Sunday, December 20, 2015

“What do you want from me?” – Conversations with an old friend in a wine cellar

Peering into my wine closet, I shut the door behind me. Cool, quiet, removed from the world of traffic, frustration, angst. Just me and my bottles, staring each other down. They, sleeping on their sides, some for decades, some for weeks. I, looking for the right wine for a meal, a gift, an occasion. I pull one out, then another. Maybe that old bottle of Merlot from Napa Valley? Maybe that Meursault? How about a Mosel white? And then I spot an Italian red wine, crouching, hiding, stealthily trying out an air of silence and invisibility. But I saw it and pulled it out. Stood it up and wondered if this was the wine for tonight.

And then the most amazing thing happened. As it stood there it talked to me. And asked me the question, “What do you want from me?” Whereupon we bantered back and forth for what must have been just a few minutes.

Getting over my shock, I replied, “I want to know if you are the right wine for tonight. I have to take one of you to a dinner and I don’t know who will be there. I don’t know what my host is serving and I don’t know if the other guests know anything about wine, or if they do, how they feel about Italian wine.”

I thought I heard the bottle sigh (what else could it have been?). And then there was silence. So I put the wine back in its slot, and proceeded to leave the closet.

As I moved back I heard a ”psst.” So I turned back towards the wines. “What do you want?” I addressed the group. There was a rickety sound, like an old man clearing his throat, one who had trouble breathing because of such a long life and parts were beginning to wear down. “Over here, down, lower, lower, here in the corner.” And then I saw it. It was an old bottle of Montepulciano, from Abruzzo, one I had brought back from a trip many, many years ago. It was meant merely to be a memento from the winery, old friends of mine. I’d had the wine once or twice; it was in the early days of the winery history as they were starting out on a long path of ascending fame and fortune. “What about me?” he asked. “Are you going to let me die here in this dark, dank miserable excuse for a wine cellar?” Feisty bugger, he was. So I bent down, reached over, nearly pulling my back out, and brought him upright and into the light.

Again, I asked him, “What do you want?” And he returned the volley with, “I want to die happily, not here, not next to your precious Bordeaux and Champagne. I want to finish my life in a bright place, with music and voices and light and maybe a fire in the corner and the smell of a roast cooking and a tomato sauce and homemade pasta and liveliness. I have been setting here on my side, in solitary confinement, in silence, so bloody cold, and I want my life to have some meaning. I don’t want to die here. I want to go out making someone happy!”

What could I say? He was right. I’d taken him away from his home and his people. His brothers and sisters were enjoyed under great conditions, with fabulous food made by Maria and Ottavio, with the sounds of the children as they grew up and of course the patron, Dino, his booming voice, his ebullient personality, his unflinching and unquenchable thirst and hunger for food and wine and life. Yes I owed it to this old gentleman of a wine to send him off in a fitting way. And so I said to him, “OK, you want to go out? Let’s go. I’ll take you with me. But understand this is the finale. When your cork is popped, it’s only a matter of minutes. And you had better not be corked!” He answered, “Don’t you worry, my cork is long and firm and nothing got to me. I'm ready. Let’s go!”

And that is how I chose the wine one recent evening.

And the wine? You want to know how it was? Do you?

Let’s just say it was his time. He had a long life. Not all of it was fun and games. But he held up. His cork didn’t fail him. Or us. He went out amidst warmth and light and music and the smell of roast meat and gravy drippings and simmering tomato sauce and happiness, as is meant to be in this season. Pure joy - a most happy ending.

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