The moment of wine choice is always an interesting one, when you’re down in your cellar, or just opening your closet, or even browsing a wine shop, and trying to pick the right bottle for the night ahead.
It can be a very complex algorithm, crunching such vagaries as the potential food and the message you want to send and the feelings you have about your company, and there’s a certain pleasure in feeling that computation unfold. Tonight, that moment came in my own basement, where I have my small stash arrayed on a few metal shelves. My old friend Martin was coming over, crossing the Bay Bridge with his two daughters; his wife had flown to Paris for the weekend (!!!), he was on his own, and he liked the thought of letting his girls run wild with mine for a few hours.
He could’ve come just for the friendship, of course: We met in college, traveled in Europe during our junior year, and lived together during our senior year. After graduation, when he moved to my hometown of Berkeley, to get a PhD, he came to dinner at my mother’s great round dinner table, met a childhood friend of my sister’s, fell in love, married her, had two kids with her, left academia for the auction business, and then watched his wife run off to Paris for the weekend. A lot of water under the bridge, in other words, and yet it was the simple lure of our girls playing that drew him out. I knew this, and I wanted him to know I was glad he’d come. Standing under the low ceiling of my basement, where the temperature is always in the mid-60s, I wanted also to seize the pleasure of his company. He’s a man who knows how to drink, and how to have fun, and he was therefore precisely the guy for my bottle of Gobillard NV Champagne.
Upstairs, in the kitchen, I put the bottle in the fridge and asked for Martin’s help in cooking dinner: slicing chanterelles to roast and then toss with a shallot-Cognac sauce; stuffing tomatoes with parsley, garlic, and breadcrumbs, to bake; toasting walnuts for a simple salad with pear and Humboldt Fog goat cheese; simmering some farro. Martin has an easygoing intelligence, and a very warm, mellow presence, all of which made him an immensely appealing friend for me in college. And in this way, he hasn’t changed a bit; if anything, he has only become more himself, more his best self. And so the Champagne, when I asked him to open it, felt like not just a great wine to share with a friend but an unspoken toast to just how long we’ve known each other. And what a toast! How I love this wine! From the first deep draft—because that’s how I drink Champagne—I felt lifted up out of myself and toward the cool dusk. I felt all those soft, fine bubbles carrying tension out of my lungs and blood and putting a smile on my face, and I felt my palate lighting up with relief at the plush balance of flavors. In no time, we were pouring our second glasses and slicing some pork terrine made by a friend, and when the bottle came up empty at last, I was thrilled. Thrilled because it made me happy to have drunk an entire bottle of divine Champagne with such an old, old friend.