Wine Rating: 96
“You can put the still water in the cabinet… there.” Kneeling tying her tennis shoe, she pointed to a white oak cupboard, next to a stainless-steel Viking refrigerator.
I looked at her, glancing up at me, but not really noticing me, pointing her finger with a sweeping motion, as if to say, “in that direction.” I heard what she was saying, but they were just words and my attention was completely on her. I noticed everything. Her red painted manicured nails, perfect. Her slender wrists. Her toned arms. Her defined shoulders. Her face. Oh my god, her face. She was striking, and it kind of took my breath away. She wore a white tennis top. Her tan skin still glistening from the tennis lesson she’d just finished. Around her neck hung a delicate gold chain with a small diamond encrusted heart and she wore matching diamond shaped earrings. Her long blonde hair was curled and tied in a ponytail. The small noticeable lines that gathered around eyes flattered her and only helped to accentuate the various colors of blue in her eyes.
She stood up and looked at me just standing there, looking at her. “Do you need any help?” Feeling startled and a bit caught off guard as if I’d forgotten why I was there, I stammered, saying, “Um… huh?” Her name was Elaine Carré, and I was completely out of my depth.
Every other Wednesday Elaine would order from Morry’s of Naples, where I had worked for nearly two years. My tasks at Morry’s called for me to work ‘in store’ most days where I would stock wine shelves and tend to customers. The other part of my job was being tasked with making deliveries. My delivery schedule was Saturday mornings, Monday afternoon and as my luck would have it, Wednesday afternoons and evenings. I would deliver various wines, gourmet foods, ice and liquor to customers on Naples Island. Needless to say, all the guys who worked delivery, wanted to deliver to ‘her’ and for some reason, I’m still not sure why (and never asked) our manager Alan put her account on my schedule.
It was standard protocol for anyone making deliveries that you ‘get in and get out.’ That you be pleasant, discrete and as much as it was possible, invisible. This went for ‘all’ deliveries. However, when it came to delivering to Elaine, Alan felt it necessary to give me an added reprimand. I was told, under no uncertain terms, “Don’t be an idiot!” That meant, don’t stare, don’t flirt, don’t linger and don’t try to engage her in conversation. Period. I was also told she really didn’t talk anyway, but the point was ‘do not try to be cute with her.’ To which I simply said to Alan, “Got it!” I was told to bring in the delivery, put boxes on the kitchen island, and take the tip that would likely be left for me and leave. If she was home, she might hand it to me, but that was it. In and out. Easy. Peasy. The extra explanation and ‘talking to’ by Alan seemed a little overkill, because that was pretty much standard for ‘all deliveries’ on the island. You go in. Make the delivery. Keep your head down. Keep your mouth shut. Answer questions only if you were asked. Say thank you and leave. Besides, more often than not, we were greeted by a Spanish speaking housekeeper and rarely the man or woman of the house. But for some reason, this delivery, this client was different, and I was about to find out why.
Elaine’s husband died in a boating accident three years before I met her. She was a Morry’s regular for years but never stepped foot in the store, always having her orders delivered to her. She was a former French model, who moved to the United States in her twenties. She became a powerful real estate attorney in Long Beach and in her mid-thirties, married a well-known divorce attorney. They lived on Treasure Island, a smaller island within Naples that have some of the most expensive and most sought-after homes in the area.
So here she was, standing before me. The woman I’d heard about since I had started at Morry’s. The one I was beginning to think was a myth. Now, in her early fifties, she was every bit as breathtaking as I had been told she was. Upon seeing her for the first time, I was at a complete loss and had talking been encouraged, I would’ve had no words. I was just awkward and tongue-tied. A state I would find myself in more than once in the coming months, but I’m getting ahead of myself. By the way, did I mention she was stunning?
Shortly after tragically losing her husband and dealing with the profound loss that something like that brings, she made the decision to completely retire and simply enjoy her life. She had the means, so why not. Even before all of this, before losing her husband, she’d was somewhat of a polarizing woman in the community. The gossip at Morry’s from the locals (both men and women) was that the wives around town hated inviting her to their parties and gatherings because they hated watching their husbands act like fools when she would walk into the room. Deciding to live what many would refer to as an isolated life of luxury, only added to her enigma. The truth is, you never really know someone unless you take the time that’s required (and it is required). The time to listen, to ask questions, to be present, to lend a shoulder, to just be with someone and all of those ‘Naples gossips”, well… they didn’t have it in them, and they just didn’t bother. I would know.
So, what does any of this have to do with wine, you ask? Well, if you will indulge me a bit longer, I’d like to share with you a story from my life and how one particular wine came to mean so much to me.
Elaine stood an easy 5’ 10”. I was (and still am) 5’6” which meant she had a good four inches on me. She was intoxicating. With her perfectly poised posture, she looked right at me, and I stood there in my clumsy boyish state and just smiled at her. No doubt, this was something she had experienced a lot in her lifetime. She walked toward me and actually felt myself lean back. “There’s no need to be nervous around me. I know what people say. Please, relax and just put the water, there.” Again, pointing in the direction of the white oak cabinets. Elaine spoke with a slight French accent, not obvious, but with enough of a hint that would get your attention and when she spoke, it was sweet and delicate with a française manner and style.
Re-gaining as much composure as I could, I put one of the boxes and one case of water on the counter. Although not customary and I think out of sheer nervousness, I began unpacking the water and stocking her cupboards. In my head, all I could hear was Alan’s voice, yelling at me, saying, “What are you doing? Make the delivery. Don’t look. Don’t talk. Take your tip. Say thank you and LEAVE!” What was I doing? The number one commandment is, “don’t bother the customer!” With my head somewhere else, I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was doing. I was in some kind of auto-pilot, and as I reached behind me to grab more bottles of water out of the box, I accidentally placed my hand on Elaine’s hand. To tell you the truth, it may as well have been her breast. I had no idea she was standing behind me, looking through the box at the items I was there to deliver. But she was, and now, I was in a state of shock, but not just because I had touched her, but because for the longest moment, she didn’t move her hand, and neither did I.
Under any other circumstance, this would have been nothing, but this was not nothing. Elaine took my hand in hers, raised it to her lips and kissed the back of it. She started to laugh, and her smile and her laughter filled the kitchen. Looking at me, she walked over to one of the other boxes I’d delivered and pulled out one of the twelve bottles of champagne. “I guess you’re going to have something to tell the boys back at Morry’s.” The look on my face said everything.
She opened a cabinet, pulled out a polished silver ice bucket, a box of Koser salt and placed them both on the countertop. Pouring nearly half the salt into the bucket, she placed the champagne on top of the salt, then filled the bucket up with ice, just to below the neck of the bottle. With bucket in hand, she walked over to the kitchen sink, took a long look out onto Naples Bay, added a bit of water to the bucket then finally placed it on the granite island in the center of the kitchen.
The salt, by the way, is a trick that’s been used for years. Salt allows water to exist as a liquid at a temperature lower than 0°C. Instead of the water freezing solid, it will remain colder. By first putting in salt before adding the ice and water, she lowered the freezing point and allowed the champagne to get cold faster and stay cold longer.
With both hands resting around the neck of the bottle Elaine said, “You can just put everything else away and if you don’t know where it goes, just poke around. You’ll figure it out.” I think I said something like, “Ummm…okay.” Then she said, “I like my champagne chilled a bit, so if you don’t mind before you go would you be so kind and bring the bucket to me upstairs? There’s nothing better than a glass of Dom Perignon after a good tennis workout.” She turned and without looking at me, added, “… and I’d like to give you a tip, too, so be sure to see me.”
A bit dumbfounded and still pondering her lips on the back of my hand, I put the rest of her order away. She was my last delivery of the day, so I was in no hurry figuring out where two cases of water (one flat, one sparkling), one case Dom Perignon, two assorted boxes of wine crackers, four various kinds of cheese and a glass container of Beluga caviar went. When I was done, I put the empty boxes outside and stacked them next to the back door. I grabbed the ice bucket and searched for Elaine downstairs. I wondered from one end to the other of her enormous home, then back to the kitchen where I called out to her. “I’m upstairs.” I heard her say over an intercom system. Which was exactly where she said she was going.
Upon getting up to the second floor, I took it all in. One entire half of the upper level had an open sunroom which had a beautiful view of Naples Bay. There was a hand-carved bar that perfectly hosted fifteen leather backed stools. It looked like something you’d see in a luxury hotel in Italy or Spain. The other half had also been designed with entertaining in mind. A slightly smaller living room styled area than the one downstairs, this one sunken with a charming fire pit in the center and off to each side, were two guest bedrooms. Once again, making my way around, I realized Elaine was not on the second floor either. By this point, the ice bucket was damn cold, and my hands were freezing. Had I known she had gone to the third floor, I would have taken the elevator. Yes, there was an elevator.
When I arrived at the third floor, to my immediate left was an indoor lap pool beyond which opened up to yet another sundeck that offered an even better view of the bay than the sunroom below. From here, you could see all the way down the Long Beach coast, to the Queen Mary and beyond, to the hills of San Pedro in the distance. The house was just like Elaine; not over the top, or gaudy or gauche. It was thoughtfully designed, elegant and every detail tended to.
Elaine was neither in the pool or on the deck, so with ice bucket in tow and freezing hands, I walked in the other direction and found my way to the master suite. Feeling awkward and out of place and slightly uninvited, I noticed I was actually tiptoeing. It was the largest bedroom I’d ever seen and showcased a large marble fireplace which took up one entire wall, a sofa that looked like it was upholstered in fur, a small more intimate bar and what appeared to be two walk-in closets that required you to step down into them. Even though I hadn’t seen the inside of her closets, I could guess from the size of her home, they were likely the size of my apartment. This home just continued to amaze me. The centerpiece of the room was a perfectly made bed that rested on a marble platform which included three large steps, that you were required to climb to get into it. Like the room, it was the largest bed I’d ever seen, and it could have easily held ten people comfortably.
“Elaine?” I called out again, but there was no answer. I didn’t want to go lurking around and by this point, I really just wanted to put down the bucket of ice I’d been carrying from floor to floor. “Um… I have the champagne you asked me to bring up. Would you like me to leave it by the pool?” Still, no response. There was a moment I thought about just putting it next to her bed and leaving. Then I wondered if she was actually back on the first floor and here I was creeping around the place. Ugh. I felt like an idiot. I had gone far enough and was clearly at a loss and out of my depth and thought, “I just need to go back downstairs and wait” and as I turned to leave, a large door off of the bedroom area opened slightly. “John, I’m in the sauna.” Hearing my name come out of her mouth, with her French accent, sounded like “Jeon.” A wave of anxiety came over me at once. “She’s in the sauna. Is she… naked?” I thought. I was woozy and couldn’t feel my legs.
I slowly walked my way back into the bedroom, completely forgetting that my hands had absolutely no feeling. Just as I reached the sauna door, she opened it and stepped out. The heat that poured out around her thankfully warmed my face, hiding that my cheeks had gone completely flush. She was wrapped in a short white cotton towel. My face was an easy read, and there was no way of hiding my astonishment. She just smiled, took me by the hand, walked me out of the bedroom and back toward the pool. Picking up two champagne flutes off the bar, she took me into the lap pool area. Finally, the bucket was taken from me. She set it down on a small table with one hand and pulled out the bottle of Dom with the other. She uncorked that bottle with the precision of a master sommelier. Not a spill. Not a splash. Just the slightest perfect – pop.
“Do you know I’m related to Dom Perignon.” She smiled and filled the two glass flutes. “The monk this champagne is named after, I share his lineage. Have you ever had this champagne?” Keep in mind, I’m still woozy from seeing Elaine emerge from the sauna in that tiny white towel and now she’s standing in front of me, pouring me a glass of champagne. Trying my best not to sound like Peter Brady hitting puberty, I said, “I’ve never had it. It’s kind of out of my budget.” She smiled, and I continued. “I did have Moët & Chandon White Star at a wedding once though. I hear it’s comparable and I think it’s made by the same winery.” She clinked my glass, looked me right in the eyes, touched my face and said, “Nothing compares to this.”
She went on, “This is the champagne of royalty. I grew up drinking this with my father as we toured the grounds in Épernay.” She sipped and closed her eyes. She sat down on a wooden chaise, crossed her bare legs and motioned me to join her. I sat across from her, absolutely bewildered. Then, it happened. I took my first sip of Dom. I drank as I was taught by the team at Morry’s. Nose the wine, get a feel for the quality. When you take your first sip chew it. Let it dance in your mouth. Let it breathe on your tongue. Then swallow. The story is in the finish. It will tell you about the age, about the future, about the history of the wine. “My goodness, that was quite a sip. Did they teach you that at Morry’s?”, She said. Now my head was really swimming, I just nodded. “So, what do you think?” she asked. I’m really trying to ‘not try too hard’ but I know wine, and I love wine, and I want to answer her truthfully. So I do. “I taste the chardonnay before the pinot arrives. It’s dry, like a brut, but with more floral and toasted notes of vanilla.” I tell her.
“I think I just fell in love with you.” She joked, then stood up, took another sip, placed her glass down on a marble table next to the chaise, slipped off her towel and walked slowly into the pool. There she was with nothing on. Not a thing. Perfect. Naked. I took another drink, a solid plunge into the sparkling. I was both completely present and utterly dazed.
Elaine submerged herself in the water and came up slowly. “Do I surprise you?” She said, smiling. “Um, a, yeah a bit.” I just sat there. I looked up, I looked down, I looked anywhere and everywhere but at her. “Why don’t you come in. Join me. Relax with me. Let’s talk about wine. Tell me what you enjoy.” This was really happening. So I looked right at her, I mean I really looked at her, and smiled. I set my glass down on the table next to hers and untied my Chuck Taylors.
That afternoon we swam in her pool, we drank wonderful champagne, we talked and then we didn’t talk. We sipped wine from our glasses and just held a space for one another to feel, to be. I think I learned more about women in the quiet moments of that afternoon than at any other time in my life. When the bottle was empty, Elaine exited the pool, toweled herself off, walked into her bedroom and climbed the marble steps up to her bed.
On many Wednesdays that followed, I would deliver to Elaine, and she would always insist that we take time to enjoy some Dom Perignon, together. She welcomed me into her very private life, and I never spoke of it. Not to anyone. Sometimes we just enjoyed lounging on her deck, watching the sunset, not saying a word. Other times we would talk about life, about loss, about dreams, about how things begin, about how things end.
As I was graduating college and about to seek my own new adventures in life, Elaine sold her house on Treasure Island and moved back to France. There, she could roam the grounds of her favorite champagne, escape the shallowness and pettiness that had become so pervasive in her life living in Naples and live the life she was truly meant for. Invitations to fabulous private gatherings and soirees, dates and dinners with amazing people, evocative conversations about life and love, art and literature and of course, to enjoy some of the best wines on the planet.
I’m left with lovely memories of our time together. I never told anyone about my visits with her. It meant that much to me. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think anyone would have believed me if I had. To this day, Elaine remains a mental tattoo of childish nervousness into masculine self-confidence. I’ve not drunk Dom Perignon since my time with her, that is, until this review.
Moët & Chandon are the makers of the very famous Dom Perignon. They’ve been around since 1743 shipping their wine from Champagne to Paris. Their clientele were noblemen, aristocracy and of course King Louis the XV who had quite a thirst for sparkling wines.
Dom Perignon was first made in 1921, but not released for sale until 1936. The name comes from a Benedictine monk who was an important discoverer for Champagne wine. It’s important to know that Dom Perignon is a vintage Champagne; it’s only made in the best years, and all grapes used to make the wine were harvested in the same year. Many champagnes, are non-vintage and are made from grapes harvested in various years.
In 1971 Moët & Chandon and merged with Hennessy Cognac. This created a powerhouse brand in the wine and liquor world. Then in 1987 merged with Louis Vuitton creating the largest luxury group in the world. Just in champagne, LVMH (Louis-Vuitton-Moët-Hennessy) produces 28,000,000 bottles of champagne per year. 5,000,000 of those are from their most famous label Dom Perignon.
To enjoy the wine properly, the age should be 12 years.
*Elaine’s name was changed for this story, out of privacy and respect.
Dom Perignon, 2006
Produced by: Moët & Chandon
Winemaker: Richard Geoffroy
Location: Épernay, France
Appearance (Color): Opal
Aroma (Complexity): Vanilla, Floral
Body (Texture and Weight): Light, Dry
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Lemon, Blossoming Flowers, Toast
Finish (What lingers): Vanilla
Food Pairing: Oysters
Serving Temperature: 48°
Featured Image: Eva Herzigova for Dom Perignon Rose Ad Campaign by Karl Lagerfeld