Sunday, April 20, 2008

Le Wordsworth de la Provence

(The Wordsworth of Provence)

It was a beautiful violet evening & the sun, from behind the hills, was still splashing streaks of orange & pink as far as it could. Much like an angler, who throws his line into the calm waters for his last haul before retiring for the day. Violet-red slush lay in the tank wherein sometime back pretty girls had merrily danced to crush the maiden harvest of grapes for that year. The chuckling sounds of children & the laughter of women added to the cheer of the faint tunes of mandolins being played in the distance. A feel of celebrations & delight was all over these prosperous vineyards of Provence.

All gathered for the wine-tasting ceremony late in the evening & as was the case every year; Jeremy was the guest of honor. A handsome & a cultured gentleman in his early forties, Jeremy, was the most authoritative and credible figure in the whole of Provence when it came to wine-tasting. His taste-buds were a rare gift and no hound had the sense of smell that he was blessed with. If Jeremy liked it, the world revered it & if Jeremy wasn't pleased, the world shunned it. Such impeccable representation of the wine-drinking world had culminated at this singularity, called Jeremy!

As a youth, he wanted to get married after he had his ducks all in a row, the regular job, house, car, prospects, future... but it had taken unusually long. As a fall-out he had taken to wine-tasting as a profession & never looked back.

Jeremy picked the shapely glass partly filled with freshly crushed grape juice. All held their breath whilst he stirred the drink and hovered the glass around his nose. He then proceeded to taste it & let the taste linger on his tongue for a while before it melted away. "It feels like... first love" he proclaimed & the anxious crowd burst into a cacophony of joy! The celebrations continued & Jeremy then proceeded to the more serious business of tasting & grading every category of alcohol that was present there.

Jeremy loved everything about these crystalline drinks, and was rather knowledgeable too. He adored the different colors & the textures of various drinks. He knew the effect that each one had, the alcohol-content in them, the food that goes with each, the ideal choice of the spirit for every occasion & company, the base from which they were made, their acidity, the ideal fermentation conditions & the time-period. He loved the shapes of the bottles & the glasses that were used to serve them & also loved the sound of the ice-cubes clinkering against the sides of these glasses. They were as soothing to him as wind-chimes. He loved the rich champagne but did not look down upon the lowly beer. Cognacs & vodkas, brandies & gins, scotch & whiskeys, beer & wines... all received his unbiased opinion & undivided attention. He was indeed, a true Romeo of the spirits.

But what was rather unique to him, was his style and vocabulary for describing the tastes, aromas & flavors of various spirits. It seemed like he was a poet at heart. He gave rather flowery descriptions to drinks but at the same time was honest. Adjectives like "creamy-caramel, amber-gold, citrusy-gingersnap, smooth-blonde, soft-velvet, sparkling-fairy, shy-imp, toasty-oak..." all sounded much like poetry. It seemed like he was an ardent believer of R. L. Stevenson's remark that 'Wine is bottled poetry'. He was to the grapes what Wordsworth was to the daffodils!

Legend was that he shared a platonic relationship with these spirits. He never drank any, but just tasted them. All that went into his mouth was emptied into the spittoon. This kept his taste-buds ticking, he said. Brewers paid him heavily for his services & he had risen to be a rather popular figure in Provence. Girls of the brewers openly flirted with him & women secretly. But his flings were restricted merely to the drinks.

He was a very busy man during the harvest season as nearly every brewer wanted him on his panel of wine tasters. He was sought after by brewers from Burgundy, Loire Valley, Alsace, Chablis & Rhone Valley too. He hopped from vineyard to vineyard and tasted nearly 100 concoctions daily. At times to cater to the heavy demands, he carried the sample bottles home & provided his feedback the next day.

"Lean & dry" he remarked after tasting the sample from Edward, who was a newbie to wine-making. "Allow a short settling period for the whole-cluster pressed grapes & then rack the clear juice to French oak barrels for fermentation. Age it on fermentation lees for 5 months with regular stirring to re-suspend the lees and make a rounder, more complex wine", Jeremy advised him. "Too tart & toasty", he informed Will. "Cold-ferment to preserve the crisp, fruity flavor", was his advice.

Year after year, Jeremy's feedback & advice was unfailing. This enabled the brewers to make obscene amounts of money. The richest brewer, as a gesture of gratitude, insured Jeremy's nose and tongue for an amount never heard of. Others, as a token of their appreciation, gifted him a diamond studded spittoon neatly packed in velvet.

Shortly after this, one fateful day, Jeremy failed to turn up at a wine-tasting session. This was rather unusual & had never occurred in the past. Servants sent to fetch him brought back the worst of news. He was dead, under rather mysterious conditions. His body lay in a pool of wine & his little notebook wherein he penned his feedback lay drenched too. He had perished while serving his duty towards wine-tasting!

Local sergeants suspected foul play. They felt that some relative to inherit his insurance amount or some thief from neighboring Marseille eyeing his diamond studded spittoon might have bumped him off. The investigators conducted a search of his belongings & his body was sent for post-mortem.

Sergeant Pete, entrusted with the job of searching his home for any clues, was ready with his report. He placed his findings in front of his superior. It said that nothing really was amiss from Jeremy's home. The diamond studded spittoon lay in its velvet jacket untouched. Everything seemed to be in place and prima facie, robbery and murder didn't seem to be the angle. But Sergeant Pete remarked what he found rather amusing at the home of this finest wine-taster of Provence. A regular spittoon was missing!

The superior smiled and remarked that he wasn't amused. He pushed the post-mortem report towards Pete. 'Death due to acute liver cirrhosis', it said. The case was closed.

Provence had lost its finest lover and poet. But his spirit, they say, still lingers with the spirits!

Acknowledgements -
Painting Illustration - "Vintage red" by Carole Katchen


Snehal said...

ummm... sorry but I kinda missed the punch. What happened?

Sagar Bhanagay said...

He he! Got similar feedback from another fella I rely on for feedback, but he said he wasn't wearing his 'James Bond cap' while reading :). Actually I've tried to capture "public-image, private-image" gap, inspired by "public-key, private-key cryptography" ;). Jeremy is known to be a mere 'taster' & known to have a 'platonic-relationship' with drinks, but in fact he's a complete 'Bewada' & that's hinted by "a regular spittoon being amiss". He never had one, unusual for 'taster' who 'works-from-home'. If u got this & yet missed the punch, then surely the story's lacking somewhere :).

Snehal said...

Well... I looked up liver cirrhosis on reading the blog and found that it is caused by prolonged consumption. But that didnt make sense coz the story stressed on 'platonic relationship with wine'.
So I didn know what to make of it :D

Sagar Bhanagay said...

Lol! 'Liver cirrhosis' was another hint. Maybe I could have brought home this point in a better manner :).

The Shaolin said...

Wow, you the opening lines mesmerized me.... you should switch to writing novels!
Wine tasting... guess what, there was one BIG in Pittsburgh and entry for CMU'ians was pretty cheap... and guess what.. I didn't go :( Damn these projects yaar.
> Girls of the brewers openly flirted with him & women secretly.
Why that never happens to us poor s/w enggs....

Private-Public images in front of people... very well put... how many false heroes do our stupid people worship every single passing day :(

Overall, a marvelous story... how did you conceive this?
(you can't steal gamma ray theory) :-P

Sagar Bhanagay said...

Atul >>> you should switch to writing novels!
Sagar >>> Novel padhne ka time nahi milta yaar... likhna to dooor ki baat hein.

Atul >>> Wine tasting... guess what, there was one BIG in Pittsburgh and entry for CMU'ians was pretty cheap... and guess what.. I didn't go :( Damn these projects yaar.
> Girls of the brewers openly flirted with him & women secretly.
Why that never happens to us poor s/w enggs....
Sagar >>> Your earlier line explains why that never happens to us :D. Assignments, projects, bugs, customer-issues, deadlines. Duh! No socializing :(.

Atul >>> Private-Public images in front of people... very well put... how many false heroes do our stupid people worship every single passing day :(
Sagar >>> That's true. However, herein Jeremy ain't exactly a 'false hero'. He is a hero. Indeed he's very good at his job, but myths surround him that are untrue. Secondly, we place our heroes on a pedestal & have false expectations of an unblemished character from them. Wanting them to be super-human is unfair. Personally I'm a fan of Jeremy's :).

Atul >>> Overall, a marvelous story... how did you conceive this?
Sagar >>> Thanks! U know my state yaar. Things not moving, depression, visits to the bar to drown pain in wine... Kidding ;). Just musings of an idle mind, I guess :)

(you can't steal gamma ray theory) :-P
Sagar >>> Aha! Let me check :)

Sagar Bhanagay said...

Happened to watch an hour-long programme on Tea & tea-making on the History channel a few days back. Must admit, it is no less fascinating than wine-making!