2009 Wines Before You Die

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

His legs were severed from the hip down. And he lost both his arms. His eye lids melted, and so did his ears and most of his nose. But he was alive. His name was Duncan, and that’s the way he returned home to his mother in Ohio, having sustained these injuries in the Iraq war.

As I listened to the 88.9 radio host describe Duncan’s last moments, I started to reflect on 2009. I thought about Duncan. I wonder how old he was? Did he know what it was like to sing Tom & Jerry ‘s infamous “Is you is or is you ain’t my babe?” while a 2007 Chateau Lermitage Nimes roles around your palate like black cherry chocolate cookies dipped in edible cashmere?

One evening while I was flipping through channels – one murder here, another murder there – I ran into that consummate Tom & Jerry episode, and it was such a sweet escape from the madness of 2009. Is Michael Jackson really dead, ya’ll? I dare say I know every lyric to every song on that Thriller album. And while as a little girl, I used to pretend I was Jaclyn Smith, so I still get goosebumps thinking about how cancer ravaged Farrah. In some corny way, it was like the death of an imagination indigenous to that time – magic white gloves and bully-chasing women with feathery, flipped hair. 

And then there are those “reality” stories (gulp) that made your soul curl. Paul Michael Merhige? He’s the Jupiter, Florida, dude who shot Jim Sitton’s daughter (Sitton is a cameraman for WPTV-News). Merhige also shot and killed Sitton’s mother-in-law, Raymonde Joseph, and her twin cousins, Carla Merhige and Lisa Knight, on Thanksgiving Day. Mesac Damas? He’s the Naples, Florida, dude who cut the throats of his wife and five children. And the lay-offs. And the foreclosures. And the divorces. And the homeless dude who jumped in front of my car early today, his sanity unfurling in a wild-eyed stare that said, “Yeah, kill me, Bitch.”

 I have to be honest with all of you. It was hard to write this blog. I knew it wasn’t going to be witty or funny, but my heart grieves for those who have lost so much so cruelly, so unfathomably. And for those pushing through the economic Pandemonium, hell yeah, I feel it, too. And, so a glass (or two) of wine has taken on a whole new meaning. I find myself submitting to the moment more than ever before. I swirl more. I smell more. I sip more. Those winemakers mean more to me than ever before. Their daunting labor of love has often been my healing grace. And despite the truculent flavor of this blog, I’ve had some damn good wine moments this year. 

Among them, the bottle of 2006 Vision Cellars Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir I had for my birthday. I can still taste the cinnamon at the finish and just loved how the body sat on my tongue like a naked booty. My sexy, gynecologist-homegirl Marion even came down to hang out in South Beach, still in her scrubs, eight-month baby protruding from her tiny frame. She didn’t have to do that, but she did. My cool-ass Uncle Tee came down for Thanksgiving (having left his vibrant, 20-something-year-old, Russian fiance in Naples) and hooked me up with a few bottles. Among them was a bottle of 2005 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay. This was a toothsome wine. The aromas of apple crisp and papaya danced with Madagascar vanilla cream flavors that metamorphosed into an unexpected jalapeno finish. Wow. I had it with a slice of my cousin Bee’s incredible Jamaican black cake that tastes like a well-made Amarone.

Also, hands down, the best dining experience I had in 2009 was the Stags Leap Wine Cellars Dinner at Meat Market (This is a comma chameleon moment, ya’ll. Stags Leap is not be confused with Stag’s Leap. They had me fooled, too). Executive Chef Sean Brasel was behind the mic, and he rocked it. The roulade of baby frissee, nectarine vinaigrette, dehydrated goat cheese crumbles and candied walnuts was a work of art – the flavors, thoughtful, and the presentation, Art Basel-worthy. Never thought I’d like wood grilled ostrich lion.  And the Asian-style braised Kobe shorts ribs on top of brioche toast, red wine caviar and Asian ginger red wine demi-glace was lick-the-bowl delicious. The wine was okay, but the company was hilarious- Brian and his Shakespearean monologue about a one-night-stand-Hooters-super-sperm-moment that led to the birth of three sons and a marriage is contemporary love personified.

Then there was the delicious, $10, Argentinean viognier I sipped from a plastic cup with an old boyfriend on Fulton Avenue one rainy, Brooklyn, summer day. We were like wine outlaws as the NYPD kept circling around the block, the wine hidden in a crushed paper bag along with old feelings that won’t seem to go away.

But, one of the toppers of the year was receiving a copy of “1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die.” The literary aspect of wine is equally as intriguing as the taste, the smell and the high, and as I read through every description and gaze longingly at the vineyards and castles, I am transported to places like Piedmont and Champagne. I mark the pages with wines I dream of tasting. And I will. I am reminded of why we must be sedulous. I am reminded of why we must be grateful until it aches. Even if it’s that bad, it isn’t. If you’re reading this, I can tell you, you’re doing better than many.

So pray, love, eat and, damnit, sip on.