Could there be a better place to simulate Springtime in Paris than under a staircase in Manchester?
Probably, but that's not the point.
Camden's was doing a French wine dinner, so I'd assembled a group of favorite people to join me for the evening. Our group of ten - referred to as "Karen's people" by the staff when I know they really meant the "fun people"- was sufficiently sizable enough to merit relocating us to the area off the dining room, in front of a glass wall with a view of June's sumptuous evening light.
Pru had her own opinions on light, lamenting an hour in that our stairwell was overly bright and not nearly as flattering as it could be. After a couple of attempts to turn off light switches, we were saved by the delivery of a mod upright lamp, vaguely phallic looking (provoking jokes about smaller and less luminous objects so shaped) to provide softer, more intimate lighting.
Not everyone knew each other at first, or knew much about each other, but that was quickly cured with non-stop conversation. My handsome young man friend was trying to explain to Pru and Beau about his distinctive upbringing and how it had shaped him. "I'm sort of unusual," he admitted.
"You wouldn't be one of Karen's people if you weren't unusual," someone cracked. "Unusual...or weird?" Who wants usual friends?
When my girl crush and her handsome hubby arrived, I suggested she tell everyone the story of our first meeting, notable for her throwing up on her dog that night. It was the ideal ice breaker to bring them into the fold. When their friend and sidekick arrived, I welcomed him, charmed to finally meet him after hearing about him for a while.
We began with Veuve Ambal Brut Rose, described by my girl crush as, "It disappears in your mouth," a (dare I say it?) beautiful pairing with 12-hour braised pork crustade with tomato jam, the sweetness of the tomatoes highlighting the long-cooked pig.
My use of the word "beautiful" to describe taste attracted the ire of Holmes who espouses the use of the word beautiful only in visual matters. Not so, I countered, I think tastes can be beautiful and not only that, but tastes can be masculine or feminine. He wasn't buying it and I wasn't budging but I did agree to use the term less often as a concession to his point that a wordsmith should not repeat her adjectives.
My people don't hesitate to give me a hard time. It's part of their charm.
Everyone immediately fell in love with Danielle de l'Ansee Sauvignon Blanc, many mentioning that it was unlike any Sauvignon Blanc they'd ever experienced. Accompanied by poached local tuna, local greens so flavorful they were startling, and a complicated lemon, garlic and basil mayo for a creamy dressing over all, it was a hit.
One of my people took a sip of the wine and found it big and buttery until she paired it with the tuna and then saw how it changed with food.
The wine rep talking about our pairings with each course introduced the next wine, La Mascaronne "Quat Saison" by pronouncing, "I believe in drinking Rose year round." On that point alone, she could have been grouped in with Karen's people.
As a side note we learned that the estate is next to Miraval, the winery owned by Brad and Angelina, and producer of another Rose of which I'm extraordinarily fond.
We drank the delicate Rose with pallards of chicken with crab meat, Fontina, caper buerre blanc and fingerling potatoes, a killer course everyone was moaning over. Pru turned to her beau and laid it out even more clearly than a moan.
"If you want to keep me liquored up all summer, you'll buy a lot of this." Needless to say, the smart man did.
House-made sausage and mussels arrived swimming in a pool of hearty tomato broth (again, the tomatoes fresh-tasting enough to proclaim summer is all but here) paired with Maison Olivier Cotes du Rhone. Even Holmes and Beloved, not usually red wine drinkers, approved of it.
Our youngest female member, looking fabulous in a blue maxi dress eerily like one I had in 1977 ("I love it because it's as comfortable as a nightgown," she said), doesn't eat seafood much, so we shared her mussels, trading her back sausage and broth-soaked bread in exchange.
Our last course of 5-year black wax cheddar and 4-month Manchego accompanied by sugared pecans, dried apricot and to-die-for black currant preserves was neatly handled by Chatea de la Graveliere Graves, a wine Holmes appreciated because it wasn't overly sweet.
By that point, all of my people were having a ball, talking over each other, discussing the proper amounts of wine one needs to lay in before high beach season (who ever heard of leftover Rose?) and the hot summer months ahead.
My girl crush and I made plans to hook up at her adorable river cottage come July and Pru and I figured out dog-sitting possibilities so that her Beau can join us at the beach. I shared my best camera-in-a-bathroom Reedville story with some appreciative listeners.
My handsome friend dipped over to the restaurant to procure a bottle of Miraval Rose which soon disappeared, only for a bottle of Veuve Ambal Brut Rose to replace it. We were truly spoilt for choice on pinks tonight.
The lovely Miss Maxi Dress announced that she could not hang until 1 a.m. again like we'd done at the last wine dinner (where do the hours go?), so they were the first to depart as the rest of us drank and conversed on.
Gradually, the rest of my people drifted out into the night. It would seem that Springtime in Paris a la stairwell is as momentary a pleasure as the bubbles of Veuve Ambal Brut Rose are on the tongue.
At least it is for Karen's people.