Discussion → Liquid Assets

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    Jack Nelson
    Dec 08, 07:07pm

    We bought our 2nd house, the real one -- the one where we’d like to have spent the rest of our lives if it weren’t for the implosion of the Midwest -- in the spring of 2006. I wanted to mark the occasion with an important wine, so I sought out one of the dealers I frequent for indulgences in the grape. The Master Sommelier and I bantered about some Northern Rhones before he led me into a temperature-controlled room full of overpriced goodies where a wine harlot’s purse knows no bounds. “It’s from d’Ampuis,” William said as he cradled the 2001 Chateau d’Ampuis in the baby pose and turned the label for my admiration. “I brought back a six pack myself . . . from the property.“ I didn’t have to believe him. A sip of this Cote Rotie is akin to geographic time travel: there on the Roasted Slope amidst lavender, rosemary, cassis and, yes, the underbrush of syrah dating back to the 12th Century -- he had me at “d’Ampuis.”

    Summer turned into fall with the appearance of school busses, new clothes and football, but it was clear that selling our 1st home and paying off the bridge loan was just lightening the debt load on this economic raft Medusa bearing unlucky souls down the Detroit River. In 1816, shipwrecked survivors off the coast of Mauritania ate each other to stay alive, and Gericault used morgue stiffs as models for the painting so titled. We’re not quite cannibalizing each other in Grosse Pointe, but I wasn’t about to uncork the d’Ampuis for fear that it might trigger a lay off or an accident – some unwanted demonstration from fate that these were not propitious times, not celebratory, not to be trifled with. “It’s never too soon to be felled by the fickle balls of fate” the helmsman on the 40 foot sloop I crew on likes to say, so it sits in the cellar like an affair passed over. She’s asking, and I’m forever begging off.

    Further tempering my interest in uncorking this classic Cote Rotie is an object lesson I received about Old World wines from a French Cinematographer at a dinner in Santa Barbara. His oblique instruction was to wait, just wait until you’ve nearly forgotten about it, then do it. It had the whiff of rebuke, but it’s in keeping with the French habit of giving advice with veiled insults. Plates hadn’t been cleared, most of the clientele had gone, and we filled out the place with satiated chortles and table thumps. I ordered an August Clappe Cornas to bowl us home. Turning up his lip as if he had been kicked in the palate, he sniffed his Gallic pronouncement “it is . . . a canon.” Adolescent Cornas can be impertinent: four years wasn’t enough to subdue the tannins and spices in this herbaceous syrah for Pascal, but it was for me. I was adrift again on the wine dark sea bearing the purple stained grimace of a gob-smacked philistine – veni, vidi, bibi.

    My wife and I married on St. Johns at Caneel Bay in the Spring of 2004. Opting to elope without friends or family, I secretly recorded her parents giving us their blessings. Her mother, a devout Catholic, offered some wistful bon mots befitting a non-denominational ceremony somewhere near 18 degrees N. latitude and 65 degrees W. longitude. Her father invoked the affliction of his ancestors from County Cork and recited the Irish Blessing as if a dram depended on it. After adjusting to island time, we’d got dressed up and rode in a golf cart to a ‘Big Screen’ set piece peninsula jutting into the Caribbean. The trade winds puffed through the straits, and the sea looked photo-retouched. I played a song on a borrowed guitar that I wrote during the welter of new love; I called it ‘our song.’ Orpheus himself plucked just such notes after she disappeared back down the hole . . . and when your lover is married, there’s no lack of disappearance.

    The native holding a boom box as Reverend Viggernauth addressed us may have sparked her attention. One of the photos shows her looking quizzically off camera at a ‘man smiling with a radio.’ Following her mom’s bitter sweet missive, the Irish Cop’s voice swelled out of the small speakers “May the road always rise to meet you, may the wind always be at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, etc.’ She cried. He burned her clothes in the alley when she was 18 because, he felt, she put on the airs of a slut with too much ease. His fix was to prevent her from putting on anything on at all. Detroit circa 1975: the riots were in the rear view, affirmative action was in full effect and the Counter-Culture movement had shaken the established order in myriad ways. Parental wisdom makes me grateful for those ‘fickle balls of fate’ -- at least there’s the possibility of an upside. The law is just a crock from the get go. Upon our return, my boss presented us with a bottle of Chateau La Gaffeliere. “If you can wait 10 years, it’ll get even better.” The wrapper is off the bride -- the wine, still gestating.

    Cognoscenti are divided on the quality coming from this patch in St. Emilion, but they’re misled. It’s a Dererencourt wine. He lives in and about the vineyards he consults with like a painter with his muse. An ‘artist’s wine’ may be unpredictable, but it’s a true expression of terrior. In 2014, if the world hasn’t ended, we might be fortunate enough to be living out of a shopping cart heading south with our worldly possessions like the eschatological pair in Wes Anderson’s (unmade) cinema version of Cormack McCarthy’s The Road. I’ll fish this vitiating beauty out of the hopper, and we’ll celebrate our anniversary. I may even daub a bit of sediment on my cheeks as battle paint and reminisce about having just won a duel with her ex-husband al a Quixote. The victory will have been by default and without an opponent . . . (bathos being a Wes Anderson staple). Alas, the lady fell for a younger man. Her first marriage ended in divorce. All three of us in some way bear the mark of an affair of the heart: the cuckold’s -- broken; ours -- bound in transgression and solidarity. La Gaffeliere comes from gaffet, the leper, and there we would be reminiscing about our wedding with a wine that comes from a 17th Century leper colony in a post-apocalyptic wasteland – “to the lepers!” I’ll fashion wedding bands out of the foil wrapper apropos of our 10th Anniversary, God willing.

    The housing market was bouncing on ether in the spring of 2007, and I fell for a wine according to the point system. It helps sell juice to those who don’t know better, and it turns producers into point schemers -- like credit ratings agencies hand out AAA bond ratings on companies with cooked up P/L sheets. Can Parker be bought? Not as easily as a Senator because other people taste it too. Legislation comes to the floor pre-masticated by lobbyists and partially digested by the media – it’s political superfood. Nobody knows what it is, but it helps get incumbents re-elected. Mr. Parker is like a Fed Super-regulator; a lodestar in the ‘oneosphere’ who launches globally successful wines with a few words and a score. He creates markets. Enter Ben Galetzner’s Amon Ra. His ’03 Barossa Valley Shiraz is a 100-point wine according to Parker. Being a sucker for (and of) Elderton Command, I shelled it out and laid it down. The diluvial salts that are a part of Barossa’s ancient flood plane linger on the palate like dreams of amphibious dinosaurs and Aboriginal chants. With a New World trophy wine amidst the spiders and mineral deposits in my basement, I pondered how it might compare to the Command when I found myself in Los Angeles later that month at the Pacific Dining Car.

    The restaurant, like my screenwriter friend’s booze hole, is open 24 hours a day. At 2AM, the atmosphere is at once funereal and carnival: crushed money and wood, wall-to-wall green carpet, textured wallpaper, gold lamp fixtures, hushed mores, odd perfume and crepuscular lighting. It was a railway dining car early in the 20th Century. They have since expanded, removed the tracks and taken the wheels off the coach . . . which is what I should have done with my rental car that night. Exercising with couple pucks of bread, I realized that the wait staff had to be sleepwalking because I was. Amidst the patter of expiated party voices I wondered, ‘what am I doing here? with him . . . he owes me money.’ Indeed, the screenwriting trade is a network of twelve step recidivists: desperate, hungry, dismissive, wanton, needy . . . they’re scum -- vile scum if you happen to have befriended one of them. In spite of being gamed by Albert, or perhaps because of it, mine eye came to a full stop at Amon Ra on the Reserve List. “Yes please, we’ll have this,” I said considering my own satisfaction worth the amortization.
    The gentleman prepared a taste, and I noticed a Nelly wannabe and a Trent Reznor look alike – he was a she, no matter. It was too late, too much already and this, too fine for our conspicuous consumption. I steadied my wits and prepared to assess: less florid than the Command . . . more classic tannins but with less (nay different?) character . . . dense, spring taught with plenty of distance on the fruit’s heavy weighty bounce, graceful . . . a kangaroo boxing in a tuxedo. It was seriously delicious with an emphasis on seriousness.

    Elderton Command amplifies Barossa’s terroir while Amon Ra carries it like a pocket square, and for this we can thank the Wine Consultant, Michel Rolland, who quite inadvertently promotes a convergence in the taste of wines such that another aspect of 21st Century life is mindlessly enjoyable. Gone are the days when one apprenticed to the Brotherhood of the Grape in Methuselah bottles from around the globe. There’s an archetype for world-class wine irrespective of origin . . . some might say in spite of terroir. To my mind, it’s comparable to giving Oscars to reality stars. They’re a bit much like us – forgettable.

    Relativism is as prevalent in wine as it is in philosophy, and I cannot discuss tannins without harkening back to a singular experience along the wine route (thank you, Kermit Lynch) that represents the imprateur of tannic structure. At Café Stella in Los Angeles, the same bibulous screenwriter and I enjoyed a bottle of Haut Brion. The best French Architects must work amongst the trellises because this wine changed the orientation of the bones in my face. My tongue was ashamed to be in my mouth for words have no place between sensation and this liquid. It’s not about ‘bigness’ per se -- it’s about balance and resonance. There’s the degree of grip: bare skin against strop leather, imperious, gland stimulating, but this is no whore wine that comes on strong and slinks away. A ringing tone sustains over a period that turns the tintinnabulation of a bustling restaurant into an anesthetized din. Fragrance is a form of memory rather than olfaction. The effect is wonderfully dislocating: an autumn turn about the woods, a feeling of hauteur – whatever the instance, the experience is an atheist’s miracle. Winemaking breaks into song with Haut Brion, and it’s a song too sexy for words.

    Last summer, we were invited to a gathering at a home belonging to people for whom primogeniture is not an abstract concept. A very old, slate roofed, copper flashed, tumbled stone behemoth sits on a private road with a gate guard and a security force. I wanted to bring something pointed, so I spoke to a wine monger named Billy (not ‘William’ who sold me the Chateau d’Ampuis -- just another guy dressing up the name Bill) about a French white that was like a kiss from a woman who would never deign to kiss, even to be polite, me. We ended up with a Chambolle Musigny by Domaine Comte Georges du Vogue, 2004 Vintage, bottle #49. Billy prides himself on selling rare wines to Russian and Chinese clients from a store in the Midwest. He never lets his distributors down when it comes to releases, and I’m only too happy to poach around the edges.
    A freak thunderstorm knocked out power and flooded the golf course, the streets and back yards. 80-year-old trees, split and felled, slumbered in its wake. The air was so thick it gave us an appreciation of what it must be like to be curing cheese. With everything spongy, dark and candles illuminating the windows in the host’s home, a very special party occurred -- my wife got a glowing report about it the next day, but we weren’t there. I served us, and then we served each other. Clarifying and sonorous: filberts, soft stone with the perfume of rain-washed tresses. It was like a picnic under a tree whose branches were dripping with big, sleeping African cats . . . a mollitious dance of summer and frost con brio.

    On the occasion of our fourth wedding anniversary, I was out of town and phoned to say “happy anniversary.” She cried. I had been gone a month already. The fellow I was working with offered me a bottle of 1982 Chateau Leoville Poyferre after I mentioned how much I liked a more recent vintage. There was no hint of any quid pro quo on my part. He had taken on the risk of working on my behalf for an auto company in bankruptcy. All the same, I wasn’t going to quibble about a 25-year-old St. Julien. He shipped it home so that we could celebrate our anniversary upon my return, but it was late July. The asphalt beaded with perspiration; it was no time to be cracking mature Bordeaux with Tuna sashimi and soft-shelled crabs. Thus, it sits in the catacomb of spirits waiting to be liberated (or ever venerated). The window is slowly closing because the cellaring conditions are unknown. I should fire up the grill and cook a dry aged, NY Strip dusted with crushed peppercorn, kosher salt and a bit of chili powder and cayenne. The scent of that ’82 Bordeaux will make my nose hairs grow like lianas trying to tap the savory root of blood, fat, salt, spice and my own beating and breathing. Why waste great Bordeaux on an anniversary? They’re like birthdays and holidays, but this wine is a passing comet in my solar system.

    In October, I purchased a case of 2005 Chateau Leoville Poyferre and equivalent amounts of gold bullion and shares in a pharmaceutical equity. After six months, I’ll see how they track as stores of value. In our dollar deflationary climate, it’s comforting to consider uncorking the loss rather than looking at figures on a balance sheet in parenthesis. The equity is just a speculative ‘put’ on a surgical anticoagulant my sister in law sells – nothing rational about it. She spoke effusively about a phlebotomist who invented a chemical that stops blood from clotting in surgical settings. Adjusting for inflation, it’s slightly more profitable than collecting fees for bleeding people at the barbershop. Same idea: profit from innovation and marketing. Investors are flocking to gold and other commodity stores of value because ‘G something’ governments are devaluing their own currencies by pumping up M1, but gold doesn’t taste good. Even in Goldschlager, the schnapps with gold shavings, the flecks are for show or snow globes that you can drink in an emergency. The grape, blessed as it is, has a common touch. With wine, ’everybody happy -- everybody win!’ Indeed, in Ecclesiastes the prophet commands “Go, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, because it is now that God favors your works (Ecc. 9, para 7).” Is there anything remotely vocational about drinking your way through a cellar? Me thinks not, unless your surname happens to be Rabelais.

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    Jack Nelson
    Dec 08, 08:55pm

    I'm lost. The 'Hidden Workshop' must be a Jorge Luis Borges type site. I'm putting stuff in discussion threads. . .

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    Susan Gibb
    Dec 08, 10:23pm

    Hi Jack,

    All you have to do is post it in the regular stories, but hit "private" rather than "public" access, then send it to this group.

    Not to worry, I'll read it in the morning, but if you want, you can try reposting it.

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    Dorothee Lang
    Dec 09, 02:32am

    Hi Jack,

    no worries, you aren't the only one who went for the thread approach. i now added a line in the group description, to clarify.

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