One thing I heartily look forward to every harvest season is the arrival of apple cider at the farmers’ market. Admittedly, I seldom make the trip in the pre-dawn hours my husband does, but almost always there’s a quart of that copper nectar waiting in the fridge on Saturday morning. Even the baby loves it.
As I poured myself the apple, sage, and bourbon concoction I whipped up from what was sitting on my kitchen table—the first official fall cocktail of the season—I thought, “why is this so foreign? What did I do last year?”
Oh. Right. I was pregnant. There were no cocktails. There was a lot of caramel corn and ice cream, but it was a cocktail desert. A [totally appropriate and worth it]pregnancy prohibition.
I don’t have an advice column, partially because I’m pretty ill-equipped to solve other people’s problems, but also because an advice column on people with wine-related personal problems is a bit of a niche market. (That said, if anybody wants to send me wine-and-life related questions, by all means send them to me. I’ll try my darnedest. Email [email protected]) But if I did, my hope would be the questions would look something like this:
I’m trying desperately to impress a girl I’ve just started dating and I accidentally told her I was great at wine. Can you be great at wine? Can I be great at it? How can I pretend to be great at it without doing all the work?
First, who lies about being good at wine? Where did that phrase even come from? Second, yeah, you can fake it, but the easiest way would be to sign up for some sort of Saturday afternoon wine 101 class like this and try not to act surprised when you realize the differences, nuances, and interesting parts of the basic wine world.
The first time I went to Italy, I expected to look at the landscape, the sky, feel the air and smell the earth and feel the clench of my roots in my heart, feel the place take hold of me from the inside out and suspend me in a romantically elevated state of historic euphoria.
We landed in Rome in late March of last year, and it was rainy and cold and I was six weeks pregnant and I was mostly irritated that our final destination of Bari required an additional flight after our first arduous one from New York.
In Bari, we waited for our luggage, picked up our rental car, drove an hour to our destination, and because we were in the south of Italy, got lost until context clues pointed us in the general direction of our quirky destination, an old convent converted into a bed and breakfast by a couple, British ex-patriots, whose passion for the slow, relaxed rhythm of life and the drive to invite others into their weighty worldly experiences via ancient global artifacts displayed essentially everywhere, compelled them to the very limits of the peninsula, the heel of the Boot, Adriatic on one side, Mediterranean on the other.
It was a beautiful place, but it wasn’t at all what I’d imagined. I wasn’t stunned to silence, brought to tears. It was a place that had to live and breathe like any other place does; its people have to work hard, the pace of life is slow. There are long stretches of poorly lit road, there are badly marked streets, there are quiet restaurants in palazzos with a few people milling around. It wasn’t peak tourism season, and I don’t imagine they see too many tourists down in the south like they do in Tuscany, Naples, or Rome. It was a lovely, quiet place.
The trip to southern Italy that cold, rainy April comes alive for me in retrospect. When my husband travels, I am left with our little one and free reign on an entire cellar full of the geekiest dream wines available, but what I find myself wanting, night after night, is something from southern Italy: the soft, red fruited Primitivo. The black fruited, big-bodied Negroamaro. Rich, fruity, minerally whites. Unctuous, fat rosatos. What they lack in prestige they make up for in charm.
The baby, who has learned at last to fall asleep mostly on her own, who only takes a mere nine minutes of tossing to settle in versus her previous two hours of picking up and putting down, is now quiet and the crickets are composing outside. Something died behind the refrigerator in the kitchen, a mouse I think, and I am in no mood to deal with that so I go to the living room to read and write and sip on my glass of Tuscan wine instead. My husband is conducting a Burgundy tasting for some staff up the street and all is quiet for a little while.
The social media updates and posts and nonsense to which my phone constantly alerts me let me know that somebody I used to know well has published opinion articles regarding recent celebrity deaths, democrats, and the tragedy of Ferguson, Missouri. He writes that “#liberalswillruinthiscountry.” He uses his personal site to publicly decry the President, who is by all counts his boss. He is, in short, an unimaginative clanging gong, a loud and presumptive man whose voice is too loud for his intellect and whose opinions reflect not introspective reflection but whoever he hears the clearest, whatever extreme suits his current uniform. I am distressed by his blatancy, by the obviousness of his very existence. It is so crude.
My husband is at a Burgundy tasting. If there is one thing Burgundy isn’t, it’s overt. People who are sworn Pinot Noir drinkers shy away from the stuff; it is often too subtle, too high in acid, too loftily intellectual to drink too warm on a porch or from a stemless glass smeared with greasy fingerprints from the bag of potato chips it accompanies. Chardonnay drinkers expecting a dramatic, lactic, oaky syrup are instead introduced to Burgundy’s whiter side, a streamlined, often mineral-driven wine that may never have seen wood and instead showcases its power not in brawn but in its crystalline persistence.
I’ve been into sharks since before it was cool, and I know because I can vouch for the uncool nature of my compulsive borrowing of the same six books from my elementary school library and the myriad times I watched the Eye Witness video about sharks and rays. Every August, I reach into the recesses of Young Katie’s brain and pull out dusty, elementary, and probably long outdated information about the oldest predator as I settle down in front of the television for seven consecutive nights of shark program after shark program. Thanks, Discovery Channel.
The thing about Shark Week, though, is that you essentially have a limited body of work to draw from. There are two or three fundamentally terrifying stories about psycho sharks, but most of them are basically just about surfers who look like seals and so sharks want to eat them. You spend the first part of the week in abject terror of the dark shadows under the water, then the rest of the time being told that the water is their home, not ours, and we kill thousands of them and we have to respect their dominion. This is why, I’m fairly sure, Discovery Channel seems to enjoy filling the empty hours with dramatic mockumentaries about mysteriously large sharks. I told my mom it was fake last year when Megalodon was “proven” via Shark Week. The disillusioned, shattered look on her face was like a kid hearing Santa was just a myth, but instead of a jolly round present-bearer, she was mourning the loss of a colossal, prehistoric, man-eating machine.
Navigating the complicated world of wine purchasing can be as treacherous as braving open water and there are hundreds and thousands of crafty marketers trying to get you to take a sip. So I’ve lined up some of the craftiest predators on your wine shop shelves and paired them with their toothsome counterparts in a salute to Shark Week.
We are at the beach. It is my best time. It’s a time for arguing over departure times for half an hour before any move is made toward the door. It’s a time for too many cooks in the kitchen, a dozen (or two dozen) people at the table, endless chips and salsa, discussions of gluten allergies, paddleboard surfing, and when the looming storm will dissipate. It’s time for glasses of cold things, beer and interesting cocktails discovered in newspapers and wine constantly opened and served in whatever glasses are available.
Mostly at the beach we drink coffee, and water, and collectively as a massive family unit we seem to strive to invent better, different, and more efficient ways to carry those on and into our person. The water was in bottles first, then frozen bottles, then pouches to reuse. The coffee was in a pot used again and again in the mornings, and I usually arrived just as the first pot had baked long enough to taste more like it came from the corner diner than the boutique coffee shop. As the caffeinators grew in number, the coffee pot was left in the dust of a dozen teenagers and twenty-somethings and grown-ups clattering their empty mugs on the counter every morning, stumbling through a whirr of bleary-eyed muttering and spitting. One of those instant, brew-a-cup machines took its place and though the coffee is mediocre, and the method confounding, it has saved our mornings. The early risers rebounded conversationally to political debate and literary philosophy around the breakfast table.
The first summer I worked at the wine shop, I decided I was in charge of providing libations to the masses at the Jersey Shore for our annual gathering of Callahans. I recall selecting bottles, a case, each one something both functional and interesting to talk about. Vinho Verde, for sure, some tasty Italian reds I was drinking plenty of myself, some inexpensive and not-Chardonnay whites for my ABC Aunt (that is, Anything But Chardonnay). I remember an afternoon with that aunt the previous year, nibbling nuts and cheese on the porch with a glass of cold Pinot Grigio thinking, “Is it five o’clock? Can I do this?” I wondered if, in fact, this was my destiny. This is GREAT, I thought.
The following summer I pulled up to the beach house with five cases of wine in my car. Callahans don’t play.
As a food and wine enthusiast, I live a pretty charmed life: I worked in an environment where both food and wine were celebrated and encouraged as part of my daily lifestyle and were presented at fractions of their normal cost, was surrounded by people who shared my particular shade of geek, married the best guy who happened to also have a deep cellar and be a stellar cook. I can’t ask for more and often find on any average weeknight wine in my glass that I would have previously hemmed and hawed over purchasing (let alone opening) for weeks. But often, all I want is a glass of something just good, tasty and not expensive or pretentious, something I used to love and am always happy to see.
Viña Alberdi Rioja 2005
I spotted a bottle of this in our sink (aside: we have an old tub sink in the basement of our house that serves as the catch-all for great wine for every day drinking, not expensive and not for aging necessarily) a few weeks ago and last night, after a day of the baby refusing to nap, refusing to be left alone, refusing to be held, and flexing her new screaming muscles, I decided it was a good night for a not fussy wine and not fussy food. Husband whisked in with to-go boxes and what may be the last bottle of the Alberdi appeared.
Right now my daughter is grasping at everything just above her head, her tiny fingers gripping ledges and seat cushions as she weighs their accessibility against the ever-evolving strength of her legs. It is an evolution, too—she’s becoming another thing all together, once just a coil of new arms and belly and toes and head and now unfurling in this glorious, cacophonous tiny beast. She’s leaning into her first everything. She wants to taste the world, and it’s summer, so the world is waiting to be tasted.