Chapter Thirty-Nine

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Michael nodded as he listened, and when David finished reading, he smiled and said, "My first impression from this was of tenacity and determination. Of initiative and ingenuity. Your suggestion of an alternate way to assist the war effort is intriguing, and it will most certainly garner further consideration. This shows your audacity and inventiveness." He stroked his beard. "I would have clambered to have a person with such qualities as one of my officers."

David smiled. "Thank you, this is only a draft."

"Write it to fair copy. It's perfect as it is. Your humility with the closing will cause them to wonder why you're a private."

"I agree," Rachel said. "I think it superbly written as is."

"I have some fine vellum." Mary got up and headed toward the door. "I'll bring you the box. And an envelope."

"I'll copy it later. Leave it to sit for a while, then come back with fresh eyes." He lifted the glass Michael had poured for him, swirled it and put it to his nose. "I'm not familiar with this variety."

"This is made from a cross between Riesling and Sylvaner grown northeast of here in Thurgau, the canton to the east of Schaffhausen."

"It doesn't have the intensity of the Riesling I know. Perhaps the Sylvaner mutes that."

"No other Riesling I've had has shown the depth and intensity I found in Rachel and Maria's. The same with their Gewürztraminer and Bethia's Weißburgunder. Your palate's been spoiled, David, and from what Maria's been saying, Bethia's Blauburgunder stands far above them all." He glanced at his watch. "Still nearly three hours until dinner. I'm looking forward to tasting it."

They sat chatting and sipping until the sun dipped below the mountains across the lake and the patio began chilling. Not long after they had settled in the parlour, Murielle arrived to announce dinner.

"I know we're being repetitious to serve asparagus again," Mary said as she led them to the dining room. "But its season is short, and we take full advantage of it. I hope you don't mind."

"Mamère grew asparagus, but it was green and much thinner than this." David examined the thick white pieces on the plates as they sat at the table. "I'd not seen it white until Tante Bethia served it a few weeks ago. I've seen none green since Mamère's."

"It's the same plant, but to produce white asparagus, the shoots are covered with soil as they grow. The exposure to sunlight is what turns them green, but all asparagus becomes woody once it begins to flower." Mary pointed with her fork. "Once these begin to open. But buried, they grow slower and much thicker before beginning flowering."

"The lower part of the stalk develops a woody peel," Rachel added. "This needs to be pared away before cooking. Many eat it with their fingers, but the proper way is with knife and fork."

David laughed. "Mamère always chastised Dad for eating asparagus with his fingers, but he never changed." He looked up from his plate. "I hadn't thought of this before, but the white doesn't have the bitterness of the green."

"White asparagus is much friendlier to wine," Maria said. "The bitterness of the green clashes with most wines."

"I've been observing this; the matching you do with the flavours of foods with those of the wines."

"Not just the flavours, David, but the strengths, the intensities, the textures, the complexities, the acids, the relative sweetness," Michael said. "The main course this evening is being prepared to allow Bethia's Blauburgunder to show to its best advantage. It's one of Murielle's specialities, filet de bœuf en croûte. A seared beef tenderloin covered with mousse de foie gras and cèpes duxelles, then wrapped in a thin pâte brisée and baked."

David shook his head and laughed. "So funny, thinking back. Every time Mamère served something fancy such as that, Dad would launch into a tirade. What's this Frenchified food? What's wrong with steaks or a roast? he would ask."

"But you have an excellent appreciation of food," Rachel said.

"We ate very well when Dad was away; but the rest of the time it was rather plain, except when Mamère tried again to interest him."

"How often was he away?"

"He'd be gone on a two-day trip, sometimes three most weeks, up the valleys, locating logs to buy. Mamère always prepared special things while he..."

David paused when Muriel wheeled a trolley into the dining room. They all watched in silence as she carved the tenderloin, then as she placed the meat platter and the vegetable tureens on the table. She wished them bon appétit and wheeled the trolley out.

Michael poured the wine into Mary's glass, then into Rachel's before handing the decanter across the table to David to pour Maria's and his own. "Don't set it down, David. The Army tradition is to pass the wine without the decanter touching the table."

After David had poured, he passed the decanter back to Michael so he could pour his own. He watched as Michael set it on the table. "So it can be placed on the table after everyone has been poured?"

"Yes, but a funny thing, though, is that in the Navy, the decanter never leaves the table. It's slid around to port, to the left, and each officer pours by tilting the decanter into his glass, which he holds off to the side of the table. These are some of the traditions you'll be introduced to during your officer training." He lifted his glass to David. "Here's to nothing but the finest with your ventures, wherever they lead you."

They all raised their glasses and drank to the toast, then stopped and stared into their wine, swirling it and nosing its bouquet as they were enraptured by it.

"You had said it was superb, Maria. But this is beyond that." Michael took another sip. "This is like my bin of 1900 Clos de Bèze was in its youth. Same magical complexity and depth. This will age magnificently."

"We should eat before everything cools," Mary said as she passed the tureen of baby potatoes. They set their glasses down and served themselves as the platter and tureens were passed. Through dinner, they discussed classic wine and food matches for a long while, before they carried on into lighter banter.

Michael rose from the table while Muriel cleared it. "I had brought up an '08 Chambolle to have with the cheeses, but it will be lost after Bethia's wine." He picked up the bottle from the sideboard. "I'll return this to the cellar and bring up something more worthy."

Murielle had laid the cheese board and the basket of breads by the time he returned with the 1900 Clos de Bèze. "I had mentioned this earlier. Bethia's wine had reminded me of it." He pulled the cork and decanted the wine then returned to his seat to repeat the pouring ritual.

He lifted his glass. "This is an indication of how Bethia's 1911 will evolve in the next ten or twelve years." He raised his glass higher. "Here's to maturing gracefully. May we all."

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