On the Trail

The Departure

David Driscoll

As I’m sitting here on the massive moving object that is the Airbus A380—a veritable village in the sky—I’m discussing dinner options with my friend and colleague Alex Pross. As we both happened to check in early for our flight, we were both treated to the best possible news any traveler can hear: the flight is overbooked sir, but we’d be happy to upgrade you to business class. Thank you Lord in heaven! So instead of the standard cabin fare, Alex and I—who managed to snag neighboring seats—are perusing the in-flight menu. Should we go fish, chicken, or beef? As I considered the Atlantic salmon with asparagus, Alex reminded me of the movie Airplane where everyone on board gets sick because they ordered the fish: “No one orders fish on a plane!” Air France always has a decent wine list and this flight is no exception; there’s an option for 2013 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis, a wine we carry at K&L. Looks like Chef Daniel Boulud’s poulet basquaise is the move tonight with a glass of crisp Burgundian chardonnay.

As we waited to take off, Alex and I scanned over our itinerary for this year’s 2015 Bordeaux en primeur trip; an ambitious and potentially-exhausting schedule that is threatening to sap every bit of energy from our jet-lagged bodies. Every single one of our ten days in Bordeaux is a marathon of meetings, introductions, tastings, and dinners, beginning immediately after our arrival Sunday afternoon. We’ll go right from the airport in Bordeaux to a meeting with Barierre Freres, a large negociant in the region from whom we buy a number of wines. From there we’ll drop off our bags and freshen up quickly at the hotel, then book it over to Château Haut-Bailly for dinner that evening—a three hour affair that should find us peeling open our eyelids manually while trying to finish our appetizers. The trick I’ve learned at this point from years of international red-eyes is to party slightly hard the first night—just hard enough to make it until bedtime. Party too little and you’ll wake up at 2 AM wondering where you are. Too much and you’ll poison yourself for the rest of the trip. This strategy worked for me at Camut this past December in Normandy and also at Kavalan Distillery in Taiwan the year before. I’m hoping I can pull off a similar feat this time because the current schedule does strike a small chord of panic into my thirty-six year old heart.

Monday’s activities will start at the crack of dawn with an eight AM appointment at second growth Château Pichon Baron in Pauillac. Can you imagine drinking young, tannic, and powerful red wine before breakfast after a long night in the Graves and a few hours of sloppy sleep? We’re not here to taste perfectly-aged, cellar-matured wines on this trip (although we probably will over dinner). We’re here to taste young, potentially-wonderful cuvées in their infancy—we’re here to predict the future. I’d better man up, however, because at nine we’ll be moving right over to famed first growth Château Latour and there are no do-overs with those wines; we need to be sharp. An hour after Latour we’re due to arrive at Mouton Rothschild and then we go to Pichon Lalande an hour after that. It never ends! Not that I’m complaining. I’m actually looking forward to the challenge. It’s going to be a cavalcade of claret; a train that never slows down once it gains momentum. With more than ten appointments a day, sandwiched in between meals and cocktails, self-discipline and restraint are going to be paramount. If we’re finding it hard to pass up the free Chablis here on the plane, what are we going to do when the real gems start getting passed around the table?

I think we’re up for the mission. Things are already looking up; Air France has Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight as one of its movie options. That’ll help pass roughly a third of the journey. Then I’m going to do my best to catch what little sleep I can. God knows I’m going to need it.

-David Driscoll