The Wine Ethicist: Jeremy Seysses Has a Question
As promised, this week brings the first reader-generated Wine Ethicist question. Much to my delight, Jeremy Seysses of Burgundy’s Domaine Dujac is a regular visitor here and occasionally posts comments. A few weeks ago, Jeremy suggested a topic for The Wine Ethicist, and I think it’s a great one. He wrote the following:
Dear Wine Ethicist,
My friend X was just telling me about his mother in law’s visit. She stayed with his wife and him for about a month and a half (she lives far away, though clearly not far enough as it will emerge). My friend is a generous man, who opens wine for every meal gladly and graciously. He soon discovered that his mother in law was unwilling to accept any wine that was any lesser than Red Burgundy 1er Cru or better. And by “he discovered”, I mean that she told him in no uncertain terms. What is a polite host who does not want to get in trouble with his wife but who doesn’t have unlimited access to Burgundy’s finest to do?
The ill-mannered guest has been a recurring figure throughout history and literature, although it usually doesn’t take the form of a mother-in-law. On returning home from the Trojan War and finding his home overrun by Penelope’s plundering suitors, Odysseus dealt with the problem by killing them—a draconian remedy, to be sure, but the ancient Greeks did take the guest-host thing (xenia) and its mutual obligations very seriously.
We live in a somewhat more civilized age, but obnoxious guests remain a problem. A well-stocked wine cellar naturally invites trouble. Frank Prial, the former wine columnist of The New York Times, once told a great story about a prominent wine writer who would time his visits to Château Mouton-Rothschild to coincide with out-of-town trips by its proprietor, Baron Philippe de Rothschild. The very generous Baron Philippe would instruct his staff to look after the writer, who took full advantage of the hospitality by helping himself to the choicest wines in Mouton’s inventory. Eventually, Baron Philippe was told of this. Sometime thereafter, the writer came to the château to have lunch, and Baron Philippe asked what he wished to drink. Not surprisingly, the journalist requested a rarity. Baron Philippe put his arm around the rapacious hack and said, “It’s not a luncheon wine, old boy, not a luncheon wine.”
I suspect that Jeremy’s friend X would be disinclined to throw an arm around his mother-in-law and say, “Not a luncheon wine, old girl, not a luncheon wine.” But he is clearly wrestling with a serious problem—to be told by his mother-in-law that she will only accept premier or grand cru Burgundies at his table is pretty amazing. Divorce is obviously one option for X, but that seems a little extreme (why punish his wife for the whims of her mother?) So what would you suggest that X do about the very demanding mother of his significant other? And have you ever encountered something similar—do you have a family member or friend who wants only to drink the priciest, most prestigious wines in your collection, and if so, how do you handle it? A related question: Have you ever given someone the run of your cellar and come to regret it?
This strikes me as an especially good topic in the lead-up to Christmas and New Year’s, when many of us will be entertaining family and friends. I am going to give The Wine Ethicist a break next week, and will have another installment up on Monday January 2nd. (I’ll be posting some other things between now and then.) Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s spirited discussion about retail etiquette, and to everyone who has helped make The Wine Ethicist such a terrific addition to this site.