of a religious procession.

Dinner was served in the main barrel room. It was my good fortune to
be seated with wine royalty: Two seats to my left was Baron Eric de
Rothschild, owner of Lafite; between us was Decanter€™s Sarah
Kemp (wine writing royalty, resplendent in red hair and British accent).
On my right was Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, owner of Château Mouton-Rothschild.
At age 75, the baroness is a hoot, and sharp as a tack. She constantly
regaled those around her in French and English, while everyone nodded
somewhat sycophantically. (As did I, as the evening wore on and I fell
increasingly under her charm.) Every now and then, she would turn to me
and command loudly, €œTell me about Obama!€

The food was superb, of course, and our table enjoyed a taste-off of
Lafite and Mouton, from the 2001 and 1989 vintages, followed by 1978
Lafite poured from jeroboams (jeroboa?). The last wine was magnificently
fresh and vibrant, especially considering it was made the year after I
graduated high school and has aged much more gracefully than I. Of
course, the wine had never left that cellar until I flushed it down the
men’s room pipes.

As we rose to leave sometime after midnight, the Baroness extended an invitation. €œMonsieur Dahveed,€ she said. €œPlease come by and see me at Vinexpo tomorrow! Taste our wines €“ have lunch with us!€

I said I would. And so I did. Or at least I tried.

The next day I was in the Douro Valley €“ actually, the Douro alley
in Hall 1 at the Parc des Expositions. Just before noon I excused myself
and walked outside the hall on the lake side, where several pavilions
were erected en plein air for tasting and dining. I walked up
to the Baron Philippe de Rothschild pavilion and was greeted by an
officious young woman in a white airplane stewardess uniform.

€œDo you have an appointment?€ she asked, looking askance at my
wine writer€™s attire €“ an all-American blazer over a polo shirt and
khaki pants.

€œUm, no, but the Baroness said – €œ I stammered, trying to make
sure she saw my badge with €œThe Washington Post€ prominently
displayed. I mentioned meeting the Baroness at Château Lafite, but the
woman probably thought I’d gotten my Rothschilds all mixed up.

€œPerhaps if you give me your card, I will see if someone is
available.€ I gave her my card (which, according to Post policy, does
not mention my affiliation with the paper), and she came back a few
minutes later.

€œJe suis desolée,€ she said. €œPerhaps if you come back some time after 3 p.m., someone might be able to meet with you.€

So I went back to the Douro for some more Portuguese hospitality.

Post Scriptum, July 3: I returned home to
Maryland last night and turned on my cell phone to check for any
messages during my trip. (I’m a cell-phone Luddite, in that I still have
one of those antiquated American ones that won’t work overseas.) The
first was from Baroness Philippine, chiding me for not showing up for
lunch on Monday when she had been expecting me. A wonderful opportunity
lost, all for want of a GSM mobile phone. Now it seems like a worthy
investment. From A-List to Riff-Raff, to Chump.

This entry was posted in Douro, France, Portugal, Vinexpo and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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