Memory of a triumph

I went to a Safeway supermarket today to buy some goodies for this hotel room in Phoenix. It reminded me that our standard market for three years in the early- to mid-’70s was a Safeway in Charlottesville, Virginia. This particular store kept a few bins of wine remainders near the checkout counter—the final bottle or two of cases that needed to be moved off the shelves to make room for more recent shipments. I often rooted around, looking for a decent bottle of something at a price we could then afford. Something, in fact, approaching $0. One day, I rummaged out a bottle of Chateau Carbonnieux, marked down to $3.79. I couldn’t believe it. Virtually all of my wine knowledge in those days was theoretical. I knew everything a book could tell you, but nothing I would have liked to learn from my nose and tongue. I knew, for example, that Carbonnieux was a Graves, and considered perhaps Bordeaux’s best dry white (not quite damning with faint praise, though I’ve heard it said to be so). I also knew it was selling in the U.S. for something astronomical … approaching $10. Therefore, I was certain it had been marked at this price, and had found its way into this bin, by mistake. I overrode any scruples on this question and was out of the Safeway in a flash, waving my treasure over my head and crowing. Hugh Johnson had nothing on me.

We drank this bottle, I think, with friends back in Connecticut. I do remember that we liked it very much. Dry and crisp, and, of course, French and fancy. A few years later … I think it was for Paul’s birthday (or was it my birthday at Paul’s house?), we had a party on a January evening, and we chilled our half-dozen bottles of by-then $12 Carbonnieux (we were all more or less gainfully employed by then) in the snow outside his door.

Since then, we’ve enjoyed the stuff a few times, but there are now so many more wines available from all over the world, and such decent quality at moderate prices, that we seldom turn to France anymore. I just checked, and a bottle of 2007 Carbonnieux is about $40. Maybe we should give another go, just for old-times sake. I’ll see if I can scrounge it at Safeway for, say, $10.

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