• Intrigue isn’t usually a word I would associate with wine tastings.

    I went to Paris not too long ago. I took a train for a day trip to Epernay, in the heart of Champagne, and then cabbed it to Ay to see Gosset (the oldest wine house in Champagne). I enjoyed the small town and the history there. It had that small village feel with little cobblestone bridges over small rivers that twisted this way and that.

    I opted to walk from Gosset rather than have a cab called, because I thought I’d grab a bite on the way back to the train station. It was a considerable hike and I was told more than once that the restaurant was not accommodating any more patrons. Finally, I was able to procure a delicious nicoise salad at a pub by the station.

    When my time in Paris was through I flew to Nice for two nights. I enjoyed the raw feeling of the city. It wasn’t picture book like Paris. Paris was and still is my grown up Disneyland.

    In Nice the grocery store charged .05 euro per grocery bag and made you weigh and label all your produce. Every bottle of wine was priced between 2 and 15 euros, and tasted remarkably similar regardless of how much you spent. They have an amazing candy shop called Confiserie Florian there that specialized in crystallizing tiny tangerines over a month process.

    I decided to go up the coastal road to Monte Carlo for a bit of gambling and wine.

    I stayed a night at the Hotel de Paris, and at 570 euro it was a touch expensive. While I was there however it felt cheap. In preparation for my night out I drank a bottle of bubbles before I left to the Casino de Monte Carlo.

    I’m a huge fan of English Roulette, and sitting at the table I loved hearing “Faites vos jeux” (“Place your bets”.) Just as the wheel started to slow I slid 30 euros of my own marker chips (There can only be nine seated players and each gets their own color chips. I chose blue of course.) over black 20.  Then the croupier announced “Rien ne va plus” (“No more bets”), and the ball slowly ticked its way into black 20.

    After I had won more than enough for my nights stay I decided that fate was smiling on me, but I didn’t want to push it. I proceeded to cash in my chips and leave the table when I was grabbed by the arm. Upon turning to see what had caused such an unexpected jostling. I discovered a suspicious looking individual clinging to my bicep.

    The stern look in his eyes allowed me to let him pull me aside for what appeared to be a serious discussion.

    “What is this about,” I asked.

    “I have received information that you are to attend a wine tasting in San Francisco immediately after your trip to Barolo, Piemonte in Italy.” He said with a thick Russian accent which only filled me with more suspicion.

    “Um.. Yes, but how could you..”

    “That is not important. I need you to give Sergio from Ettore Germano this envelope. Unopened!”

    I saw the threat in his eyes and knew that if he was this aware of my travel plans. I was in no position to refuse or negotiate. I put the white envelope in my suit jacket and tried to forget about it.

    I made it to Ettore Germano (a vineyard/bed & breakfast) in Serralunga d’ Alba (Barolo, Piemonte,) without incident. Sergio and his wife were pleasant giving me their undivided attention. Breakfast when I awoke and barrel tastings in the afternoon.

    The second day in I finally got up the courage to give the envelope to Sergio. His face paled and he yelled at me with spittle flying from his lips. “Where did you get this!?!”

    I told him the whole story.

    He apologized for his outburst and disappeared. A few minutes later with partially regained composure he reappeared and slid across the table a blue envelope.

    “It’s a matter of life and death. I must ask that you give this to the man representing my vineyard at the tasting you will be attending in San Francisco in three days.”

    I took the new envelope and carried it with me through airport security. My paranoia was at its highest just before I made it through customs after touch down in SFO.

    I raced through the airport and out to ground transport. I caught the first cab I saw and paid extra to have the cabby speed by traffic, wait for me to drop off my stuff and then take me to Fort Mason for the tasting.

    I streamlined it to the Ettore Germano booth and handed this mysterious blue envelope, that might as well have been plutonium for how I felt, to the vineyard representative.

    His eyes went wide and without a word he ran away leaving his table vacant. I never found what it was that made the contents so earth shattering, but while he was gone I got to taste an amazing Barolo that he had left behind.

    The 2003 Lazzarito vineyard Riserva. It was a hot year with tremendous ripeness..  impressively deep flavors of red fruits, red licorice and menthol. Finishes long and lush, with broad, dusty tannins. There is an almost candied ripeness to the red fruit flavors here, but the wine’s powerful structure restrains its sweetness.

    ..and it was delicious