Wino confidential: Yellow Tale Complexities

A dame, a bottle and a story.
A dame, a bottle and a story.

Sasha had been with, let’s call him Babar, for five years. Love was a hallucinogen. And Sasha was hiiiiiiigghhhh. Back in the day she’d fly into our dorm rooms with erotic tales that would turn our attention away from General Hospital (back when Robin was with Stone). We were all jealous, as Babar was gorgeous — Jimmy Jean-Louis (from the movie Phat Girls) meets Denzel Washington in Training Day. And the clincher: He was brilliant. A double major in english and geography with plans of writing agricultural textbooks.

They broke up. Sasha went to Howard law school, while Babar’s humanitarian ambitions morphed into Hollywood stardom. He was “discovered” by some independent filmmaker on campus and decided to drop out of school to try his luck as a model/actor. It worked. Babar’s done rather well: speaking roles on Law & Order Special Victims Unit, a couple wet-n-wild scenes in Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and G-Unit videos and a few print editorals in Esquire, Ebony, Vibe and GQ.

Five years later, he calls Sasha from The Delano. Babar was auditioning for a role in a “top secret” John Singleton film and would love to meet her for drinks. I get the call: Should I go? What should I wear? What if he wants to have the drinks in his hotel room? My response: Yes. A simple, black dress. And ABSOLUTELY NOT!

The recap took place at Bin 18 the next evening. She spent the night in Babar’s hotel room. However, I noticed distinct changes in Sasha’s erotic recollections. “He’s wearing tight shirts and talking about Lamborghinis and $3,000 sneakers,” Sasha said. “He’s lost his depth.”

It happens. I can remember when I was a Yellowtail Shiraz groupie. Back in 2002 and 2003, it seemed every dinner party I went to in Brooklyn and Harlem was a Yellowtail advertisement. Who could forget those ubiquitous labels on the sides of buses and on 7-Eleven shelves? Everyone was in love with this funky black juice that didn’t have the rigidity and bitterness of other dry reds. It wasn’t a deep wine. It was a one-night-stand grape jam wine that disrobed quickly on the palate, promised perfect pleasure, but gave you a thirty-second rub off that suddenly vanished from memory.

I admit that I had Yellowtail-phase, but the ever-evolving artist in me needed more than grape jam. A tiny wine boutique opened up walking distance from my Clinton Hill apartment and Katrine, the owner, took the time to suggest non-Yellowtail, Shiraz-style wines: Nebbiolo, Primitivo and French syrah blends that were more subtle and discrete, offering earthy, peppery essence that disrobed slowly behind black cherry and or sweet spiced aromas and flavors. And they were still in the same price range: $10-$15. I was starting to understand when fancy wine folk spoke of a wine’s “depth of complexity.”

Fast forward to Miami, 2005. It was a rainy, dismal Sunday evening and I was working at Cellars Wine & Spirits in Aventura. I couldn’t wait for my shift to be over. The assistant manager, Michael, went to his car and returned with a wet, brown paper bag. He pulled out the bottle, the brown label tearing off its frame like a naughty, little dress. From the moment the cork escaped the bottle, I could smell my mother’s kitchen on Christmas day — black cake right out of the oven. With a smirk on his face, Michael poured the deep, dark purple potion into the glass, the smell of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and raisins awakening every closed pore in my being. We swirled and sipped, swirled and sipped, the juice creeping through my veins like Haitian dancers in a healing ritual.

It was the 1997 Bertani Amarone. A half hour later, there were more aromas and flavors disrobing slowly, hauntingly… it wouldn’t stop. I wasn’t sure if I had poured the wine into the glass or if the wine had poured me into the glass. But I knew then that I would become a grape hunter, never surrendering to the microwave-high of a quick fix red…well, not all the time.

There have been a few deep wines that, like men, have left my senses completely exposed: the 2001 Celler del Roure Maduresa with its voluptuous body, aromas of cherry pie and flavors of black cherry jam, black pepper and fig; the Cain Cuveé NV2 with its aromas of raisin bread and eucalyptus and flavors of Jamaican chocolate tea and spiced bun; the 1997 Chateau Latour (Premier Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac 1st growth) with its aromas of crème brûlée, tiramisu and hazelnut coffee and flavors of roasted red peppers; the 2005 Frontaura Domino de Valdelacasa with its aromas and flavors of dried black cherries and dark chocolate torte sailing through a beautiful, long finish. Then there are wines like the 2004 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir — the nose a cinnamon-spiked raspberry tart. Minutes later you smell anise and cloves and 30 minutes later, steak tartar. Then there’s the 2004 E. Guigal Côte Rôti La Turque that I had in Cognac. It seduced me so good, my notes never made it to the page.

There’s something very sexy about a wine that tempts instead of teases, provokes instead of promises, a wine so deep it takes you off guard and you’re never the same.

The other day I got a call from Sasha: “Turn to truTV,” she hollered. There was Babar doing a male enhancement commercial.

Someone send that man a bottle of Yellowtail.

Published: 9/08