I blame Jay-Z and my childhood friend Mollie Battenhouse for this story…
This afternoon, I stood in a daze before the fancy champagne case at Kroger. The wine guy walked past me and asked, “Are you finding what you’re looking for?” I, pushing a cart filled with sugar cookie mix, green sprinkles, macaroni, ground beef and–gasp–watermelon flavored toothpaste, felt like a total fraud.
“Oh,” I giggled, “I’m just daydreaming.” He must have been bored because he came over to stand beside me even though I couldn’t have been putting out the “I’m looking for a $300 bottle of champagne” vibe. He nodded toward the carefully locked case and asked, “Which one are you thinking about?”
I pointed to the bright gold label on the Veuve-Clicquot. “My sister and I drank several bottles of that in Chicago a few years back. I didn’t know I was pregnant with my daughter.” He laughed. “When she was born, I bought that one–I pointed to the Billecart-Salmon rose with the subtle pink label–to celebrate the day we brought her home from the hospital.” Next I waved to the elegant dark blue Pommery. “I drank a bottle of that one year on New Year’s Eve, in Paris–all by myself.” His eyebrows climbed higher and he laughed, “That sounds like a good night!” It wasn’t, but that had nothing to do with the champagne. I didn’t tell him how sad I had been that night, how I had cried at a table for one. Instead, I asked–
He started with a little flutter, “A vintage? I, uh, I can get that for you.”
It was my turn to flutter. “Oh, I probably won’t do it, but having a bottle of champagne like that is on my bucket list.” And thanks to Mollie and Jay-Z, I had woken up that Saturday dreaming about fine champagne. Mollie is a wine expert in New York and her birthday was this week. She mentioned on Facebook that she enjoyed Krug champagne with her birthday lunch. Ahhhhhh. And my friend, Saralyn has tickets to see Jay-Z coming up. All that–plus the Nyquil and humidifier–cooked in my brain last night and morphed into a dream.
In the dream I was at a small venue Jay-Z concert, like a hotel ballroom. I was wandering around before the show started when Jay-Z pulled up his gunmetal gray pickup truck right in front of me and parked it by the stage. Pickup truck, you ask? Well, OF COURSE–he had amps and stuff in the back. I helped him tote a couple of cables and told him that I was looking forward to the show. He said, “Hey, thanks for helping–drink some of this with me.” He took out a giant bottle of Krug and poured me a plastic cup full to the rim. Delightful! I remember looking down at the golden glow and watching the small bubbles dance. I remember the cool feel of the cup in my hand, just the right temperature. I took a sip and it was the best thing I had ever tasted. I thanked Jay and made my way back to my seat. I remember thinking in the dream how lucky I was to have something so rare, right there in my hand. Just another Friday night in my head.
So….what WAS I doing looking for Krug in Kroger?
I really do want to plop down hard-earned money on a world class bottle of champagne one day. It won’t become a habit, but it’s just something I’d like to experience. Some people dream of blowing money on a Chanel bag or taking a cruise–I’d rather sit down in a pleasant spot with a pleasant friend and treat ourselves to a bottle of something magical. Like a 1928 Krug.
In the year between Richard’s passing and when I started to date again, I discovered the mystery of fine wine. My sister took me to dinner at Gramercy Tavern in New York about a month after Richard died. The restaurant and the people in it were all so beautiful that I fought feelings of guilt when we were first seated. It felt odd to be so carefree, on a lark. I’ll never forget the first dish–pate de foie gras on toast points with a side of ramps soaked in vinegar, paired with a chilly Sauternes. I didn’t even know what a ramp was then, and I thought Sauternes was supposed to be for dessert, but I dove in. The combination proved sublime. I almost cried at the table because I felt such sudden joy–that some chef decided to make this, that my sister had brought me here, that I was alive to enjoy it. Goose liver and bread and tiny spring onions, vinegar and sugar twirled together on my palate to remind me just how much fun it is to experience the world through my senses.
Inspired by that meal, I spent a few Tuesday nights at the local wine shop for tastings. Wine excited me because there was so much to know about it that I could never learn it all and it was a relief to me–at that late sad point in my life–to discover that there was something so new out there to explore.
I once invested in a half case of Pedro Ximenes Alvear Solera 1927 because I was so intrigued by the vintage. This dessert wine is created by blending a little bit of each vintage–all the way back to 1927. The blending gives the wine a richness and depth that you can’t get from just one year. When the first grapes for that Solera were picked, my grandfather was 25 years old. No one knew about World War II.
My grandfather died that spring, a year after Richard did. He lived to be 103. Richard made it to 38. When I sipped that sweet wine in 2006, I was tasting the sunlight and the rain from all those years, all swirling together into this moment, this day. The beauty of wine for me is that every bottle captures a moment and in that moment, a world.
I guess that’s what I was daydreaming about, there in the Kroger wine aisle. I haven’t had much time or money to explore wine since the kids came along, but I still like the idea of it. Those days will come again and one day, maybe Gay and I will take Vivi to France. It’s all one life. The macaroni days and the champagne days.