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In Vino Veritas

IV. Fermentation

Draco could finally rest peacefully in his own bed. Elizabeth Dupré had gone home to France. In order to avoid her advances, he had stayed away from the Manor as much as he could over the past three weeks, but that had taken a toll on him. Even worse, his mother was miffed that he was avoiding her. Narcissa had noticed Elizabeth’s interest in Draco, but the poor woman hadn’t recognized Elizabeth’s pursuit for what it was. After all, Draco was young enough to be Elizabeth’s son.

As an apologetic gesture, Draco invited his mother out for dinner that evening at Chez Henri. His last visit there, with Amber Nott, had been a disaster, though that had been Amber’s fault. She had ordered White Zinfandel, for Merlin’s sake. The restaurant wouldn’t be the same now that Ginny Weasley had replaced Walter Weatherwax as sommelier, but Draco was curious about the changes she would make and wanted to try it one more time.

Narcissa smiled at Draco across the table. “Draco, I’ve hardly seen you recently. How have you been?” she asked.

“I’ve been fine, Mother,” he said placatingly. “Busy, though. I’m sorry to have neglected you, but you know how business comes in waves.”

“Yes,” Narcissa said sadly. “The same used to happen for your father.”

As a rule, Draco tried to avoid talking about Lucius at all costs. Luckily the waiter arrived at just the right time. Draco ordered their meals, as well as a red Bordeaux that would complement the food nicely.

When the waiter left, Draco seized the chance to turn the conversation to safer ground. Before long, however, Ginny Weasley approached their table. Draco’s breath caught slightly when he saw her; he told himself that it had happened only because he had been surprised by the interruption.

“I’m sorry to intrude, Mrs. Malfoy, Mr. Malfoy,” Ginny said deferentially. She turned to Draco. “I saw the wine you ordered,” she began. “It is certainly a quality wine, and we do have it in stock if you want it, but I think I can recommend a more appropriate wine that would be a better value.”

Draco was intrigued. Sommeliers rarely gave an opinion unless asked for it. “Oh, really? And what would that be?”

Ginny hesitated before speaking. “I would rather not say at this time,” she eventually said. “Instead, I will make this proposition. I will open the wine in the kitchen and bring you and your mother each a glass. If you taste it and decide that it is appropriate, I will tell you what it is. If you don’t like it, I will assume expense for the bottle, and bring you a bottle of the Bordeaux you ordered.”

Draco gave Ginny a long look. She seemed a little bit nervous, but mostly confident. He then turned to Narcissa. “What do you say, Mother?”

Narcissa had been looking at Ginny, but turned to Draco then, amusement in her eyes. “I appreciate value,” she said. “And we can always drink something else if we don’t like it. I say we take Miss Weasley up on her offer. It will be an adventure of sorts.”

It did appear that they had nothing to lose, which made Draco’s inner Slytherin suspicious. But he wanted to keep his mother happy tonight, so he deferred to her opinion.

“Very well,” Draco said, turning back to Ginny, who looked overly smug in his opinion. He frowned at her. “But if I don’t like it, it will be your problem.”

“Of course,” Ginny responded with a smile. “That is the deal, after all. I’ll bring that wine right away, then.” She disappeared in the direction of the cellars.

When Draco turned back to Narcissa, she was looking at him appraisingly. “I had no idea that the Weasley girl worked here,” she said.

“I only discovered it the last time I was here,” Draco said, as casually as he could manage. Ginny’s proposition had thrown him off-balance. “Apparently, Walter ran off with a boyfriend and Henri hired her.”

“She certainly is a change from Walter,” Narcissa said, her voice suspiciously uninflected. Draco was sure she was hiding something.

“Indeed,” he said. “We’ll have to wait to find out if the restaurant will deteriorate now.”

Narcissa only smiled. Just then Ginny returned with two glasses of wine, distracting both of them from the conversation. She placed one glass in front of each of them and said, “Here you are. I’ll be back in a little while to hear your decision.” She turned away without waiting for a response.

Narcissa reached for her glass first. Draco waited to watch her reaction before trying the wine himself. She sniffed it delicately, smiled a little, then tasted. Her face was entirely blank for a moment or two, then she gave Draco the sweetest smile he had seen from her in years. “Try it,” she encouraged.

Draco swirled the wine in the glass and smelled it. There was fruit, of course, but it was more fresh and lively than he had expected. He also smelled some lavender, and perhaps a bit of butterscotch. He swirled it again, then tasted the wine. He tasted plum and dark cherries, with a little licorice and vanilla. He looked up at his mother to find her smiling at him still.

“I think Miss Weasley won this one,” Narcissa said. Draco nodded, too stunned for words, and took another sip.

Ginny didn’t return until the wine had dwindled nearly to the bottom of both Draco’s and Narcissa’s glasses. “What do you think?” she asked, her voice fully innocent.

“It’s excellent,” Draco snapped, “as you very well know. You win. Now bring us some more.”

“I’m so glad you appreciated my suggestion, Mr. Malfoy,” Ginny said sweetly, ignoring his tone of voice. “I’ll retrieve the bottle right away.”

“Here you are,” Ginny said as she returned. “Stag’s Leap Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2002.”

Draco looked at the label. Napa Valley. She had brought him a California wine in place of one from France? Draco had tasted his fair share of New World wines, but he preferred more traditional vintages, and would never choose an American wine himself. The reason for Ginny’s earlier hesitation was now all too clear. He should have followed his instinct to drink the Bordeaux instead.

“This is from California?” Draco asked stiltedly.

“Yes,” Ginny said. “That’s why I didn’t want to tell you what it was right away.” She darted a glance at Narcissa, then seemed to choose her words more carefully. “I suspected that you might have a… predilection towards French wines. But some of the California wines are just as good as the French, but with much lower prices. For example, this wine cost two thirds of what you were prepared to pay for the Margaux you ordered.”

Draco glared at Ginny. She had tricked him! It was almost as bad as someone setting him up on a blind date with a Mud… er… Muggleborn without telling him about her blood status in advance. Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. But he still wasn’t happy about it. He was about to tell Weasley what he thought, but his mother spoke first.

“Thank you very much,” Narcissa said enthusiastically. “This is one of the best wines I have tasted in quite some time. I had no idea they were producing wine like this in America.”

“Oh, yes!” Ginny said. “The Napa Valley is excellent for Cabernet Sauvignon, and there are some wonderful Pinot Noirs coming out of Oregon and Santa Barbara County. And the Americans are making strides with some other varietals as well.”

Draco glared alternately at Ginny and Narcissa throughout their conversation. Ginny had outmaneuvered him and his mother seemed to be taking her side against him. He eventually interrupted petulantly and not entirely truthfully, “I won’t drink this… plonk!”

“Plonk?” Ginny asked, her eyes dancing. “I seem to recall you saying it was excellent just a few minutes ago. But perhaps my memory is faulty. What do you remember, Mrs. Malfoy?”

“If your memory is faulty, Miss Weasley, then so is mine,” Narcissa said, smirking with amusement. “Draco is just upset that you managed to throw his preconceptions out of balance.” Draco snorted. That wasn’t it at all—he was upset by her trickery, that was all. “Don’t you worry, though,” Narcissa continued. “Just leave us the bottle. I’ll enjoy it even if he does not.”

Draco recognized defeat. “Fine,” he spat out. “It’s not bad. We’ll drink it.”

“Excellent,” Ginny said, with a smile that was nearly a smirk. As Draco continued to glare, her expression turned pensive. “You know, Malfoy,” she said, then hesitated slightly. “It isn’t always a good idea to judge a wine by what’s on its label. Sometimes… sometimes you need to taste it first.” With an enigmatic smile and a nod to Narcissa, Ginny left the table. Draco watched her go, not sure what to make of her parting comment.

Narcissa looked at Draco thoughtfully. “She’s right, you know, Draco,” she said. “About the wine and… and other things as well.” Draco looked up at his mother with new eyes. She’d never tried to tell him anything important before. And he was sure that was what she was trying to do. “I like her,” Narcissa said abruptly. “She’d make a good Malfoy.”

Draco had no idea what his mother meant by that, and wasn’t sure he really wanted to know. So he took another sip of the admittedly excellent wine, and turned the conversation in a different direction entirely.


Tasting Notes:

* Fermentation is the process which converts the sugars in wine grapes into alcohol, turning grape juice into wine. Unfortunately, Draco is too stubborn to notice that fermentation of an entirely different kind is starting to occur.

* The red wines made in France’s Bordeaux region are made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Malbec grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant grape in the wines made near the village of Margaux.

* Prejudice in favor of French wines is widespread in the wine world, especially in Europe. However, some California wines are of as high quality as some of the top French wines. This was displayed in a famous tasting in 1976, which is sometimes called the “Judgment of Paris”. A jury consisting of the top wine experts working in France at the time participated in a blind tasting (that is, they did not know which wines they were drinking). The tasting pitted white Burgundy against California Chardonnay and red Bordeaux against California Cabernet Sauvignon. Much to the horror of the French experts, the winners in both categories were from California.

* In the Judgment of Paris, the winner among the red wines was a Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon. Ginny’s recommendation is my nod to this historic event. The term “Fay Vineyard” in its name indicated that the grapes were grown in a single vineyard rather than blended from grapes grown in several different places. Often, small “appellations” are considered more prestigious than wider regions. Thus a “Fay Vineyard” wine would be considered better than one labeled “Napa Valley”, which would in turn be considered better than one labeled “California.” This ranking doesn’t always correspond to quality, but can often be good as a rough guideline.

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