Received an email from one of the readers of my column in HaAretz and she asked me to recount the very worst visit I ever had at a winery. Two visits vie for first place and, because I have no special desire to give the newspaper's lawyers additonal cause for appearing in court, we'll omit mentioning the winery names.
1. In one of Israel's oldest cities (not Jerusalem), on opening the large iron doors leading to the winery seeing rats scurrying all all over the place. Not little rats the kind one finds in sewers but huge rats, those that even Steven King has trouble dreaming about. Got to give them credit though, for after just a few seconds the rats had vanished into whatever holes or corners rats vanish into. Second part of the experience, the aromas of the winery. Now I've used descriptors such as "cat's pee", "barnyard aromas" and so forth in describing wines but in this case the only term that fits is of fetid and decomposed corpses (at a guess, that from the wine that had been dripping to the floor for years and solidified, the bodies of at least a few of those rats and what surely smelled like human urine.
Tasted the wines. As memory serves, the highest score to any was 55. But then the worst part was to come....a visit to the barrel room, that housed some ways away in a separate building, the cellar reachable only by a vertical ladder more built of rust layers than of original iron. And once there I finally understood why we Israelis were all issued gas masks. I'm convinced that staying in that cellar for more than 15 minutes would mean either asphyxiation or worse. I exaggerate perhaps but believe me, only by a bit.
There were by the way two witnesses who suffered through all of this with me (except that they were wise enough not to descend into that barrel cellar), one of whom is a regular member of our forum.
2. In France, appearing with an appointment at a Loire Valley estate quite some many years ago. Was received warmly, went on to taste some 18 wines and, as my host stretched to reach for yet amother bottle he suddenly whirled around, his eyes rather wide open, his hands flung to the sides and promptly proceded to keel over, quite dead. Shocking to say the least. I checked for a pulse, there was none, ran to the house to tell his wife. We did phone for an ambulance but he was truly and irretreviably gone. Never did get to finish that tasting....