Recently I found out that a customer returned a pinot noir -- not Primarius, above -- to the store, asking for a refund because the wine was "stale." The refund had already been doled out, so there was nothing for me to do but pour a splash of the suspect product into a little plastic cup, taste it and see. Sometimes disappointed customers are quite right and a wine is faulty. It is good to know this.
This time the nice customer was wrong. I know because I sipped, and waited. One eyebrow moved a quarter of a millimeter, just like Jeeves when he is agitated or impressed. (My bedside reading is currently Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, and I cannot tell you how much fun it is to climb under the covers at the end of the day with this book and the night light, and spend fifteen minutes or so in my imagination at Totleigh Towers, with Pop Bassett, Gussie, Emerald, Spode and everyone, all in a fluster about the black amber statuette. Plus Bertie's awful Alpine hat.)
As I say, while I sipped the eyebrow moved, a la Wodehouse, a quarter of an m. I did not immediately "light a moody gasper," although that sounds such fun too, -- but I thought: this is delicious. This wine is most assuredly not stale. Here rather is fruit, and a pinot noir's fine translucent raspberry color, along with its spiny no-nonsense acidity and yes, that peculiar pinot funk. How to describe it?
When a pinot noir is not dark red and California-sweet (and those are very nice in themselves), it can have a strange, gamy smell and taste. Professionals describe this in terms of earth or barnyard, forest floor or mushrooms. Of course they also often say this is in the French style, which is true. Then again "French" is shorthand in all of life for correct, glamorous, authentic, and good.
Since few of us go around sniffing earth or barnyards every day, still less drinking properly pale, gamy Burgundies, we might be forgiven for balking at a nine-dollar grocery store bottle that tastes so un-winelike. We might be forgiven for saying, "this is odd. This is stale."
Never meeting my disappointed customer, I faced no awkward on-the-spot etiquette challenges with him. I wonder what sommeliers do at tableside in a restaurant under similar circumstances, but all amid the dark romantic lighting, the laughter and the softly clinking silver and glassware, and the witnesses. One can't raise the e. and cluck soothingly, "sir, this wine is fine. You just don't know pinot noirs. Let me explain." Perhaps it would be best then to give the customer a different bottle, and rather ostentatiously place the "stale" one at the little corner nook where the staff will eat and drink between rushes. Perhaps if he saw people who know food and wine very much not choking down but instead savoring his reject, he also might raise an e. and start to rearrange his ideas. Not long ago, a regular saw me contentedly leave for the day with his reject in my bag -- opened and un-sellable, but don't worry we get replacements from the distributor and there would have been nothing else to do with it but throw it out -- and even out of the corner of my eye I could tell he was non-plussed. He thought the cork was bad, and that once a cork is fussed with overmuch, the wine is therefore ruined. Yet off I went .... I think he didn't have enough strength or skill to uncork the bottle properly. The wine was excellent.
The Primarius above has inspired today's fun because it is the sort of pinot noir we are talking about -- the sort that risks rejection because of its pale, gleaming, spiny, gamy, delicious Frenchness. If you see it, treat yourself. It retails for about $15.
P.S. Because we have been discussing Frenchness, and because we are Tudor geeks (as who is not?), we cannot let the day pass without a nod to one of the prime dates in the Tudor calendar. May 19 is the anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn, 477 years ago. Part of the reason she captivated Henry was because of the Frenchness she learned abroad. Did she drink gamy Burgundies? Why not?