Letter to a friend

October 13, 2013 § 12 Comments

I know we’ve never met, but that’s the beauty of Al Gore’s Internet. I feel like I know you from our correspondence, from your guest post on the blog about bike racing in Belgium in the 70’s, and of course from your wine.

I don’t really drink wine.

I used to, though.

Except for a handful of occasions that I’ll carry in memory as long as I have memory, wine was always above my pay grade. It tasted fine enough, and dog knows I drained my share of bottles, but wine always escaped me. There were a few times in Miami, Texas, when I sat around an old wooden table with my friends the Philpotts and drank wine out of a box. Then, when it was just the wine and the friends and conversation, I could fasten onto the wine properly, get both hands around its neck, so to speak.

Mostly, when friends would stand around and enjoy and discuss and grapple with their wine, I’d just feel like the clod I am.

“Where,” I always wondered, hopelessly, “is the beer?”

Those are some mighty thought-provoking books

The last time you mailed me a couple of bottles of your wine, they came shipped to my office as books. I took them to a party and my friends who are good wine wrestlers and who pronounced them “really good.” I thought they were really good, too, but couldn’t get much of a chokehold on them. Someone had brought beer, which I’d already gotten into, and your wine didn’t mix all that great with my beer. The minute I tried to put it in a half-Nelson, it flipped me on my back and pinned me pretty easy, then escaped.


The handful of times I’d wrangled wine and been the pinner instead of the pinnee it had been in France or up in the Panhandle. In France it had been around a big family table with my wife’s friends. The wine wasn’t a focus, it was a foundation, like the foundation to every great building. You might have thought about it a little, but mostly it tied together what you were eating and what you were saying. Nobody talked about it. Everybody knew it was there.

So when you sent me a couple of bottles of your private reserve Syrah last week, I was grateful and I had a plan. I wasn’t going to drink it anywhere but home. And even though I don’t know what a “private reserve” or even a “Syrah” was (I assumed it wan’t a “sirrah,” but wasn’t sure), I knew this: we’d drink it on our terms.

The nose knows

My wife’s nose is beautifully sensitive. Mine isn’t. She gets shades and undertones and riffs and syncopations of smells. I can basically tell “portapotty” or “not portapotty.”

One of my favorite dishes is her spicy minced Thai chicken with white Japanese rice. It’s great beer food, and probably not listed anywhere as “Goes great with Yellow Dog private reserve Syrah.”

Since we only have one wine glass, a bowl-thing with no stem, we had to share. We got it as a gift, like the wine you sent us. There’s something romantic about drinking from the single wine cup in your cupboard with your single love.  We drained most of the first bottle. It was truly beautiful. Yasuko had many discerning comments to make about the wine’s flavor and about how good it was. I can’t share them because I don’t remember them, only I’m pretty sure none of them were wine bottle label adjectives. Never seen “I love you” on the back of a wine bottle.

All I can say is that it washed down the dinner with a confidence and finality that made the meal a thing it couldn’t have ever otherwise been, or imagined being. And of course I thought of you and your wife, strangers but not, actually, with every single sip.

 That strangerness made it even better, faraway and intimate at the same time. One wine cup, one lovely bottle of wine, and my imaginary friends who are three-dimensional and real. Maybe the Wine Spectator wouldn’t have paired it with spicy Thai chicken. But by meal’s end, I had the damned bottle in a headlock, prostrate on the floor, too tied up to even wriggle.

Thanks, Dean.

Your stranger pal,Seth

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