Wednesday, November 14, 2012

You Cannot Predict Baseball

In early spring of 2006, my wife at the time (we are now divorced) got me a lovely gift for our first anniversary, a leather-bound journal. The idea was that we would both write in it, describing the wines we drank together and the circumstances in which we enjoyed them. I hadn't yet begun writing this blog - that happened in October of 2006. 

I stumbled upon this leather journal the other day while rummaging around in the closet. There are fewer than 10 entries in it, the book is mostly empty. But the wines are interesting: 2001 Clos Rougeard Les Poyeux, 2002 Breton Bourgueil Perrieres, 2004 Closel Savennieres Clos du Papillon, 2001 Lafarge Volnay, 2004 Baudry Clos Guillot, some Oregon wines. We were drinking good stuff. There is one entry in there about a wine that is different from the others, something older, something we drank on a special occasion.

I remember that I wanted to buy a special wine for our first wedding anniversary dinner. I went into Chambers Street Wines and spoke with David Lillie. After some discussion, I emerged with a bottle of 1986 Chateau Sociando Mallet. I spent something like $80 on the bottle, way more than I had ever before spent on a bottle of wine. David cautioned me to stand the bottle up 3 days or so before opening it, to open it carefully so as not to disturb the sediment, and to decant the bottle if I could. I followed David's advice and we loved the wine with our dinner. I'm not going to reproduce my part of our journal entry on this wine, but here is the first thing I wrote: "This is beautiful wine. I understand now why Bordeaux is so beloved."

Look at that last sentence. I love how exuberant I was, how eager to experience this new pleasure. I can't say that I remember the wine but I'm sure it was very good. Sociando Mallet is a respected estate making high quality wine, but it's not considered to be one of the great wines of Bordeaux. No matter, I didn't understand that then and I was falling in love with wine, details like that would not have reduced my visceral pleasure anyway.

A lot has happened since then. I have two wonderful children, but I am no longer married. I work at a different job and I live in a different place. Many of my friends are different. I have grayer hair, and depending on your eyesight and on the relative humidity of the day, 10 or 15 pounds that I should lose. I have a different set of worries and problems that I deal with on a daily basis, and also a different set of joys. It's a strange road, this life we lead, and as John Sterling, the stalwart radio voice of the New York Yankees likes to say, "You can look at all the statistics you want, and they tell you what this guy did in that situation a thousand times in the past, but they don't tell you what's going to happen right now. You cannot predict baseball."

Holiday season is approaching, the end of the year draws near, and I was thinking the other day about some of the great wines I drank this year. Gentaz Côte-Rôtie, early '80s DRC Grands-Echezeaux, late '80s and early '90s Montrachet, Coliseo, the grand old Amontillado by Valdespino, and more. And that's just the fancy stuff - there were so many more great wines that are easier to locate, and easier on the wallet.

I loved drinking many of these wines and the experiences that came with them, but it was only a few days ago when I drank the wine that made me fall in love with wine again. I was at a good friend's house and he made a lovely dinner that included a beautiful butterflied leg of lamb, pungently seasoned with ground black olives, fennel seeds, dried chili flakes, and all sorts of other goodies. With this dish he generously opened a bottle of 1985 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, a grand wine, from a very good year, and a classic pairing - lamb and Bordeaux. Exciting!

The wine was awesome, really. It took about an hour to flesh out, but it was SO good when it did. The thing that killed me about this wine was how absolutely clearly it spoke of the place it is from, and how it expressed itself with such profound finesse, and also how completely and purely delicious it was. The fruit was lush and ripe, and it was textbook dark cassis. Not sweet fruit, dry. And the minerals - all pencil lead and gravel and dried tobacco. And there was that cedar smell too that people speak of when they talk about Bordeaux. I felt while I was drinking this wine how different it is to drink Cabernet - I almost never drink it. Honestly, it felt like close to a perfect wine, and I fell in love with wine again.

Not that I had stopped loving wine, but it had been a while since something really moved me. I drank things I enjoy, tried some new things, definitely experienced pleasure. But it had been a while since I felt truly moved, and I had kind of drifted into this complacency, this place of moderately lower expectations. What a wonderful way to be shocked, to wake up and remember with full appreciation what it feels like to be moved again.

It reminds me that I value being open to this sort of pleasure, from wherever it may come. Some people can get lost as they try to stay current on the wines that they should be loving. I will never do that, lucky for me. As I get excited about Champagne or Sherry or Austrian Riesling, or whatever it is I learn about and have new experiences with, I will never be closed to something as elemental and viscerally thrilling as a plate of well-prepared lamb and a grand old bottle of claret. Stodgy? Who cares. You never know where you will find the thing that makes you fall in love again. You cannot predict baseball.


Tom D said...

Frequent reader, but usually don't comment. I look forward and enjoy your blog, but this was especially well written. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Frequent reader; often commentator. I held my breath on this one, BG, worrying almost to the end that you were winding around to explaining that this was your final entry (don't know why I thought that, but by the theory of ring composition one ends where one starts: which is often in Bordeaux I guess). I agree with Tom: beautiful reflections.

I've been thinking lately about all that California cult wines people have been selling off and wondering whether someday it will return to fashion, even among geeks, sort of like bell-bottom pants or other embarrassingly sentimental echoes of times past. Wouldn't it be ironic if people want to buy back all that wine they (we!) had dumped?

umesh said...

valuable post and very well written.Thanks for posting .

Anonymous said...

Great post. Thanks for your honesty about becoming jaded about wine. It's really inspiring falling in love with anything again. So much of wine writing focuses on all the technical aspects that only tasting scholars and critics find important. You did a wonderful job reminding that wine is primarily a sensual experience.

Sean said...

Wonderful post, BG.

I wonder, though--what in particular do you think accounts for that drift from a sense of enthusiasm? Clearly, wine's a thing you love deeply & thoughtfully--not for the fetishism, but for the experience, for the sense of place it connotes & the place it owns at the table. I wonder about this because while I've never spent as much time articulating my passion for wine--nor have I had the range of experiences you've had over these past few years--I still find myself capable of that astonishment. That "visceral thrill," to use your words.

Do you think it's a result of spending so much time analyzing, categorizing, etc. or is it more personal than that? If so, don't feel compelled to answer. You're just so forthright in your postings (& it's one of the reasons we love to read your words) that I thought it ok to inquire.

Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka said...

Thanks for this. It's bolstering too to feel your enthusiasm for the wine in this particular post--to know that is from you (and thus reflects something of how you are feeling), and that it is an appreciation shared by those in love with wine.

There are write ups you do (as with anyone) that read as more of an intellectual reflection on something you've investigated recently. I like that sort of writing. This one reads as arising from the moment of the wine itself, whatever it may be. The experiential feel of that is something I appreciate.

Cheers to you this holiday season!

Salil said...

Beautifully written. It's one of the things I love most about wine - exploring new trends and producers, then returning to something you've really enjoyed in the past but not recently, and suddenly being hooked again.

And old, mature Bordeaux can be something really special. We should drink some soon.

Anonymous said...

Wow wine; wow post.

Do Bianchi said...

There is a wonderful arc to this post, a truly great one, Brooklyn Guy... It's almost more of an allegory than it is a piece about wine...

You are my Aesop, man... I love your blog...