Category Archives: Unconventional Wisdom

Patience and wine tasting: What I learned from Francois and three chardonnays

Three glasses of chardonnay, three progressive hues of citrus-tinged, wheat, and golden yellow, three napkin shrouded bottles adorned with rudely scribbled numbers.

When French guests arrive, it is fitting to organize a tasting or two, if you are lucky enough to have been offered a well-cushioned and strategically packed bottle.

A true Burgundian, Sara’s beau François didn’t stop at one. Reserving precious cargo space for pinot and chardonnay instead of superfluous clothing, he made his way through Charles de Gaulle security wearing an extra sweater and two jackets on his way to Louisville last week. His efforts made it all the more appropriate that they should host not one but multiple wine tastings while he was in town, and I, the adoring friend, was happy to take part.

So, after a very American dinner of burgers — accompanied nonetheless by an introductory glass of white wine in lieu of beer — Sara’s family and I find ourselves introduced to Glass 1, Glass 2, and Glass 3 (all chardonnay) by the smiling, soft spoken but assertive, Frenchman.

“First of all, let’s have a look at the color,” François suggests, his accent a melange of his native French and school-taught British English.

The table stirs with conversation; mention of colors gives way to contiguous reflections and questions. What does color mean in terms of chardonnay? Reminds me of wheat fields or mustard. Remember the yellow colza fields of Burgundy springtime?

François refrains from dominating the conversation with didactic discourse. It’s easy to see he is delighted by everyone’s interest. With dark eyes and dark hair, plus a fitted polo and tight black jeans, he is one you might peg as typically European. To hear his nearly flawless English flow into effortlessly gorgeous French further distinguishes him as coming from a traditional, cultured French family. It is no exaggeration to say his love for wine is not so much a personal passion as it is an ancestral legacy.

And yet, this traditional Frenchie has learned to appreciate more than burgers and Bud Lite over the course of his relationship with my friend Sara. He is highly, and might I say uncharacteristically, complimentary of American wine, and encouraging of our interest in learning about wine in general.

But back to color. “One of these is an American wine,” says François, “so its color might not help us when compared to the other two. The others are both Louis Latour Burgundies: a village level, and a Montagny Premier Cru. In that case, the color might tell us something.”

François reminds us that an  older chardonnay will show darker color, but then adds that there is only one year of difference between the vintages of the two Burgundies. “Which is which?” he asks slyly.

At this point, we’ve all been swirling and sniffing. An overwhelming whiff of toasty vanilla leaves me (and my rookie wine student pride) gratified in declaring that Glass 1 must be the Kendall Jackson California Chardonnay.

The remaining two glasses have their own distinct complexities. Reactions to aromas from Glass 2 range from fingernail polish remover to baked apples, peaches, and a hint of port. After that strong nose, we all agree to a general difficulty in defining the aromas of Glass 3.

“It seems muted,” says Sara.

“Smell something else,” suggests François, lifting a homemade gougere to his nose.

Still, Glass 2 dominates our senses, intriguing some and alienating others of us. I have a preconceived notion that this powerful chard must be the premier cru.

When we taste the wines in succession, we all agree that Glass 1 is the California wine. It’s familiar to us. François nods neutrally.

Glass 2 again gets the most attention after its visit with our palates. Nutty and peachy, with that lasting taste of something like port, it is a rich wine and needs food to accompany it. I’m fairly certain it is the premier cru, especially when the closed, acidic third glass leaves us grasping at straws to come up with a description.

We go around the table, offering our final judgments and reasoning behind them. I stand alone in choosing Glass 2 as the premier cru. It is not until François offers his educated opinion, however, that my conviction falls by the wayside.

“I agree that Glass 1 is the Kendall Jackson,” he says simply and definitively, pushing the glass apart from the others as if to visually confirm its otherness.

“But the choice between the two Burgundies is more complicated, just like the wines in this case. Look at the color. Glass 2 is indeed the darkest of the three, which leads us to believe it is oldest. But remember that the Bourgogne is only one year older than the Montagny Premier Cru: this should not be enough to tell a difference. Furthermore, if Glass 3 is a premier cru, it would take longer to develop color, just as it would take longer to develop its aromas and taste. Glass 2, as you can tell, is complex and round and ready to drink now, but it is only five or six years old. It cannot age much longer, can it? Glass 3 is still acidic and mysterious. One might think this is a sign of lesser quality, but it could just as easily be an indication of immense quality and complexity that will not reveal itself for years to come.”

The table is silent as the lesson takes effect. Light bulbs are going off. Revelations over three glasses of wine.

Across from François, I nod my head. I am at once disappointed that the seemingly obvious had not occurred to me and impressed by François’ execution.

Sara’s sister breaks the respectful silence. “Can we unwrap them already?” she asks, pointing to the mummy-esque bottles.

François does the honors and confirms his suspicion. The table livens once again, reactions to the solution of the game leading to tangential conversations and reflections.

I sit back in my chair, letting the lesson sink in and vowing not to make the same mistake again. Not that I guessed incorrectly, but that I spoke too soon. With a bit more patience, perhaps I would have come to a similar conclusion. François’ explanation makes perfect sense, and I’ve heard it before. I had been convinced even before tasting it that the village level wine was premier cru caliber (and perhaps it was, since there is only so much wine that is allowed to be labeled “premier cru,” leaving many bottles to be “declassified” each year: subject for another post). Had my mind been closed to other possibilities by this preconceived notion? I’m sure it was.

Patience is a virtue, as they say. More than that, it’s probably the only key to unlocking the mysteries of wine.



Filed under Culture, Inspiration, Unconventional Wisdom, Wine

Lessons from a toddler: Where there’s a will there’s a way

Mais si,” Jules says, furrowing his brow and pursing his lips with determination. It’s his choice phrase at this point in his young life, when according to him, every “no” can be remedied by the confident retort, “but yes!”

“No more chocolate, Jules.”

Mais si!”

“That’s not very nice, Jules.”

Mais si!”

“It won’t kill you to eat your soup, Jules.”

Mais si!”

(We should have seen that last one coming.)

This weekend, with a house full of guests, the little brown haired, brown eyed cherub took full advantage on more than one occasion. He batted his eyelashes. He scrunched his brows. He steadfastly insisted against all statements to the contrary, “but yes, but yes!”

And so I should have guessed that when I walked into the bathroom and locked the door, knowing that Jules was hot on my heels, he would not take this barrier lightly. He knocked once. I responded, “Je suis là!” He knocked again. “Still here,” I said. When he pounded with his fists, I chuckled.

“Jules!” I said sternly, “I am using the bathroom. You may not come in!”

That settled it. He didn’t pound, or even knock, again. Still, I kept an eye on the door.

Not thirty seconds later, the wall opposite the door began to slide open and a little brown head popped through.

Mais si!” he asserted with a big grin.

Embarrassed, I squealed, trying to protect my modesty before the miniature magician. He had jumped through the wall (a sliding door leading to a closet) and into the bathroom, completely unabashed.

Lesson learned. When one door is closed, another door will open.

And maybe it’s a hidden door, reserved for those whose answer to “no” is a sure and confident, “but yes!”

For the translation, Continue reading


Filed under Just for laughs, Language, Unconventional Wisdom

Excuses are like dirty toes…

“Excuses are like dirty toes: everybody has ’em and they all stink!” –My Dad

Given my upbringing, I suppose you’ll understand why I’m offering no explanation for my virtual absence. Thanks for sticking it out.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a wine recommendation!


Les excuses sont comme les pieds sales …

« Les excuses sont comme les pieds sales : tout le monde en a et ça pue chez tout le monde ! » Papa

Etant donné cet enseignement, je suppose que vous comprendrez que je n’ai aucune explication à mon absence virtuelle. Merci d’en prendre note.

Je serai de retour demain, avec des conseils en vin !


Filed under Laugh it off, No Excuses, Photography, Unconventional Wisdom

Speedbumps and cigarettes: portrait of a generous soul

Every Friday morning she gets her hair done.  When she leaves the house, she pats the spot on the back of her head with a calloused hand. Her flattened hair will come back fluffy and voluminous: ready for whatever life throws her way this weekend.  When she returns, she drives her Peugeot minivan onto the sidewalk in front of her house, easing over the curb as if it were a simple speedbump.  She parks her car there on the sidewalk, two steps from her front door and only a few paces from the local gendarmerie.  She takes her chances.

There are always mouths to feed.  She has a rotating collection of keys and people come and go as they please.  Today she prepares a meal for five.  Cigarette teetering on the edges of her lips, she stirs her béchamel, listening with one ear to talk radio and the other to her sister, whose voice, repeating the ins-and-outs of her day, resonates from the countertop speaker phone.

She is tired.  Leaning against the laminate counter, she closes her eyes and closes her lips tightly around the cigarette, inhaling.  She is going over her list of things to do.  It’s a list she has memorized, and she rarely forgets.  She knows her brown-haired, brown-eyed granddaughters’ horseback riding, ballet, and violin schedules better than they do.  Sometimes she calls to remind them, and she is never, ever late.  Maybe she has to run a red light or cut someone off, but she gets those girls to their extracurriculars without fail.

And then she returns to her houseful of rotating keys.

I like to watch the evening news with her when I am there, sitting next to her in silence.  She asks rhetorical questions like, can you believe that? or did you hear what she just said? “C’est fou, ça!” she exclaims.  Crazy.  Crazy that prices at the supermarket are on the rise, crazy that the euro is under attack, crazy that the world is in economic stalemate.  The cat digs his claws into her knees when she gets worked up, but she doesn’t push him off.  She apologizes and quiets down momentarily.  She lights another cigarette.

When I call her I hear the familiar sounds of her routine in the background.  The radio. The oven. The door slamming. Tires screeching.  She knows how to multitask.  “How are you, ma grande?” she chirps, her raspy voice upbeat.  “Qu’est ce que tu peux me raconter de beau?”

What good things do I have to tell her? I smile.  Despite the million tasks she must accomplish in one day, my news — always “good” — is of abiding interest to her.

“Oh, nothing too exciting,” I respond.  “I have an interview next week…is it okay if I stay?”

“Do you have your key?” she asks in response.

I imagine the little silver key, attached to a string of faded blue plastic beads, in the outside pocket of my purse.


“Well then, the door is open! Let yourself in and tell me if you’re staying for dinner.”

When I hang up the phone, I can’t help but giggle.  C’est fou, ça, I say to myself.

For Marie-Amelie’s translation into French… Continue reading


Filed under Cool Characters, Dijon, Gratitude, Unconventional Wisdom

My day Monday

Well, this little note (from thx thx thx) sure gives “a case of the Mondays” a new ring!  I never thought of it like this, but now I doubt I’ll ever think of Mondays in the same way.

After a great weekend spent with a friend from college, I’m ready for a promising new week.  The days are shorter, the air is cooler, and my time on the farm is now limited to the few last weeks of summer.

Then, back to France, where Monday turns into Lundi!

More soon…


Filed under Gratitude, Home, Inspiration, Just for laughs, Kentucky, Unconventional Wisdom

Advice from the dictionary: savoir faire

savoir faire \, sav-, wär-‘fer\n.m. 1:Know-how.  French savoir-faire, literally, knowing (savoir) how to do (faire). 2: Competence, experience. 3: The ready knowledge of the right course of action: knowing what to do and say when and how to do so. 4: Habilité dans un art quelquonque. 1784 “Pour gagner du bien, le savoir-faire vaux mieux que le savoir.”  In order to succeed, savoir faire is more important than knowledge.  Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, Le Mariage de Figaro, V, 3. 5: To be up to snuff with wit of a thing or two. 1815 “He had great confidence in his savoir-faire.” Sir Walter Scott, Guy Mannering. 6: Operating knowledge of business sense and sensibility.

In order to succeed, savoir faire is more important than knowledge.

In order to succeed, savoir faire is more important than knowledge.

In order to succeed, savoir faire is more important than knowledge.


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Filed under Culture, Inspiration, No Excuses, Photography, Unconventional Wisdom

And you thought French class was hard!

Ode to the English Plural

We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn’t the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and there would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

Why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham?

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship…
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?


(With special thanks to Sandy Smiley for sending this my way.)

Photo Credits:, Robert Doisneau via


Filed under Just for laughs, Miscellaneous, Unconventional Wisdom