The 12:23 to Lyon
Worse than sightseeing, for me anyway, is sightseeing with a group. And the worst of all is sightseeing with a group on a wine tour. As Carol and I walked to the pickup point in downtown Lyon for our group tour of a Beaujolais winery, my stomach knotted over the thought of listening to a bunch pseudo experts extolling the virtues of a young pinot noir “with notes of eucalyptus and bok choy,” and the ever-present “soupcon of asparagus.” I only wanted to know one thing: how do you get red wine from white grape juice.
It was Carol who found the wine tour. After asking me, “So, you've been to Lyon; what is there to see there?” and getting the now familiar blank stare and shrug, she dove into Tripadvisor with the vigor of one on the verge of seeing two days in Lyon going up in the smoke of just sitting in a cafe and watching the world go by.
Our group was dominated by a family of five (six if you count the total stranger whose remoteness seemed to belong to the family) who were not talking to each other. That meant my lack of any social interaction would go unnoticed, if not preferred. Besides, the countryside for the hour plus trip to the vineyards was breathtaking in a bucolic postcard kind of way.
We started drinking around 10:30 in the morning. We could spit, if that was too early for any of the delicate geniuses to start guzzling. We were asked to differentiate the wines based on color, fragrance and taste. The best I could could determine was that reds looked, smelled and tasted like reds, and likewise for the whites. I did not spit. Later, back on the bus, Carol woke me up when we arrived for a walkabout in the town of Oingt, a 12th century village that could have been a set for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I was able to revive myself sufficiently to arrive at the winery and start drinking again.
Our bartender - I mean our vintner - Etienne provided a detailed talk about grape growing and winemaking punctuated by generous pours from his designations of whites, roses and reds, all washed down (paired I believe is the oenological term) with homemade sausages and bitingly sharp goat cheese that invited overindulgence the way salted peanuts do at a craft brewhouse. I shook Etienne's hand in salute of his family's contribution to global well-being, and Carol made sure I didn't leave my hat, phone, wine and cheese purchases and notebooks back in the cave.
All in all, I heartily recommend a group wine tour if you get the chance. It's a pleasurable and enriching experience, if for no other reason than to legitimately enjoy Happy Hour long before lunch. See it with a friend, and you won't have to spend the day going back for things you left behind. Oh, and you get red wine from white grape juice by grinding up the purple skins and stems. Interesting.