Many years ago, I was having lunch at the old London Chop House in Detroit. I was there with a very erudite Frenchman from one of the great wine families.
The host asked the entire table to name the best wine we had ever had. After some awkward answers and evasions, our French guest simply raised a finger and announced “I have one.”
It seems that his parents, wanting him to have a truly international education, sent him off to Harvard Business School in the 1950s.
He arrived here shy, with English as his second language, and felt very out of place.
At a social event, he met a beautiful young American student.
They went out for coffee and the attraction only grew stronger.
Eventually, she asked him if he would come to New York and meet her family. He agreed.
Our French student found himself in her family’s lovely large apartment just off Central Park.
She proposed taking him for a picnic lunch. She had packed a picnic basket and led him to a perfect spot on a rise with a smashing view of the park’s surroundings, and spread a blanket.
From the picnic basket emerged all kinds of very difficult-to-find French food items back in the 1950s, a pâté de campagne, a true baguette, slices of jambon de Paris, croissants, a slice of ripe Camembert cheese, a little jar of French cornichons.
All clearly a very big effort on her part, to make a French guy at home.
And, mon Dieu! She had a bottle of red wine.
Our slightly-accented storyteller continued: The weather was glorious, he lay back and looked up at blue sky and wondered how life could possibly be better than the snapshot of this moment.
Just then, his hostess handed him a glass of a lovely red wine.
It was marvelous, though he wasn’t familiar with it.
Then he noticed the wine bottle: Ernest & Julio Gallo Hearty Burgundy with a screw cap, one of the cheapest and most common red wines on the American market in the 1950s and 1960s.
“It was the single best wine I ever had,” said the storyteller, explaining that he eventually married the picnic-maker, settled in France, had several children, and went into his family's wine business.
The point, he said, is that wine is what you make of it; what you wish it to be at a particular time.
Any wine can be the signature to an event; it doesn’t have to be expensive or great or of a particular vintage.
The storyteller said Gallo Hearty Burgundy continued to hold a special place in his heart after that, and that he often drank it with his wife on special occasions.
As for Hearty Burgundy, it’s still around and just recently turned 50.
– Chris Cook, chief wine and restaurant critic for Hour Detroit Magazine