Sunday, August 06, 2017

Reflections on (almost) turning 50 – it’s the little things

Festina Lente
Steadfast upon this sweltering little orb in the universe, moving at 1,000 miles per hour, rotating around a sun at 67,000 miles per hour, in a solar system that is moving at 500,000 miles per hour, and in a galaxy that is barreling at 1.3 million miles per hour, one can't help but wonder what's the big dust-up over turning 50. 50 years is infinitely less in magnitude than a quark or an elementary boson. But it seems significant to humans here on an Earth propelled with an unthinkable velocity from the Big-Bang, billions and billions of years ago.

And so it was, one cool evening in the Pacific Northwest in July, surrounded by towering fir trees and observed by a family of Cooper’s Hawks, that we celebrated the almost 50-year-old’s life and death.

My own personal recall of 50 years ago is stashed inside a memory trove of photos, eight-track tapes, American cars, and driving around the beaches of Orange County in a summer listening to the Doors, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and The Association. All with the backdrop of a war in Vietnam, LBJ in his last days, riots in Detroit, and the Summer of Love in San Francisco. For my part, I’d just gotten my driver’s license, I had a dependable car (1961 Pontiac Tempest), my sister had a place for me to sleep near Newport Beach, and I had a childhood sweetheart who lived in Huntington Beach. I was good to go. Summer of Love it would be for me, the Southern California version.

At the same time, that almost 50-year-old – whose life we celebrated – was but a gleam in someone’s selezione massale, a million light years away in the Langhe. In a place where there were no fast cars, in fact hardly a paved road. But there was Nebbiolo - Michet, Lampia and Rosé.

The wine - 1969 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo. I did not prepare by reading up. But Signore Galloni praised this wine and one can understand his passion for it. You can read his notes here, and you should. I don’t know many people who are as erudite as he is.

My perspective takes a different path. There were many Instagram-worthy tasting experiences, when I first jumped into the wine trade, on an almost daily basis. Now I get them occasionally. And that is just fine with me. I’ve touched the sun, many times.

Rather, something else happened when the ‘69 glided down my gullet that night, seated, among friends, relaxing with a cool breeze and under the watchful hawk’s gaze. And off the clock – not working.

And there is something about that not working business. Tasting wine and trying to ferret out the little elements is often like trying to figure out which direction we are actually moving in space, what with all the different forces pulling on us. And when one tastes a wine, do they not bring their own forces into the experience as well? Is this just something for us to determine – to lay it all out on a grid? Fruit? Earth? Wood? Is that all there is?

Ok, fine if that is your path. But wine takes you somewhere. And this wine took me to a place I hadn't been in a long time..

This is the normal place for a tasting note to appear – sorry to disappoint you (If you came here for that, once again, I refer you to Galloni’s notes – he’s much, much better at that than I will ever wish to be).

Ah, but that night as we journeyed on Spaceship Earth, this wine transmitted. Or rather, it mind-melded. It was a Hubble mirror over the past 50 years. And it was all there, the whole universe, the vines, the beach, the dirt roads, the Southern California freeways, the butterfly in the stomach from the first love, and the fog (of both Newport Beach and the Langhe).

It was a darker wine than some of the other ancient Barolo wines I have had. But not singular in its appearance, for some older wines I have had, have been darker than one would initially suspect. Some enthusiasts venture to speculate that in those days there was Barbera, if not added into the blend, than possibly situated in the vineyards, perhaps ala coltivazione promiscua? 1969 was a light year, wet, not great. Nebbiolo at half a century with a bit of a tan. Those who know better than I, say otherwise - 100% Nebbiolo. Still, I wonder.

The parent hawks, above, veered into the nest, cramming food into the maw of their little ones, which were outgrowing the tree-topped aerie. There would be no Nebbiolo for them with their carne cruda. Unlike their bipedal brothers down below. Some get wine with their meat, some get to fly. Which would you rather have?

I’m sure flying is its own reward, but we mortals have our ways of traversing the dimensions. And this wine sent me soaring through space and time. Jim Morrison was bellowing “break on through,” Dylan was braying, “how does it feel?” and Jimi (local boy makes good) whispered, “Who in your measly little world are trying to prove that .You're made out of gold.” And then along came Mary, with the wind in my face, driving down PCH in my old ’61, with the heady fragrance of my once-upon-a-time first love’s perfume, elusive all these 50 years past, filling the glass.

Yeah, all that in a lone bottle of old Barolo. As country music legend Sonny James crooned all those years ago, “It’s the little things.”

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