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Wine Moments
Stop looking, you might ruin the memory

Wine usually seems to be an important part of my memorable vacation experiences. And from the number of people who come through the door looking for a wine they had on vacation, I'm sure I'm not alone. It often involves a wonderful experience, like a lazy two hour lunch at a sidewalk cafe in Florence or a perfect dinner at Auberge du Soleil while watching the sun set over the Napa Valley. Unfortunately, the wine is typically not available in Indiana or the vintage has long since sold out. One lady came in with the crumpled business card of an Italian restaurant owner in Positano with the name of a wine scribbled on the back. I could tell she had been carrying it in her purse for years. I checked catalogs and resorted to Google and then politely explained that the wine was not imported. She thanked me, returned the card to her purse and left. I am certain that she still stops at every wine store she passes looking for it.

Twenty three years and about forty-five pounds ago, I joined a group of six fellow cyclists on a seven day bicycling trip in the Pyrenees mountains of southwestern France. Over those seven days, we cycled through Gascony, the most rural and remote of the French provinces (when you tell a Parisian that you are going to Gascony they look at you the same way a New Yorker would if you told him you were spending your vacation in Kentucky).

Gascony is famous for its Foie Gras, the local rocket fuel is a brandy called Armagnac and the local red wine called Madiran. This is fiercely tannic wine made from the Tannat grape that typically must spend two years in oak before being bottled. Even after the softening effect of the oak, Madiran offers a tannic, big-bodied, high-alcohol wine that tastes like it will grow fur on your teeth. But, it's everywhere in Gascony and it costs less than the bottled water at Casino (the 7-11 of France). After a day of slogging up the famous mountain passes of the Tour de France and dodging sheep on the descents, it was wine, bread and cheese when we got off the bikes and more wine at dinner, all of it Madiran, and all of it pretty good.

When we returned, we discovered that Madiran never really caught on here in the States and that it is almost impossible to find in Indiana. Then four years later, before I owned a wine store, I found a bottle of Madiran at Sam's in Chicago. After telling Linda on numerous occasions what great wine it was, she was finally going to be able to try some. I popped the cork and Linda was pretty unimpressed, just as I was. It was just a big, tannic wine that just didn't quite taste the same without the rest of the Gascony experience to go with it.

This week's wine lesson - stop looking, you might find it and ruin the memory.

Next time I see a lady with a crumpled business card, I'll suggest that she buy a good bottle of a Chianti, surprise her husband with a nice Italian dinner and keep the memory intact.