August 16, 2015

Provence, 1970 and Bordeaux

Earlier this summer I enjoyed the page-turning Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr. It's a lovely culinary read about many things, in part the changing culinary trends of the time that brought something of a sunset of a generation, an era.

Published two years ago, the book details the author's grandmother M.F.K. Fisher and her chef/author/media star colleagues including Julia Child, Richard Olney and James Beard. The group - a mix of friends, acquaintances and strangers - meet up in Provence in late 1970, cooking, drinking wine and generally digging into the essentials of life, pleasure, insecurity and the meaning of our lives, our work and love.

The turning point hinges on the culinary movement away from more fussy, classical preparations in the kitchen to the more simple techniques and focus on local, seasonal ingredients. Olney represents the new wave, and M.F. and Julia more the old school, even as Julia is revolutionizing food by bringing old school French cooking to the world via a widely viewed television program.

The old school recognizes things are changing, but they still want to do things their way. As M.F. puts it in a letter to Julia Child, "One reason we are friends is that we both understand the acceptance of NOW."

The book contains several recountings of elaborate meals and menus, with impeccable wines usually selected by Julia's enophile husband Paul. As with the times, most choices were French and Bordeaux at that. How the wine world has changed.

But reading the menus, I thought to open a wine of similar age to the 1962s and such they were enjoying. So the 2006 Ch. Olivier from Graves, a producer I first came upon very early in my wine interest with a highly reviewed new release at the time, the 1989.

I remember that '89 was pretty good older school Bordeaux red, but this 2006 was everything that's unfortunate about modern Bordeaux. Where the old school approach was redder, translucent and more delicate, the new school is maximum extraction, with dark colors, thick textures and dense flavors. At nine years old, this wine was all that but hollow in the middle and rough throughout, just overworked, like it's trying to hard to be something SPECIAL and isn't even charming. Which wine simply must be.

Of course in the book the wines are always lovely. Perhaps I'm too critical, Or perhaps not. The characters all had strong opinions and I'm sure they argued about the wines. I finished Provence, 1970 and exhaled, thinking what I would give for just one dinner with that group, just to be there. The book is as good as we'll get for now.