Context Is Everything

As ever, the notion of context is vital: wine in the key of life. In other words, wine not in the abstract, not tasted as an isolated sensory experience, but in the flux and flow of mania, anxiety, hunger, exhaustion, elation; wine as the drink we’re enjoying these days, with enough delight and variety and surprise to become more than a cocktail and a kind of parallel journey to the journey of life; always, if we’re attentive, some new element appearing alongside the newness inevitable in life. To wit, my moment with Fess Parker Santa Barbara White Riesling (as opposed to what … red Riesling?).

I’d opened it when I opened a string of huge, powerful Fess Parker Syrahs—like the Fess Pinots, the Syrahs are knock-your-socks-off flavor bombs with a truly striking elegance and balance. And yet … white Riesling? Clean, forward fruit, enough acid for brightness, but still a viscous verging-on-sweet presentation you’d almost bet on from Fess’s terroir.

Perhaps this has happened to you: A bottle gets opened but hardly started, you have a glass a night later, another a night after that.

You get sidetracked, but you’ve put enough argon gas in there to keep it reasonably fresh for a few days more. And then, when you’ve almost forgotten about the bottle, you’re casting around for a pairing with some unexpected food and it strikes you that, hey, that orphaned bottle in the back of the fridge might be just the thing. Well, it happened this way for me, on a somewhat crazed day that began with Tino and Nico, the two Chiapanecos now working with me on the DIY home spruce-up, walking in the front door feeling troubled. Apparently it had to do with Antonio, the younger brother who had to leave my employment a few months ago when his wife died unexpectedly back home in Chiapas. Drunk and distraught, he spent his hard-earned dollars on a plane ticket and headed back to the pueblo. Well now, all this time later, it seemed that his troubles hadn’t ceased. Tino told me that their mother was deeply upset and worried about Antonio. Maybe there was even more drinking.

So we all talked for a while in the morning, then got to working hard. And at the end of the day, in a swirl of sawdust and tools to put away, I offered them a drink, as I always do—in this case, a shot of Oronoco Brazilian rum, with its smooth, caramellike flavor. And then they walked on home with the remnants of the pizza we’d shared for lunch, and a few moments later my wife, L, walked in the door with our frantic, hungry little girls. Moments after that, the doorbell rang and a deliveryman handed over the Thai food L had ordered.

Sound promising yet?

Of course not, because nothing speaks better of how discombobulated I feel these days than the fact that I’m eating takeout so much.

I hate eating takeout all the time. Especially when it’s of the type that goes so badly with wine. And yet … L wanted a glass of white wine. Indiscriminate impulse, this; she thinks not a lick about pairings, just wants to be allowed to drink whatever she’s in the mood for and not waste undue thought on the subject. And that’s how the only open white got dragged out—the “not red” Riesling. And that’s also how I discovered that the slightly sweet viscosity of a Riesling can be a strikingly good match for that otherwise wine-hostile cuisine known as Thai food. Especially with the green curried beef: sensational!

See more articles
Share this article: