“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of... We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart."
This morning I took courage and I removed the post-it from the fridge. "March 25th. Air France flight at 6.10 ". I had just woken up, I was still numb from sleep with cotton mouth because I still hadn't brushed my teeth, and in removing that reminder it was as if they had just thrown a bucket of cold water on me. I had in my hands that yellow sheet and was still hypnotized by the refrigerator, that in a second became out of focus ... I went off the air. A piece of paper attached to a refrigerator was enough to make me feel small, and the walls of that kitchen suddenly take on ferociously narrow perspectives. Flight cancelled. Borders closed. Quarantine means that the new boundaries are no longer those between Ventimiglia and Nice: 'my' territory is delimited in centimeters, no longer in kilometers, that is to say from the kitchen to my front door, from which you can neither go out, nor enter.
I put on music to ward off bad thoughts condensed in that unhealthy and restless sense of claustrophobia. I choose a song by Gino Paoli, Il Cielo in una Stanza. I make myself a coffee, the first of the day. I lost my breath, and in an attempt to find it, perhaps in the bedroom, I lie down for a moment and close my eyes. Here it is: silence. Ssshhhhh ... shut up everyone: it was enough to close my eyes and I'm in Paris.
Exactly like this morning, in fact, on a Saturday of just over a month ago, I was making that same coffee to prepare myself to take the nine o'clock flight to Paris. I had spent Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday wondering if I really felt like taking that flight. My house, which is now so close to me, in those days had become my shell, my protection. On Friday, Alessandro's texted me: 'Ready for tomorrow? Or don't you want to give up on the Tour d'Argent ?! ' No, I wasn't ready. However, this time I took that flight.
In my job we talk about wine “in cents”. At the Academy it is paradigmatically required that wine be objectively analyzed on the basis of a tested and shared empirical code. Is this really so? Yes, it really is. Curious ... etymologically the word sommelier derives from the Latin sagma, or soma, that means “burden beasts”: we are professional tasters, who do everything to appear “out of the flock”, when we should eat an humble pie sometimes, and remember that in some ways we risk being mules with strong spirit of adaptation to the burden beast.
If it is true that everything is objective, on the other hand, there is an unwritten law (equally incontrovertible) that represents a cumbersome variable to the point of diminishing all the certainties of the 'professional palate', that is: the mood of the sommelier while making the tasting. We are, in fact, not a “Terminator”. Although, when we approach wine, we are required to analyze it evaluating its appearance, aroma and taste, there are a lot of other parts of me that are actually involved in addition to eyes, nose and palate. Have you ever “listened” to wine? No? Sure? When you pour the wine and fill the glass, don't you have exactly the same feeling as the stadium lights that go out and the stage explodes with the first song of the Rolling Stones? Sometimes you don't feel butterflies in the stomach ... like when you are in love? Don't you put your heart into it, don't you lose your mind? Or don't you feel like saying 'Don’t be a stranger!'?
At least I start to flirt with wine even before opening the bottle; I try to imagine it, to understand its personality; It is like dating with the common stereotype of the dump blonde (who is just a bimbo), that means only appearance. Or I’m going to have dinner with a rough peasant, with an amazing attitude to be rude, but generous and fun. And exactly as in a perfectly successful first date, I like the idea that amazes me. Even the most arrogant sommelier will not remember a wine for the 'impenetrability of the color or the texture of the tannin', I mean for those objective and academic aspects, which are evident to everyone; rather, like Proust's madeleine, he will remember it for one reason, or a thousand others, which are intimately his reason and which have nothing of axiomatic.
Is it possible that we don't realize how the brain is the first thing we activate on a 'sensory' level when we have to describe a wine? Perception is activated in the brain at the very moment when I feel like drinking a glass of wine. However, what if I don't feel like drinking? If I'm not in a good mood, if I get up on the wrong side of the bed, if I have a headache, if I'm nervous or stressed? The element nucleus accumbens plays a key role: here, then, if everyone in Paris expected a castle on the queen's side from me, I end up realizing I’'ll inevitably be checkmated (against all rules) at the Paris Judgment.
I had left, but with the face of someone who was walking the plank, and not with the enthusiasm that I would have to drink the best wines of my life that evening. An indispensable element was missing: the predisposition to welcome wine, because my heart, my belly, my brain were in a funk, and were not connected with my nose and my palate. However, for everything to work, the principle of communicating vessels must be maintained.
So I was wrong to take that plane? I should have done, in fact, as in a game of chess, where the player who knows what is going on, leaves the game when he realizes he has lost a moment before the opponent advances with the checkmate?
No, I was not wrong in going to France, however, that day in Paris, I was wrong as a sommelier and as a human being.
Paris is a comfortable dress that I like to wear. Every time I go to Paris I “smell on my skin” that pleasant feeling of being 'on vacation', therefore lighter, without specific weight; and, at the same time, everything is so dramatically familiar, that I feel I have left our hat on: I am at home. It's fascinating to go to a city you know so intimately, to the point that you don't have the frenzy to go to the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame with the anxiety of seeing as many things as possible. My familiarity with Paris gives me the luxury of spending an ordinary day as if I spent it in Rome, although I am elsewhere, with exactly the same spirit.
That Saturday afternoon I did exactly that, I needed it; I left Alessandro, Lynsey and Michela in the hotel and I got lost in the city, following my rituals, all strictly on foot, as if in Paris there was not one of the most efficient subways in Europe. If I don't get lost in a city, it is as if I only enjoyed it halfway.
Precisely because of this indiscipline that leads me to consume distances on foot, I arrived at the Quai de la Tournelle ten minutes late and completely drenched by pouring rain (as 'etiquette' wants on a winter evening in Paris). I was welcomed to sit on the top floor and I was accompanied to the table, where everyone was already sitting. Exactly when the maître helps me to sit down, moving the chair gracefully, here, exactly in that fraction of a second ... I felt like when you go to a wedding and discover, taking a look at the tableau, that the bride put you at the table with the children, because you did not go accompanied by the so-called 'plus one'. Only the Monday before I got the sack from 'the man of my life' and sitting there, on that finely laid table with that breathtaking view of the Seine, next to people I didn't know well, I felt alone, ridiculous and stupid.
Exactly at that moment the ambitions to Christian Vanneque had gone to be blessed. I was Rattatouille instead. However, as Pascal would say, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of...We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart." .
Alessandro got the ball rollong with Clos du Mesnil 1995 and will give me the honor of the first taste. We will then continue with Clos du Mesnil 2002. It was his gift for me, and he looked at me in a fatherly way, full of pride, just like when on Christmas Eve you can't wait for your son to unwrap a gift to see if he liked it or less (here: here I failed as a human being). I cannot describe this wine today, from a technical point of view, I mean, as if I had lost the sheet with the notes taken (here I failed as a sommelier). I can tell you, however, the memory I will have forever of the Clos du Mesnil 1995. That Saturday 3 February at 19.50, a message appears on my mobile: “Enjoy this evening, you deserve it. Today you will drink the Krug that we always promised to drink together one day ... ".
And today, when I am serene listening to the song “Il cielo in una stanza” (Sky in my bedroom, literally) , and the heart has made peace with reason, the time has come to respond to that message: Clos du Mesnil was monumental!
TOUR D'ARGENT RESTAURANT
The Restaurant la Tour d'Argent is a milestone in Parisian history, whose first 'brick' was laid in 1582 in a slightly out-of-the-way neighborhood of the French capital, from whose windows you can enjoy a very suggestive view of the city from above inside an old-fashioned dollhouse location, but with a refinement to detail and customer care strictly in line with the most classic of the 'stellar' label, agée and vaguely retro, but which does not smell like mothballs .
The Tour d'Argent is an old lady who still holds herself well. She survived the shame of having lost the three Michelin stars obtained in 1933, when she walked the undisputed stage hosting gauges of elegance and drama queen such as Jacqueline Onassis at Ava Gardner in Marilyn Monroe.
A wine list of 'a certain thickness'. All my respect for the canard au sang that has made his cuisine famous (house specialty renamed today, évidemment to revive it a little "Caneton de Frédéric Delair", served with a coupon that he points out - as if it really was needed while you eat it ... - the serial number of the duckling raised specifically for you and seasoned on your plate), however it is the cellar protected by the foundations of that building on Quai de la Tournelle that makes the difference. A real Bible for French wine lovers, with so many references that even the reading of the menu is biblical, so copious for the number of references.
After all, the motto of the restaurant is "there is nothing more serious than pleasure" ... and I like pleasure ...