Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Daniel

A friend was going to get married and asked where we could have lunch after the ceremony...just the four of us.
I asked a 'wine-merchant' in our town. Wine Merchant being that he had a loft and kept his wine there...which I think he bought & sold but never told the state. It was where I could buy wines not readily available. Anyway...he said I should go to a restaurant in Oppenheim. The owner was French and when he realized I loved wine...he would be very happy.
The marriage was on Friday 20th January 1978 at 11 am and a couple of days beforehand I called the restaurant...the owner answering with a French accent. I inquired about a table being free at 12.00 and he asked me to wait a minute. He returned to the phone to say they could accommodate us. After the marriage was completed at the Register Office...we set off to Restaurant 'Zum Schwann' in Oppenheim...arriving at midday. Set in the old town...cobbled streets...the building had been around for a long time...and looked just right.
We entered the restaurant. No one was to be seen...and just as we thought that we were at the wrong place....a bouncing flamboyant guy appeared. 'I am Daniel' he said...and showed us to our table. The restaurant was empty...maybe the other customers would arrive soon we thought...he had had to check if there was a table free when I called. Upfront...before we go on...no one else arrived all day. No matter...he brought the menu and...of course...the wine-list. As we wanted a white to toast the marriage I quickly ran over the list and saw what was a 'find' that was being talked about at the time...from the South of France...Chateau Miraval 1975 from the Provence.
I mentioned the fact and that we would try a bottle. His eyes lit up....'You love wine?' Any ice that was there...had been broken. The wine came and we settled down to choose the food. We ordered...and Daniel Faulhaber...of Alsace in France...excused himself...he would be in the kitchen from time to time during our stay. You see...he was the owner, cook, waiter & bottle washer.
The food was lovely...very French...down to earth. I ordered 2 reds...a Clos Vougeot 1969 from Clerget being given the 'Tastevin' addition to the label. The second wine was the 'Mouton-Rothschild' of Provence at the time...Chateau Vignelaure 1970...full of rich blackcurrant fruit...both wines were consumed with the meal.
At around 2pm we sat there...relaxing...the four of us as I said...and Daniel appeared again to ask the Bridegroom and myself if we wanted to visit his wine cellar. The Bride said Ok...she would chat to my wife for the time we were away (if only she had known). Daniel led us down into the old cellars situated under the streets of Oppenheim. These were real cellars...and had little alcoves where a few odd bottles rested. Daniel plucked a bottle from one corner and proceeded to open it. It turned out to be a Chateau Lafite 1973...not a great vintage...but perfect in 1978. He had brought wine glasses with him...and we stood drinking the wine...which was cellar temperature...and we shivered at first...but quickly warmed to our task. The bottle finished...Daniel opened a second...Gloria...a favourite Chateau of mine at the time...from a very fine vintage...1959.

Daniel left us for a few minutes to go upstairs to the restaurant. My wife told us afterwards that he popped his head round the door and said to my wife 'Eva...please go into the kitchen and stir my 'Ummer Suppe' (Hummer Suppe...Lobster Soup) and then disappeared. He rejoined us to finish off the second bottle...we chatted...he showed us more bottles and we finally went upstairs at around 4 pm. Now remember...our two friends had just married...so the Bridegroom was given a stern look when we returned. We were peckish...so we ordered cheese and a half bottle of Chateau Gaffeliere 1966. We finally left at 6 pm....with the newly wed bride not exactly impressed by her new husband spending so much time away from her on their first day. My wife and I smiled about it later...and the conclusion to this part of the story is that they divorced a few years later.
But this is about Daniel...our new friend Daniel. He dressed in a way you were never sure which side of the fence he was on...and we never really knew his sexual tendencies...red AND white were my guesses. I remember he always wore coloured sport-like shoes...red, yellow, green..never a 'normal' pair.
Our next visit a few months later was with my brother and a girl friend of my wife...both having no idea about wine. This time it was evening and the restaurant was full.
I chose 2 Bordeaux...from the fine 66 Vintage 'Fourcas-Hosten' and 'Ducru-Beaucaillou'. Our meal finished...the other guests eating...Daniel grabbed my arm and said' Let's go choose a wine'. Down the stairs and into a corner we had missed last time. I pulled away a few cobwebs and saw two!!! bottles of a Chateau Leoville-Barton 1871. Bottled in England and re-corked a year earlier.Now...right up to the 60's the British bought Burgundy and Bordeaux and bottled themselves. I nodded...and said...very nice Daniel...and was heading back upstairs when he grabbed one bottle and said ' We'll drink this tonight'. Now...even at this early stage of my 'wine' career I was thrilled to have something this old to try...BUT...our two guests upstairs didn't know the difference between Bordeaux & Burgundy. Keep it until next time I suggested....but Daniel wanted to drink it with me this night. So...upstairs we went...the wine was uncorked...crumbling...but still fairly intact...and the wine decanted. Daniel had joined us...much to the slight annoyance of a few other guests...who were used to him being around their table. Ah yes...but they were not REAL wine lovers he said...and Daniel & I were on the same wavelength. The wine was perfect...no age...complete..and I tried not to give the 'swiggers' too much. My wife said she could not appreciate it...so the bottle was shared between the four of us. The oldest bottle I have ever had...and so early in my wine education. I sat there in a slight trance...Daniel smiled...disappeared...and returned with ANOTHER bottle. This one a little younger...Chateau Petrus..at 8 years old...a baby. I don't remember much after that. We got home somehow...I certainly didn't drive!
We invited Daniel to our home a few times...my wife cooked...I opened some very fine bottles...it was never boring. He always had a story...or a quote...and spoke of his father asking him as a child to identify a wine...and getting a clip to his ear if he got it wrong! As I said...Daniel was never boring...a fact that went to a point where you could almost shout out loud. Once...my wife cooked...I opened the two planned reds at 7 pm...and we waited for our guest to arrive....and waited. No mobiles/ cell phones in those days...we presumed at 10 pm that he was not coming. I had to get up early next day...so went to bed. My wife told me next day Daniel had arrived at 10.30...and had a few glasses of the opened wine...had chatted with her until 1am...said to say Hi to me..and had left.
We never saw him for a couple of years...only heard he had left the Restaurant in Oppenheim. He 'reappeared' suddenly...saying he had a Bistro in the old town of Mainz. We visited a couple of times...he was the life & soul of the party...everyone knew him. As quickly as he had returned...he was gone again. His lifestyle at the time...his love for the 'exotic'...maybe a touch of helpful ingredients...made us think he had met an early end. We never heard from or about him again...but his story is often told. An unforgettable character.

4 comments:

Alex said...

Great Story! :) Love it!

Edward said...

Barry,

Don't we all need a father who will let us drink wine before we can write, so we can learn the art and fun of blind tasting!

An excellent story.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what ever became of Daniel. So many people we meet in our lifetimes and somehow lose touch. I found this story because I now live in Oppenheim, and I was hunting for some tasting notes before heading out in search of a bottle of red wine for a Christmas present for our former landlord. Maybe this is a good reminder to stay in touch with those who mean something to you in both big and small ways. If I ever find out any news of Daniel I'll let you know- I'm still learning my way about the town and my German's not great but perhaps the day will come. Thanks, Karen B.

Aaron Nix-Gomez said...

I have very fond memories of my early wine drinking years so it is with great pleasure to read this post about drinking with Daniel. Best regards, Aaron Nix-Gomez

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