I have friends who regularly travel to Europe on wine-drinking pilgrimages, excursions into decadence that leave me gasping with envy. After hearing their stories, I find myself delusively imagining I'm one of them. I see myself picking up a wine list at a magnificent restaurant such as Monaco's Louis XV and ordering a grand cru white Burgundy with a rim as golden hued as the Limoges china. There I am, gazing upward, as the bouquet of my perfumed Corton-Charlemagne soars toward the nymphs and angels gamboling on the 25-foot ceiling.
This past January, I gathered up my courage and my bankroll and informed my friends that I would be joining them on their upcoming trip to Europe. The itinerary included La Beaugravière in Provence, a restaurant that is unstarred by the Michelin guide but has an enthusiastic following among wine drinkers, as well as four of the most esteemed establishments in Europe, all with three-star ratings: Le Louis XV; Troisgros, in Roanne; Paul Bocuse, outside Lyon; and Guy Savoy, in Paris.
My fantasy was not just to be with wine connoisseurs but also to be one of them, and it was at the distressingly appointed La Beaugravière, which looks as though it was transplanted intact from Guadalajara, that I thought I would succeed. I'd spotted a treasure on the wine list, an old-vines Châteauneuf-du-Pape from a fabulous vintage. I expected my companions to carry me to the dinner table on their shoulders. I gulped my gougère and tried to get their attention.