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Pet Peeves

Robert Whitley on

Pet peeve No 1: What could be more idyllic than a summer evening on the patio of a Michelin two-star restaurant in Provence, France, spent enjoying the brilliance of a great chef and a bottle of extraordinary wine?

That was the setting in my mind's eye when I booked a reservation at the fabled l'Oustau de Baumaniere in Les Baux-de-Provence last month. The weather cooperated spectacularly. So did the chef and the sommelier.

The five-course tasting menu was exquisite, and the bottle of 1993 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne was a gem. Reality set in when tables all around lit up and puffed away at one cigarette after the other throughout the night.

As blue smoke wafted over each dish and literally brought a tear to my eye, I wondered why anyone would foul the air so enthusiastically when the taste and smell of l'Oustau's many delights was presumably what drew them to Baumaniere in the first place.

In cooler parts of the year, most of the dining takes place inside, where smoking is prohibited. On my way out, I asked a manager why the restaurant thought it was fair that one dining couple's 700-euro experience could be spoiled by another dining couple's need to smoke throughout dinner.

He shrugged. "It's the law," he told me. "If people sit outside and choose to smoke, we have to let them."

Pet Peeve No. 2: The other recent event that raised my blood pressure several points was an attempt to uncork a bottle of white wine from Portugal that came with a wax capsule. The capsule on a wine bottle, typically a foil that is easy to cut and remove, is there for sanitation as well as decoration.

I suppose a wax capsule serves the same purpose, but it seems the look is more important than anything. Normally I'm OK with that because most wax capsules are somewhat soft and cut easily with the blade from the waiter's corkscrew. But some are brittle and nearly impossible to cut without shards of hard wax landing on the floor and making a complete mess.

Why would a winery make opening one of its bottles so difficult? Beats me.

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