The ultimate direction of this thread—this thread in my writing, my thinking, my sorting out the currents in my life through the prism of wine—is a fleeting moment on a family vacation. My brother-in-law, with whom there’s been awful friction in the past (I never actually hit him, thank heavens, because I haven’t hit anybody since I kicked Nick Hall’s freaking butt in the eighth grade, and because that would’ve been a catastrophe of my own stupid making), had already put out a gorgeous meal of fresh salmon and good California wines, and now it was my turn to reciprocate, to push our hatchet even further into its grave. But first, a digression on the wines at stake, to better explain the way the night went. I’ve mentioned this quixotic little wine mission before, to the Kermit Lynch wine store—I told his salesman to fix me up with three bottles that Kermit would consider the essence of winemaking done right (but without bankrupting me). To repeat, here are the four bottles I brought home:
The point of this exercise, before it got tangled up with my desire to make a nice gesture to my brother-in-law, in front of his and my wife’s generous, forbearing parents, was simply to taste for myself the sense behind Kermit Lynch’s rants, in his book Adventures on the Wine Route, about the evils of modern winemaking technology. And so, to push this tale a hair further toward its denouement, I’ll offer a little more about each wine (taken mostly from Jancis Robinson’s The Oxford Companion to Wine):
Pic Saint Loup is a named cru in the Languedoc region, in southern France, and the wine has to be at least 90 percent composed of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, which sounds to me like one hell of a strong brew. The bottle of Bourgogne, of course, is kind of like designating a Pinot Noir as being from the Napa Valley—it’s the broadest possible Bourgogne appellation d’origine contrôlée. The Corse Calvi comes from the island of Corsica, near the French city of Nice, and it’s a sort of half French, half Italian place. Chinon is a classy AOC near the fancy old bourgeois city of Tours, where they claim to speak the very purest of French, and the winery’s namesake, Charles Joguet, appears to have spoken a very Kermit Lynch language (from the website: “One should not mask the nature of the various terroirs by blending their juices, but instead enhance them through separate vinification”).
And, lastly, the way these wines bounced around with me, awaiting the right moment: in the car as I crossed California, driving up to Tahoe for this in-law get-together; air conditioning so cranked the kids were shivering, all because I didn’t want to ruin the wine; condemned to the bottom of the Tahoe rental condo’s refrigerator for two days, because that seemed better than leaving them out in the 80-degree weather; and finally, causing me a silly amount of handwringing as I awaited the right mood, the right moment to open all these precious bottles and taste them together. Why so precious? Because the project spoke to me so powerfully: As wry as I might be about Kermit’s rants and the rest, I am, at some level, an uncritical native son, feeling that while the elders of my hometown (Berkeley) went about learning and defining the great pleasures of the well-lived life, I was picking my nose and riding my skateboard and chasing girls. And now I want in. I want to understand what Kermit understands. I want to taste wines that taste of place and earth and authenticity. And I want it all to work in some indefinable way. I want these wines to begin some new phase in my wine journey. And that is why, when I began cooking that fateful final meal, the one with which I hoped forever to seal this new peace pact between my brother-in-law and myself, I was already in trouble. (To be continued …)