also known as…

Woman on the Verge of a Glass of Wine

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Flying High

I don’t know about you, but I have a serious fear of flying. I don’t know if it’s the cramped quarters, the recycled air or if it's just the fact that I’m trapped in the in the clouds when I really prefer to be on the ground. It could be of course, that I am a total control freak who has to surrender my immediate future, my very life, to a couple of guys that I don’t even know, in a small cubby at the front of this huge metal contraption that shouldn’t really be able to be up in the air like it is.

On every flight, I go through my ridiculous rituals of praying to my mother, father and God, wearing red (something my mother told me was good luck on a flight) and of crossing the fingers on my left hand for the entire duration of the journey. Now, anyone who knows me personally knows that I am not a spiritual or even slightly superstitious person at all. I know rationally that the positions of the index and middle fingers on my left hand have nothing to do with keeping the airplane afloat. But I just can’t stop myself.

And like every other Western Medicine believing person, I do rely on the occasional bout of self-medication before take off. Actually, using the word “occasional” is a total lie. Before each flight, I take a Xanax to ease my intense nervousness and if I ‘m lucky enough to be in business or first class, it is usually accompanied by a glass of champagne…pre-flight. I love being that person sitting in my roomy airline seat, sipping on my drink and nibbling my nuts while those poor suckers in economy shuffle by me on their way to the cheap seat in the back. It’s not a snobby thing, it’s a feeling of total relief that if, God forbid, the plane goes down, at least I’ll be drunk, relaxed and sitting in a spacious seat.

Lately however, my business and first class luck has been running out. I used to be that person who was lucky enough to upgrade for just about every flight using my airline miles that I have amassed through airline travel and mile-accumulating credit cards. For a long time, it was rare that I didn’t get upgraded. Unfortunately for me and others like me, with the reduction in flights and the merging of all of these major airlines, these upgrades just aren’t happening and I again am relegate to the rear regions of the plane. This means that I must wait a good hour or so, and well after take off, to enjoy that muscle relaxing, care-removing glass of wine.

This happened in fact on my trip to and from New York for an Alex’s Lemonade Stand fundraiser last week. The flight to New York departed at 8:40 a.m., and while I desperately needed that glass of wine, I just couldn’t rationalize consuming alcohol so early in the morning, So on the outbound flight, I went without it, white-knuckling it all the way. On the return flight however, while sitting in row 22 smashed between two men, I felt that itch for my glass of red coming on pretty strong. Luckily for me, I won the lotto in terms of people to be sitting with. In the past I haven’t been so fortunate, smashed between two fairly large ladies, both of whom haven’t bathed in quite a while, or sitting next to someone’s sick child who screamed through the entire flight. Today on the other hand, I was the lucky one. We all fit nicely into our seats. We chatted about our children, our work and lives, and everyone seemed to actually like one another. Nevertheless, a glass of wine would definitely have help things along here.

By the way, as you may imagine, I am not the kind of girl who will drink just any wine. On a flight however, I can lose that discriminating impulse fairly quickly. After all, it may be my last glass of wine, right?

I got lucky enough to find a flight attendant that was willing to pour me the remnants of a half bottle of Pinot Noir left over from business class. I didn’t expect a whole lot, and frankly I wasn’t disappointed. The wine had a nose of dark cherry, black fruit and cough syrup, followed by a palate loaded with soft blackcurrant and touches of tart thyme and tar. It reminded me quite a bit of the liquid version of a grape flavored Jolly Rancher. It was a really ripe and fruit-driven wine, a “fruit bomb”, and although it wasn’t my kind of wine, I know a few people who would probably like it. I unfortunately couldn’t bring myself to finish the glass.

On this flight though, in which in my fear of flying was feeling pretty intense and in which I started to believe I was breathing what could be my last breaths, my thoughts turned to the question of finality. If I could choose anything, what would my very last sip of wine be?

While this is a pretty big question to consider, my thoughts immediately turned to the wines of Burgundy. I’ve always been more of a Pinot person, preferring the flavors, elegance and acidity of the grape to the bigger, richer Bordeaux varieties. I decided it should be red rather than white for that special, warm, comforting feeling that I get from red wine. I often describe it as the warm blanket effect. Somehow certain red wines just make you feel like you’ve been transported to a snuggly sofa in front of a fire, wrapped in a cashmere blanket. This is definitely the direction that I want to go in when contemplating this last sip of vino, particularly on a flight in which I’m bogged down in a fear of death. I want to go to my happy place.

Now, to find that comforting red wine feeling in a wine from Burgundy, I was thinking that I would have to go for a wine on the fuller bodied, meatier side, like one from Vosne–Romanée where the wines are less delicate than those from Chambolle-Musigny or Savigny-les-Beaune. And when my mind went in this direction, I couldn’t help but wander to the wines of the venerable Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Believe me, when it comes to wine I am not a name-dropper, but in this instance, it’s hard to ignore the fabulosity of the wines from this very famous estate, known to many as DRC. They are the essence of contradiction and synergy: powerful and graceful, rich and lithe, masculine and feminine all at once. DRC owns what is arguably the most prized vineyards in all of Burgundy, most of which are farmed biodynamically and all of which are cultivated with horses and manual tills, rather than tractors. Yields are extremely low and the grapes are rigorously sorted and handled with kid gloves.

There is an enormous history to this estate, one far too long to go into here. But trust me, this wine is special. It is the Hermès of wine, which for anyone who knows me knows that it makes total sense that I love it. A bottle of Romanée-Conti, the queen of all of their eight grand cru bottlings, is like a Birkin bag, and unfortunately costs just about the same. I suppose though, that a sip of this elixir with its fleshy fruit notes, velvety texture, touches of rose petals and elegant yet assertive acidity would be the wine that I would be honored to have as my last. At the very least, it would make the discomfort and mental anguish of that whole cramped, anxiety-riddled trip in the back row of that plane so worth it.