Thursday, September 28, 2017

Reflections on Champagne and Being Gay

I'll admit to never having developed a love of Champagne. There's a part of me that somehow feels inadequate in not having done so. After all, EVERYBODY loves Champagne, right? The marketers in the big houses in Épernay and Reims have been working diligently for over 200 years to convince the world that it cannot live without the bubbly wine, and they have been hugely successful. 

I thought, maybe I just haven't met the right bottle of champagne.

Frankly, as I write this sitting in Charles de Gaulle Airport waiting on a flight to Berlin, this situation reminds me of how I felt about being "attracted to men" during the 10+ years between going through puberty and joining the Mormon Church, when I felt that my lack of attraction to women could be explained - indeed MUST be - by the fact that I just hadn't yet met the right woman.

Both situations required me to grin and bear it if I wanted to be like everyone else. Surely the problem was/is with me and not with the product - in one case champagne, and in the other case heterosexuality. It took me approximately 40 years after suddenly discovering that men turned me on to come out of the closet and embrace the fact that I am gay. And it took me about the same amount of time to discover that, while champagne doesn't (as my dad used to say) "honk my trigger," ratafia does. 


Let me explain.

I joined another small-group tour in Paris yesterday morning. When the driver/guide, the cute Victor, picked me up - mercifully at the reasonable hour of 7:45 instead of 6:30 - there were already three youngish Americans in the back seat. Young Asian-Americans, Michael, his wife and a friend (whose names, alas, I have forgotten), they were in Paris for a week before attending the destination wedding of a friend in Angers in the Loire Valley.

Paris was uncharacteristically foggy as we headed out of the city, east toward Champagne. As we drove, visibility got worse instead of better, and by the time we arrived in the heartland of bubble-land, we could see hardly anything. We chatted along the way, however, getting to know each other a bit. Turns out Michael, who is of Japanese descent, collects Japanese whiskey (who knew?), and had researched just how much alcohol one is allowed to bring back into the United States. Victor gave him the name of a couple of stores in Paris he should visit. I found myself wishing that I had a bit more time so as to visit these stores to look for a particular single-malt Scotch (as if I'd have room in my luggage for one more bottle of booze/wine).

Our first stop was L'abbaye Saint-Pierre d'Hautvillers, a Benedictine abbey that was the home and is the final resting of Dom Pérignon, effectively the patron saint of the Champagne industry.

The tombstone of Dom Perignon in the abbey of Hautvillers

If Dom Pérignon is the patron saint of the champagne industry, then surely the house of Moët & Chandon is one of its most important pilgrimage sites. This was our next destination, where we joined a tour of the house and their famous cellars, carved out of the chalk below the city of Épernay. I desperately wanted to enjoy - really enjoy - the champagne we tasted at the end of the tour, but I found it didn't really turn me on - much like my high school and college (female) dates.

From there, we drove to the village of Monthelon, where we had lunch and enjoyed more tastings at the house of a small producer, Julien Chopin. 

I admit to finding the various types of champagne that they served with lunch more enjoyable. Perhaps it was because they were served with food.

But the epiphany came when the cheese course was served. This is when we were all treated to a small glass of ratafia made from Meunier grapes.

Ratafia? I had never heard of it, and I felt somewhat better when our guides said that, even in a Paris wine shop, it would be unlikely that people would be familiar with it. 

Ratafia, it turns out, is a fortified wine of about 18% ABV that is produce only in Champagne from the same grapes - Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay - that are used to produce champagne. I was entirely hooked after one sip. FINALLY! I had found a champagne product that suited me. The producer at whose house we were eating - Julien Chopin - has a passion for ratafia, and I was so enamored of the drink that I asked if I could sample the Pinot Noir product with our cherry/raspberry tarts that were served as dessert.

I wish I'd had room to bring home a large bottle, but I did make room for three small ones. After all, I had finally "come out" and embraced my true attraction to ratafia. ;)

We rounded out our afternoon by visiting a cooperative in another village across the Marne River, then it was back to Paris. Frankly, by the time I arrived back at my flat, I was day-tripped-out. It's been a wonderful four days, but it's now time to head to Berlin for my birthday weekend, then home.

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