"There are not in this world any lords of higher lineage than the great wines of Medoc, which from the first nobility of the vintages of France, whether they be Marguax, Saint Julian, Saint-Estephe, Pauliac or Moulis. They rival each other in their incomparable elegance and in their rich, ruby-red color."
That is what they would have told you if you had gone to Bordeaux for the harvesting of the 1959 grapes. As a guest of Alexis Lichine, proprietor of the Chateau Prieure-Lichine and Lascombes, I spent a few days in the Medoc, watching one of the great vintages being brought in.
M. Lichine promised to take me on a tour of the Medoc and we started, quite naturally, with his own Chateau Lascombes. He told me that in the course of the tour I would be asked to taste some wines and he didnht want me to disgrace him.
I practiced by tasting some wine from one of his vats. It tasted good and I swallowed it.
"No, no, no," he said. "Don't swallow it. Swish it around in your mouth."
"Clockwise or counterclockwise?"
"Clocwise. Counterclockwise is for Burgandy. And then spit it on the floor."
I practiced a few times until I got it right.
"Now say something," he said.
"It sure puckers the inside of your mouth."
"No, that's not what you're supposed to say," Lichine cried. "You're supposed to say something beautiful like, 'How full and generous. It will fulfull its promise.'"
"Okay, but it still puckers the inside of your mouth."
Our first stop was Chateau Margaux, one of the four greatest wine chateaux in France. We visited the chai, the long shed where the grapes are put in vats and barrels. The master of the chai asked me if I wanted to taste some. I nodded and he gave me a glass.
I swished it around and spat it out. Lichine looked pleased at his pupil. "It has a texture all its own," I said. "It tastes like cotton."
Lichine kicked me in the leg. "What he means," he said to the master, "is that it tastes like velvet."
After we were shown around the Chateau (I discovered that no on in Bordeaux presses wine in their bare feet any more), Lichine took me to the Chateau Latour, another of the four greatest vineyards in France.
I tasted the Latour wine and said, "A great wine. It has such a rich, soft flavor."
"Could I have some water?" I asked the owner, Count Hubert de Beaumont.
Lichine's face dropped.
"Water?" The count looked puzzled. "Do you want to wash your hands?"
Before I could say I wanted to drink the water, Lichine dragged me away.
"Never, never, never ask for water in Bordeaux," he admonished me.
"But I tell you my mouth is all puckered up. My cheeks are stuck to my teeth."
Lichine would have none of it. The last chateau we visited belonged to Philippe de Rothschild, owner of the Mouton-Rothschild vineyards. M. Rothschild, a gracious host, showed us through his caves and invited us to have a glass of champagne with him in his house, one of the most beautiful in France.
We went upstairs and a servant served us each a bubbling glass. Lichine toasted his host, and we each sipped some. Then as Lichen looked on in horror, I swished it around in my mouth.
He screamed, "No."
But it was too late. I spat it on the floor.