House Wine

Groggy from Saturday night’s rosé—Sterling and BV, the Sterling remarkably clean and dry and full all through the mouth, but available only at the winery, and the BV a favorite of my wife’s—I made a cup of jasmine tea and sat down to read. I was looking at the tea—Yin Hao jasmine, from Peet’s—and wondering if I should add milk, when the unusual notion of milk in green tea mingled with the smell of the jasmine and then, poof, right there in my mind was an image of Julie, my first girlfriend out of college. She loved Yin Hao jasmine, and we were standing together outside the original Peet’s Coffee store, in Berkeley, where she was still in college. We had a sweet thing, the two of us—we’re still in touch, both have kids, both happily married—but somehow the nature of our affection was strongly platonic. We plain liked each other, so it’s never been hard to keep caring.

Anyway, from the memory of Yin Hao jasmine at age 21—the tea’s exquisite floral perfume, the soft morning sunshine at the corner of Vine and Walnut, the sense of everything possible, bookstores to browse and mountains to climb and school over and no pressure yet to become anybody in particular—my mind rambled to the sunny little apartment we’d shared, and then it ran to the wine we’d bought in cases. My uncle Jim worked for Trefethen and Schramsburg at the time (he was that cool uncle I wanted to be like), and he’d always brought fantastic wines on the rock-climbing trips we took with my father. The three of us would climb all day, on granite walls in the Sierra high country, and then set up a camp stove at a picnic table and make quesadillas and drink fine red wines out of tin cups and watch the sky turn purple and the alpenglow on the highest peaks, burning a honey-gold color. So when Jim offered to get me his price on some wine, I jumped at the chance. This was in 1989, and I had very little money, and I was a little young to be buying cases of wine, but bottles of Trefethen’s wonderful Eschol blend, a red table wine they no longer make, were about $2.50 a bottle if I bought by the case. Their magnificent Cabernet Sauvignon was about $5 or $10, I can’t remember.

So Julie and I laid in a few cases of Eschol red, and it became our nightly drink. She was interested in cooking professionally, and she had introduced me, on our first date, to roasted bell peppers with goat cheese, eaten with our fingers. This kind of food was far less common back then, and it was downright rare among college students; to me, the flavor and textures were a revelation. Several months after that first date, when we moved in together, we still ate well, and we began drinking well, too. Almost a dozen friends of ours, mostly in couples, lived in other apartments in the same building; we all ate and drank together often, and I recall best of all the profound sleeps I slept in those days, after a big meal and a bottle of red wine, on top of a young man’s day of whatever I was doing. I remember feeling that wine was life, and that that apartment would be perfect for me forever, and that Berkeley’s Rockridge district, with sweet Julie and all my friends, was the best place on Earth.

Perhaps I was right, for that moment in time. But it’s also true that I no longer have any of those friends—well, maybe I have two of them—and that I no longer live there and wouldn’t choose to, and that Julie traded her gourmet impulses for life as a professional herbalist, mixing and selling herbal teas. It’s also true that my father and my uncle and I no longer rock climb together, and that my uncle no longer works for Trefethen, and that Trefethen no longer makes that Eschol blend, which was a terrific deal. But the pleasure of that wine has remained with me, and the pleasure of having a house wine to return to time and again—providing a control sample against which other wines could shine by contrast—and the flavor of that Eschol has never gone away, with its good fruit, firm tannins, and clean oak.

And now that the memory has dispersed and I’m back to my own living room and the Yin Hao jasmine I’ve just brewed, I’m thinking I don’t really want to put milk in it after all. But it’s definitely time to find out what Trefethen is up to now—maybe Schramsburg, too—and to drop Julie a line and ask about her kids.

See more articles
Share this article: