Guest writer H.F. Scott:
I never pretended to be a sommelier. Actually this is not true. There was that one evening back in November of ’87 wherein there was a party at Sir Galvin’s mansion in upstate New York. I was a younger lad then, fresh out of Cambridge with a self-proclaimed affinity and “education” in the art of imbibing. For the love of wine, especially. And feeling rather full of my self and my mind full of prurient matters (being young, it’s nearly a given), I decided to make my way in to Sir Galvin’s yearly ball of the coming “Winter Spell,” as the annual party was so named.
I dressed the part well enough, renting a suit that a monsieur assured me fit the proverbial proper bill: a step above the serving hands, but hardly matching the esteemed swathe of the guests. Upon my arrival I addressed the head chef with the appropriate aplomb in diction, addressing my self “as this evening’s sommelier.” He stood back, quite against himself, informing me that a rather randy fellow by the name of Pierre was already mingling among the guests as head sommelier for the evening. I had to diffuse the situation as quickly as it arose. I conjured a bit of a libelous saga, in that I was actually deemed the head sommelier of the evening and Mr. Pierre, was, “as I say,” I informed him sotto voce, “not quite up to barely cake.” This confused the chef, and I elaborated. “Mr. Pierre made quite the guffaw back at the McKainerie household, where he mistakenly mispronounced Beaujolais, offending the head of the household there. He’s been dropped a level in the sommelier institution.” The chef was not aware of any such ranking in the sommelier culture. I had to correct him, falsely, for the sake of my tale.
In the Galvin cellar was a fine lot of wine; wine’s I’ve only read about in prestigious editorials of high society and magnanimous wealth, something quite out of the league of my graduate class and available expenditures at the time. I had taken the most impressive bottles of the lot, meaning the French bottles ranging the dates of ’54 to ’69. Any wines younger than those dates would have made me look quite the fool, I suspected.
I tell you, the bourgeois were thirsty that night. Wild were their eyes, pleading were their gullets. The madness and lust for drink took care of my ineptitude of passing for any proper sommelier, much to my advantage. This was not a sophisticated party, more of a cradling of all that is spontaneous of the world rather than a sobering communion of the more dignified spirits among us. Before serving each bottle to a mélange of oblong, fleshy arms reaching out for a pour like a suffering man for a swift bullet, I had tried to give my best conjecture about what they were about to drink, about what terrior the wines were cultivated from and what care had been meticulously planned, coordinated, and dealt for each bottle’s parturition. They cared not; for it is said that after the fourth glass of any wine, you could not longer distinguish between them. To wit, that verity was proving true.
Between veering out of sight from the true sommelier, Pierre, and emptying bottle after bottle to the obstreperous bunch of party-goers, I had found time to taste the selections myself. It was hard to tunnel my wits about exactly what I was tasting, but even among the raucous laughter and clatter of high spirits I knew that the wines were quite elevating. You know it when you feel it; it’s something between spirituality and existentialism. Harmony, I had found, could be conceived through a bottle of wine. Perhaps with wine, I was further inclined to suspect, was a key to harmonious convergence of the gods, the earth, the soul and miraculousness of human perception and understanding. Wine may not have been the only passage to this uniquely human insight, but it was assuredly one of them.
The woman attending the party, letting their clothing ripple off loosely as they danced and made merry, may have had a part of this epiphany for me. It’s difficult to say because when a man is lost in the whims of intoxication, whether with chemical substance or of pure life, fact was no longer a truth – except for that President we had in office then; James Earl Carter was a wholly beast of man who should have been ripped navel to pupil. That was a fact. Or was that my father coming out?
Finite moments matter, I suppose.
2010 Altovinum Calatayud Evodia – $14
The usual suspects of a red nose: some cedar notes, oak and spicy plum. The wine itself is big chewy, bold and a dark punch to the tonsils. It’s pleasing in a drive-by-drinking kind of way, pleasing but not complex or intellectually engaging. It’s more Shamu than Flipper. However, it’s a worthy wine.
NV Rex Goliath Shiraz Giant 47 Pound Rooster – $6
A jam fest, not unlike a Dave Matthews concert than, say, a Grateful Dead festival. It takes a good day of aeration for the sweet to march away in shame to let the wine’s backbone to come blinking out of hiding. Far too long to wait for such a wine. Have a decanter close and open it a good deal before whatever it is you have planned for it. Borderline.
2008 Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – $24
Pretty, perfumed nose that entices rather than giving way to any particular redolence. Pepper, lime and tabaco fill the wide structure. Filling with a cherry spice and a elegant linger. Light on tannins, but present nonetheless. A sturdy wine that was interesting, but not something I’d sing praises to; although it’s worthy.
2009 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Block 1970 – $ 40
Nice hints of dark must, heady. Jammy and pale at first, but when decanted the tannins open and express a taut nature. Although the wine never feels who or well integrated. Fairly flabby. It starts off with a promise, only to flounder a while later, much like Heart’s career as it attempted to transition to the zeitgeist of the 1980’s. Pass.