One very important aspect of Vinexpo is the industry's effort to flatter the press. On Sunday evening, the Conseil des Grands Crus Classés en 1855 Médoc et Sauternes hosted a black-tie dinner at Château Lafite-Rothschild in honor of the international press attending Vinexpo. Lafite is one of five chateaux ranked as “first growths,” literally the peak of the pinnacle. About 300 guests – press and winemakers – strolled about the lawn sipping on champagne or sauternes and slurping oysters or devouring foie gras. (“Where is that itinerant mi-cuit vendor?” one peckish British publisher moaned.) A gong summoned us to dinner, and we filed solemnly through two barrel rooms, with candles atop the barrels lighting the way. I felt we should be carrying candles ourselves, for it had the air of a religious procession.
Dinner was served in the main barrel room. It was my good fortune to be seated with wine royalty: Two seats to my left was Baron Eric de Rothschild, owner of Lafite; between us was Decanter’s Sarah Kemp (wine writing royalty, resplendent in red hair and British accent). On my right was Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, owner of Château Mouton-Rothschild. At age 75, the baroness is a hoot, and sharp as a tack. She constantly regaled those around her in French and English, while everyone nodded somewhat sycophantically. (As did I, as the evening wore on and I fell increasingly under her charm.) Every now and then, she would turn to me and command loudly, “Tell me about Obama!”
The food was superb, of course, and our table enjoyed a taste-off of Lafite and Mouton, from the 2001 and 1989 vintages, followed by 1978 Lafite poured from jeroboams (jeroboa?). The last wine was magnificently fresh and vibrant, especially considering it was made the year after I graduated high school and has aged much more gracefully than I. Of course, the wine had never left that cellar until I flushed it down the men's room pipes.
As we rose to leave sometime after midnight, the Baroness extended an invitation. “Monsieur Dahveed,” she said. “Please come by and see me at Vinexpo tomorrow! Taste our wines – have lunch with us!”
I said I would. And so I did. Or at least I tried.
The next day I was in the Douro Valley – actually, the Douro alley in Hall 1 at the Parc des Expositions. Just before noon I excused myself and walked outside the hall on the lake side, where several pavilions were erected en plein air for tasting and dining. I walked up to the Baron Philippe de Rothschild pavilion and was greeted by an officious young woman in a white airplane stewardess uniform.
“Do you have an appointment?” she asked, looking askance at my wine writer’s attire – an all-American blazer over a polo shirt and khaki pants.
“Um, no, but the Baroness said - “ I stammered, trying to make sure she saw my badge with “The Washington Post” prominently displayed. I mentioned meeting the Baroness at Château Lafite, but the woman probably thought I'd gotten my Rothschilds all mixed up.
“Perhaps if you give me your card, I will see if someone is available.” I gave her my card (which, according to Post policy, does not mention my affiliation with the paper), and she came back a few minutes later.
“Je suis desolée,” she said. “Perhaps if you come back some time after 3 p.m., someone might be able to meet with you.”
So I went back to the Douro for some more Portuguese hospitality.
Post Scriptum, July 3: I returned home to Maryland last night and turned on my cell phone to check for any messages during my trip. (I'm a cell-phone Luddite, in that I still have one of those antiquated American ones that won't work overseas.) The first was from Baroness Philippine, chiding me for not showing up for lunch on Monday when she had been expecting me. A wonderful opportunity lost, all for want of a GSM mobile phone. Now it seems like a worthy investment. From A-List to Riff-Raff, to Chump.