The Ultimate Champagne Tasting…and when does a city become home?


This was the scene last Thursday night, the night before my trip to Wellington.  For the first month and a half in Dunedin I floundered a bit as far as wine stores go.  Sure, the wine selection at New World (the largest grocery store here) was good, but I missed that personal connection and those bottles of wine than only a true conneseiur could appreciate.  And then I found Wine Freedom…conveniently located on my route home from the hospital.  Paul, the proprietor of Wine Freedom, is an extremely knowledgeable and affable gentleman.  Easy to talk to, helpful, thoughtful and full of insight into the nuances of not only Nz wine, but wines of the world.  It was amazing it took me so long to find this place.  But, find it I did.  Like a bee to honey.  Every one of his recommendations so far has been spot on, and so when I talked with him last week, and he said there was an unexpected cancellation for the upcoming Thursday champagne tasting, and would I like to join in…well…it didn’t take me long to answer yes.  Sure, I would be the only single guy there in a tasting consisting of 6 couples…but if champagne can’t ease me into a social group, what can?

You will hate me when I list what we tasted, but I have no choice.  We started with Veuve Clicquot and Moet & Chandon (both NV).  The Veuve is one of my favorite NV (non-vintage) champagnes, as much because of its consistent character and wonderful taste as it the memories it evokes.  My first real taste of Veuve was when I met Bill Heurermann in St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands) at his house where I would be house sitting for him and watching his dog, Bogart, for the next 9 months.  Bill and I not met before that night, but in that one evening of multiple bottles of Vueve and the Moody Blues, he and I, and his dog Bogart,  became close friends.  Sticking with the NV theme we then tried Ruinart Blanc de Blanc.  Very special.  Then we paired off again with Veuve Cliquot 2004 and Moet & Chandon 2004.  For me, the Moet had the edge here, but I’d be willing to give it another try…. (please…?).    Then back to the NV theme, with a Krug NV.  Maybe my favorite NV of the night.   Fortunately, there was cheese (it was hilarious trying to decipher the cheese menu…where each of the cheeses was listed but we had little idea which was which…finally just accepting the fact they all were good, and French) and excellent fresh baguettes.  And there was lots of water, which  was good, as we had six more champagnes to go.

We were off the Roses(get it?),  again pitting the Veuve Clicquot Rose 2004 against the Moet & Chandon Rose 2004.  The winner…hell, you choose at this point, they were both very good.  Next were three vintages of Le Grande Dame (Veuve Clicquot’s premiere champagne), the 1995, 2000 and the 2004.  And finally, the Dom Perignon 2004.  The Dom was amazing, and unlike any of the other champagnes (which is, I believe, what they want when they make it).  The 2004 vintage, for champagne, is said to have been an amazing year, and I can safely say it was.  My favorite?  The 2004 Grand Dame…but it’s only a preference thing.  There was not a bad wine in the group.  Twelve phenomenal champagnes in one evening?  I’ll like never duplicate a night of champagne such as that (OK, maybe I’ll try once or twice), but I won’t ever forget that evening.

Friday morning came early, with my flight to Wellington (well chronicled in my previous post), and then by Sunday at noon I was back in Dunedin.  It felt good to be home.  And that’s when I started thinking; when did Dunedin transform from a place I was staying to a place I now called home?  Not necessarily home in the sense I’ll never leave (though, a few more of the wine tastings and who knows?), but home as in I am at home here?  I don’t know when the transitioned happened, but as I drive to work each day, or go grocery shopping, or pick up my shirts at the cleaners, Dunedin has changed from a place I am staying to a place where I’m living.  It was a sneaky transition, and of course it’s still evolving.  I know I’m not from here, that much is clear whenever I’m with people who are from here.  I love it when I meet them and they here my accent, and I see them wonder….is he American or Canadian (and they don’t want to get it wrong, I suppose because Canadians must not like to be mistaken for Americans).  For the record, most people so far have guessed I’m from Canada…eh?  Despite the fact it’s immediately apparent I’m from North American (another safe guess by those I meet who don’t want to commit to a specific country), I feel at home here. Yesterday I drove through the Octagon, where I had my first dinner in Nz way back in August and I vividly recalled how it felt to be in a NEW country.   It does not seem, any more, l like I’m in a foreign country.  It now seems normal to drive on the left (I saw a movie on Netflix the other night, and thought, ‘hey they are driving on the wrong side of the road!’…but they weren’t), the money here looks normal and familiar.  I don’t balk at paying $7 to park for the day or $5 for some tomatoes.

Let’s see…about two and a half months… I guess that’s about how long it took to not feel like a tourist.  Yes, I will still get out and see things any chance I get.  There is, after all, so much to see.  But I’ve developed routines.  I park across from New World Grocery store in the morning, and walk to the hospital.  At the end of the day, I’ll often stop at the grocery store and then walk across the one-way traffic on Cumberline Street to my car.  Just like I did today.  I’ll come home, put on some music (Pandora), and make dinner.  Tonight, it was a 3 bean quinoa dish, and while it’s cooking I’ll do my laundry.  I’ll write a bit, practice some guitar and then pack my work out clothes for tomorrow.  I’ll peek out the window, watching the sun set behind the hills and I’ll marvel at the clouds which collect over the Pacific.  Twilight lasts for hours, and it isn’t dark until almost 10:30 pm (and it’s only November).   It’s a good day to be in Dunedin.



Published by dave clarke

I am different things to different people. Husband, father, doctor, teacher, friend, or if you're a fish, a fly fisherman. But really, I'm just a guy trying to learn about life, and if I'm lucky, maybe teach a little bit along the way. If I were a golfer (I'm not) I would be on the back nine of my life, or if I were a book, there would be more pages turned than not. Any yet, I'm far from finished creating chapters of my life. The goal of Next Chapters is inspiration, and I'm hopeful the traffic goes in both directions.

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