Spanish scientists have developed a test that can prove whether champagne is the real thing or just a sparkling wine. The test developed at the University of Seville recognizes a characteristic mix of trace metals from soil around France’s Champagne region, where grapes for the real thing are grown. —Reuters
17 Mayo 2004
Major setback today. The team’s mood is grim, after both Andre and Guillermo were fooled by a deceptively complex little brut. We submitted it to the “tickle your nose” test. It passed. “Champagne,” said Andre. “Champagne,” said Guillermo. I wasn’t so sure. Sofia removed the label cover: a Lindauer Brut NV-- from New Zealand of all places. Disheartened, we broke for an early dinner.
20 Mayo 2004
It’s been a hard week. Our characteristic enthusiasm and resourcefulness are flagging. I yelled at Guillermo and even compared him to the cancer researchers down the hall. So dour. So negative. He swirled his flute of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 1995 and stared at his shoes. Yes, I hurt him, but I feel my actions were warranted. Of course, I apologized by day’s end. I don’t believe in coddling, but Guillermo is very sensitive.
21 Mayo 2004
Why do I need to be liked so much? Today I sprang for Friday lunch and undid all the good accomplished by my Thursday diatribe. Then we didn’t get a thing done, because I let Andre make punch with some leftover Segura Viudas Brut Reserva 1997, and we stole a monkey from the Parkinson’s team. Oh well, it was a long week. And the monkey’s a riot.
24 Mayo 2004
Monday. Delivery day. Always good. Sofia covered the labels while Andre, Guillermo and I met regarding our status reports. Guillermo was prepared. Andre had obviously written his on the bus. If he didn’t have such a remarkable nose for lower-grade American imports, I swear I’d fire him. I cut things short so we could immediately try a cheese test I’d developed on Sunday by fiddling around with some Manchego and a flute of Heidsieck Dry Monopole Gold Top 1997. I’d discovered that if you hold an oversize bite of the Manchego between your cheek and gum while slowly taking in just half a sip of the Heidsieck, the sensation is one of sustained fizz accompanied by a marked sweetness. I became convinced that the same test with a sparkling wine would instead trigger one’s gagging reflex. I was wrong. While Andre did choke slightly on a soft, flowery inexpensive Cava from these parts, Guillermo encountered virtually the same sensation that I’d experienced Sunday. Disappointing yes, but Guillermo noted (and I concurred) that the Cava gives you real bang for your buck. I know I wrote its name down somewhere.
We broke for a bag lunch out on the square with a bottle each. Gorgeous day.
25 Mayo 2004
Franco from spinal cord in 3B stopped by, with four tickets to a football game. Sevilla vs. Vallodolid. No love lost there. Sofia said she would cover for us if we wanted to go. Franco really needed to blow off some steam so we figured we could combine work with play. No harm, no foul, right? So we asked Sofia to set us up with some blind-test thermoses and we headed for the stadium.
Turns out Franco is in the wrong line of work. He has quite a nose. With barely a sniff he nailed one of the thermoses as a Pol Roger Brut 1996. Not only that, he shared some radical ideas about things like trace metals and soil testing. He told us we should bag the flutes and get some test tubes and beakers. I elbowed Andre hard in the ribs when he asked what a beaker was. Anyway, I called Sofia from my cell phone to tell her to order some. Just as she picked up, Sevilla scored and the crowd went nuts. I could tell she was feigning patience while I put her on hold to bump chests with Guillermo. She’s a trooper. I told her she’d get to go to the next game if Franco scores tickets again, but she said “I hate football” and hung up. Sevilla won 2-nil.
Note: never again test with a Prosecco di Valdobbiadene NV. Its delicate apple flavours throw everything off.
26 Mayo 2004
Franco came by early with a sack of dirt and a hundred suggestions. He said he was stoked to help us out in his free time. Funding for spinal cord research is running low, but we’re pretty flush thanks to a couple of big donations from the French Government and Donald Trump’s girlfriend. So I told Franco to get on board and put our little progress train back on track. I kind of glazed over when he started detailing everything he had learned about soils during summer visits to his French uncle’s vineyard, but the team seemed excited. I guess that’s the important thing.
14 Junio 2004
The last few weeks have been pretty tough. I called in sick today but kept tabs on the team’s progress by email. Truth is, I wasn’t sick at all—just exhausted from pretending to understand everything Franco has us doing of late. He pops in constantly to check out the trace metals progress. For the first day or so he was doing a deferential dance with me because he didn’t want to step on my toes in front of the team, but that ended pretty quickly. He basically treats me like an intern now, and my main contribution to the research is nodding affirmatively while stroking my beard. I feel like a moron.
Yesterday ended badly after I proposed that we go on a picnic and revisit my cheese test, this time with some Zamorano I’d just received from Cheese-of-the-Month and a Bollinger Grande Anné 1996. Sofia, looking ridiculous in goggles, told me to “FOCUS for God’s sake” which got me steamed. So I told her I was moving her performance review date up and that I’d be pulling no punches. I still can’t believe she threw a beaker of Henri Harlin NV in my face. What a waste. I had to fight back tears as they all poured a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle "Lumiere de Millenaire` 1990 into a centrifuge. I’m losing the whole team. Franco told me that he could run things, and that I should go home and get my head straight. I’m so depressed.
At home I poured myself a flute of Laurent-Perrier Brut 1995 and took out my notebook. Reading back over my observations now is torture. Two months ago, I thought we were close. Now I’m just lost and totally unsure if Franco’s redirection makes any sense at all. But Sofia’s right—I have to focus.
Rented “The Matrix Revolutions” but passed out halfway through.
16 Junio 2004
After calling in sick for a second day, it was back to
the lab for the surprise of my life. Franco and my team were jumping up and down like they’d just won a lifetime supply of Louis Roederer Brut Vintage 1995. I knew instantly. When they saw me standing there with my fresh haircut, new briefcase, and bottle of Mumm’s Cuvée Napa they grew quiet. But then they rushed over and embraced me. Sofia tearfully apologized. Guillermo and Andre offered kisses and bear hugs. And Franco, ever generous, shook my hand and said “The Manchego had a lot to do with it. Really.” I knew deep down that they were only including me because I’m a sweet guy and the first to reach for a check, but that was all right. The whole thing has been a gas.
After posing for the media with flutes of ’88 Dom, we climbed into Andre’s roadster for a couple of days at the coast. Franco politely declined and said he really needed to get back to spinal cord for their annual bake sale. I said I’d be happy to come ‘round later to lend a hand, but he said they’d be okay and that we should just enjoy ourselves, we deserved it. Franco’s a prince.
I’ll have to send him a bottle of something nice when we get back.