Thursday, February 18, 2016

Wine is Not Sad

In the game of life, I've been told, sometimes you have to focus on the end game.

Today's challenge was fitting in a whole lot of work around a fair amount of fun that began with a very ladylike plan for the afternoon: walking over to Chez Foushee for lunch, followed by a play at Virginia Rep.

Yes, we were the ladies who lunch and then matinee. It may as well have been 1959 except for the salty language and absence of gloves.

We began with a sunny table in the front window - "Great people watching!" the hostess told us as she installed us there - and the best of intentions. I knew the brussels sprouts salad with red onions, bleu cheese, walnuts and red wine vinaigrette was divine, a fact confirmed not once, but four times by our handsome young server, so we both ordered it.

Just before he takes the menus away, my friend looks at me guiltily and tells him, "And the pate."

And by pate, it was really a plate of country pork pate and a massive hunk of chicken liver pate, along with cornichons, mustard and toasted bread, none of which we needed and most of which we downed.

Because it was Chez Foushee, we easily brought down the average age significantly, but also enjoyed basking in the glow of a place so fussy and old-school.

We got so embroiled in discussing my recent post about my past (favorite comment, "Wait, you once dated men older than you?" Sure, when I was 18) that all too soon it was going on 2:00 and we had seats to fill. Luckily Virginia Rep is spitting distance from Chez Foushee.

"Saturday, Sunday, Monday" began with an actor singing "Volare" while playing guitar and went on to tell the tale of an extended Italian family in Naples in 1959 where Mama's not happy and as we all know, if Mama's not happy, ain't nobody happy.

For that matter, nor is Dad, who not only thinks his wife is having an affair with the accountant upstairs, but is also trying to accept that his son is leaving the family business to open his own menswear shop.

All the Italian cliches were in place (except Italian accents): the mythical process of making the weekly Sunday ragu, the strong-willed aunt who's already buried her husband and lover and now dominates her meek son's life, the dutiful daughter trying to carve out her own niche and not follow her mother's path and the doddering grandfather lost in the shuffle.

After a while, you wonder if anyone in Naples is happy. And don't get me started on the dutiful sons who worship at Mama's altar. Catherine Shaffner as Aunt Meme was the most compelling to watch as she espoused higher education and having the courage to be honest to get what you want.

But as my theater-savvy friend and I discussed walking home, no matter what the minor flaws of a play, there's always a great deal of satisfaction simply in watching actors act on the stage.

We parted ways at my house because she was home to sew while I had an assignment to finish before going to school. Tonight was Amour Wine Bistro's "Taste the Terroir" class and no one wants to be tardy for class.

Taking my seat at the bar, some of the other attendees introduced themselves and our teacher began explaining tonight's topic beginning with how to read a wine label in French, Italian and German before moving on to the specifics of terroir.

Naturally this was a class with experiments to prove the teachers' points, meaning two glasses set in front of each of us, both utilizing the same grape but from different regions, the better to assess terroir. So we'd taste a Sauvignon Blanc from the chalky Loire (citrusy) and compare it to one from the hot and sunny Rhone (ripe fruits and herbs) and then enjoy them both with salmon ceviche and grilled bread.

One of the women near me asked her couple date why their friend Kyle had canceled. "Did he get a girlfriend?" she asked, sounding sarcastic.

"No," the husband answered. "He said he had to save his money for dates that have the potential to reach the end zone." Everyone within earshot cracked up at hearing this. but I understand. The man has priorities.

We repeated the wine lesson with two Chardonnays from Burgundy served with Comte and bread, and during this discussion period, I was schooled on what is referred to as the "Asian flush," a result of Asians lacking enough of the enzyme dehydrogenase to properly process alcohol.

I know this only because the two Asian women explained it patiently to the rest of us and then half an hour later, showed us their flushed cheeks and ears. Oh, the things we were learning tonight.

It was while we were sussing out the differences in two Pinot Noirs, one from Burgundy (berries, no tannins) and another from Languedoc (cherries, more acidic) that plates of rabbit rilletes arrived, leading to more new information from one of the students.

Seems that when she decided to go vegetarian, she heavily researched proteins and discovered that humans can't rely solely on rabbit as a protein source. "So when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, don't think you can rely on rabbit meat to sustain yourself," she warned us. "Not enough vitamins for survival."

Well, don't you know that led to a round table discussion of cricket-eating and fortunately, we had two firsthand sources for reference. One girl had eaten them in Japan, skewered on a stick and resolved never to eat them again, while a guy had enjoyed them in Mexico, scooped out of a bucket like peanuts, covered in oil, lime juice and cayenne.

"They were tasty, but the legs got stuck in my teeth," he said with a straight face.

Nerdy as I am, I don't remember school ever being as much fun as tonight was turning out to be.

The couple from Petersburg told us that he was soon leaving for Alabama for a year and a half's training learning to fly helicopters. "You have to learn to crash a helicopter to fly one," his chipper wife piped up like a sage.

Her husband grinned. "Can we all just admire that statement: "You have to learn to crash a helicopter to fly one?" he asked, beaming with pride.

Our final experiment involved Cabernet Franc from Loire (blueberries and minerality) and Bordeaux (smoky, full-bodied, velvety) and a plate of Soprasetta arranged to look like a heart. When that was pointed out, a collective "awww" went up from the room and one woman pointed at her mate of a year and a half and announced, "He was super romantic."

"You burned that out of me like the Vikings burned their dead," he said without missing a beat.

Clearly we had a lot of class clowns at school tonight.

By evening's end, everyone agreed that they'd learned plenty and enjoyed the process even more. Turns out tonight was part of a whole series of wine classes Amour is doing, meaning more opportunities to drink for the sake of learning to come.

And speaking of learning, once class was over and everyone was chatting and drinking full glasses of their favorites, one woman shared that she was about to embark on a class in ethical hacking, which sounded a lot like an oxymoron to me.

When I asked if that was really a thing, she answered, "No, not really," which meant yes, but she also hopes it'll help her get a job in this brave new world where people carry their every secret in their phones.

Several of tonight's participants were part of a 2500-person group called "New in Richmond," although some members have lived here for as many as 16 years, which hardly sounds new to me. When I asked what kind of activities the group did, the answer was short and to the point: "Drink!"

I suppose that's one way to get used to Richmond.

Alan Rickman's namecame up and almost everyone there had something to say about a favorite role or movie - Dogma! Truly, Madly, Deeply! Love, Actually, but you have to fast forward through that scene of Carl undressing!- but then people began getting sad because Alan's dead now.

"But wine's not sad," owner Paul said, stepping in and saving the moment by returning us to topic like a good teacher does.

We also had some runners in the group, so the rest of us heard about the difference in how the French do marathons and, let me tell you, it's way better than the way we do them here.

Who knew that at the Paris marathon or the Medoc marathon, there are stops for cheese, chocolate and fine wine? How civilized is that?

Ditto tonight's adventure at school.

In addition to all the laughter and new faces (last question from a recent acquaintance before I left: "You're coming for next week's class, aren't you? Yes, you are!"), I really did further my understanding of terroir with a well-executed lesson plan and the kind of science experiments that can make an Asian flush.

Besides, haven't you heard? The only acceptable excuse for missing out is if you're saving money for dates that have the potential to reach the end zone.

Just don't go all Viking and burn out the romance getting there.

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