A Fine Wine (3)
Daniel was glad to hear Justin praising him again but he had not got back his senses of taste or smell. He had had to pretend that he still had his famous 'nose' for wine, whereas he had actually been depending on his eyes and his experience in order to do his job. It hadn't been easy. Old Colbert was going to arrive soon, and he realised that he really would need the old man for the wine-tasting.
He was not happy about that.
Old Colbert was not used to dressing up in suits. He felt uncomfortable in a tie. He would much rather be in his old shirt, looking after his vineyard - he couldn't help thinking of it as still being his vineyard, though he knew it was no longer. Instead, here he was at the Happimart offices in London, being introduced to a room full of men like Daniel Appleby. And there was Appleby himself, wearing his ridiculous red jacket, smiling and holding a corkscrew. He was busy telling everybody all about 'Monsieur Colbert's marvellous wines' and how lucky he had been to be the man who had discovered them.
Appleby had told Colbert he owed him a favour and Colbert was not a man who forgot to pay back what he owed. Not at all.
Justin was smiling as he stood by the table full of empty wine glasses. He tapped a glass on the table with a spoon. It was surprisingly loud. Everybody turned around to look.
'Gentlemen,' he said, 'Monsieur Colbert has kindly agreed to bring along some more of his wonderful wines for us to taste today. This promises to be a treat indeed! Daniel, if you would be so kind...?'
Daniel turned to Colbert who then handed Daniel one of the bottles he had brought with him. 'This is one we made recently, Monsieur,' said Colbert. 'Shall we taste it first?'
Daniel smiled as he pulled out the cork and poured out a measure for the old man.
Justin had insisted that Daniel take charge of the wine tasting - it was his way of saying he trusted him. Fine - that suited Daniel. Now he could make sure that the wine was completely under his control. Just as he wanted. The photographers were all taking pictures and television cameras were pointing at him.
Good. He was enjoying himself.
Colbert lifted up his glass, smelled the liquid first, tasted it, then spat it from his mouth into a small metal bucket kept on the table at such occasions. He looked at Daniel and gave a little nod, barely noticeable to anybody else. That was the signal he had arranged with Colbert.
Now he could start showing off.
'My friends, Monsieur Colbert has been good enough to allow me to be the first to taste the latest wine from the Colbert vineyard.' Daniel paused to pour out a measure into his own glass from the newly opened bottle. 'If you would allow me...'
Daniel did what everybody had come to expect of him: he smelled the glass with his expert nose, breathed deeply, then took a mouthful of the deep red liquid, taking care to roll it carefully around his mouth before spitting it into a bucket.
Everybody waited while he looked upwards, as he always did before giving his judgement on a wine. Finally, he spoke.
'This wine is truly a fine example of a great wine, full of fruit and with excellent body. It is, to wine, what a Picasso painting is to art - a true masterpiece. One cannot taste a wine like this and not feel that one has tasted greatness. Monsieur Colbert - you have made a wine fit for the gods!'
'Well!' said Justin. 'Let's not waste time, gentleman. Your glasses, please.'
He poured some into everybody's glass before raising his own.
'Let's drink,' he said, 'to Monsieur Colbert, his great wines and the man who discovered them for Happimart - Daniel Appleby!'
Daniel felt proud as he saw everybody's glasses raised. Proud and glad that it was all over.
All of a sudden there was a rush to the wine buckets and the sound of loud coughing. Everybody spat out the contents of their glasses with a look of disgust on their faces.
'Vinegar!' said Justin. 'Red wine vinegar!'
'Oui, Monsieur,' said Colbert. 'Our latest - the best vinegar made from only the finest red wine, fit for the Emperor Napoleon himself, don't you think?'
And so it was: the best quality red wine vinegar one could find anywhere.
Justin turned to Daniel and stared at him. Justin looked very angry as the specially invited photographers took their pictures.
Daniel's face turned pale as he felt his career break into pieces like a glass that has been dropped on a hard floor. The other wine tasters didn't know where to look, though some of them began to laugh.
But none laughed as loudly as Monsieur Colbert, whose laughter filled Appleby's ears for the rest of his life.
- THE END -