The Nevada City Wine Diaries
Weingut Berger Grüner-Veltliner, Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, and local Zinfandel
Wednesday was the sort of day where you try to concentrate very hard on your work so as not to dwell on how poorly you will be compensated for it. About a month ago, my boyfriend, Tor, brought his friend Pete over and we drank a 2013 Bella Grace Barbera that Pete thought was fine but a little too fruity and oaky to really love (I totally agreed.) On Labor Day, I ran into Pete and he invited us over, mentioning that he had just bought a case of 2015 Weingut Berger Grüner-Veltliner, nothing super fancy, but he liked it. All day long, all I could think was, “Soon I will be going to Inferno Hot Pilates, and then, basking in my endorphins, drinking Grüner-Veltliner on the porch of a relative stranger.”
After Inferno Hot Pilates, I went to a small, tasteful cheese market in Grass Valley. I told the cheesemonger I would be drinking fairly dry white wine (I felt saying the actual kind would be silly) and asked for appropriate cheese. The cheesemonger asked me questions about my cheese likes and dislikes, but I couldn’t focus. “I care about cheese,” I assured him, “But there’s just no room for it right now.” I tapped the part of head housing the part of my brain in which, under better circumstances, cheese knowledge would have found itself stored.
I ended up with two kinds of sheep’s milks cheese: Perail and Lambchopper—very small amounts of each, because they weren’t cheap, and because no one needs to eat a lot of cheese. “Improve the evening!” the cheesemonger fairly shouted as I accepted the bag, and I smiled back, a big fake smile to mask my utter lack of comprehension. It was only after I was a mile down the road, more genuinely smiling back at my blue heeler Merle’s own panting smile in the rearview mirror, that I realized he had meant that my bringing good cheese would be an evening improver. “Touching,” I said to Merle, “Touching, and perhaps a little awkward?”
Tor had already arrived, and he was slouched down in a wicker chair on Pete’s porch, staring into the darkening valley with a glass of wine resting in his lap, letting hospitality and alcohol work their magic. The liquid in his glass looked so golden and inviting in the light (though the wine is, technically, lighter than golden—what in blind tasting parlance is called “straw”). Pete handed me a glass of my own and we surveyed his view of scrubby manzanita to one side and towering pine trees above and below. We drank to Nevada City, because it was a beautiful night, like most nights here.
The wine was bright and clean and good. Not amazing, but so solidly good. The taste reminded me of how you feel when you make a decision, when you get to that moment of, “Ok, well, I don’t have to worry about THAT anymore.” I felt like I could drink it for a long time and not get tired of it. It didn’t taste like lemons per se, but it had a lemon’s freshness and evoked lemony optimism.
It’s not the fashion to drink white wine really cold, but unless it’s a really super fancy wine — like some $70 bottle of Meursault, my dream — I prefer it that way, and this wine was cold. Pete said it was an accident, because his refrigerator was messed up, and I assured him it was the best thing that had happened to me all day.
A fair percentage of the pine trees in our view were turning brown and dying from a drought-caused plague, and I was glad that this wine was low in alcohol, because after a few sips of a higher-alcohol wine, looking at the brown trees might have made me tear up. Instead, I felt a pleasant, unsentimental distance from encroaching doom, and thought, “Oh, well.”
This Grüner-Veltliner came in a 1000ml bottle so we were all able to have two large glasses. I said I thought maybe all Grüner-Veltliners came in 1000ml bottles but that I might be wrong. I was. Pete told us an astonishing story about someone we both know, and I responded with an even better one, because, for better or worse, this is how people bond. My boyfriend said, “Holy shit,” and I said, “Yeah, that dude’s pretty weird, huh?” and he said. “No, I was just saying holy shit, this wine is delicious.”
I was feeling too lazy to bring wine to my friend Karen’s house, plus her mother was there and she puts ice cubes in her wine. I have mixed feelings about putting ice cubes in wine. Actually I don’t have mixed feelings about it at all. I think it’s awful. I have mixed feelings about admitting I think it’s awful because no one wants to be told what they do is awful, so, if you put ice cubes in your wine, fine…except why not just drink vodka and Sprite?
I have brought many, many good bottles of wine to Karen’s house, so when I saw the bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc I gave her a cynical look and said “Really?”, but I was only being mean to make her laugh. Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc is a totally fine if unremarkable wine. I will drink a glass of it, but only under very special circumstances might I drink two. It’s light, zingy, with hints of tropical fruit, it’s crisp, but has a slightly canned aftertaste, IMHO. (In case you’re wondering what crisp means: as far as I can puzzle out it at this time it means that a wine is not filled with the oaky caramel toastiness that one associates with Chardonnay but is certainly not exclusive to it. My definition is subject to improvement and enhancement.)
Karen’s mother, a born-and-bred Midwesterner, indeed poured her wine over ice. She refreshed herself liberally and then exclaimed, “I hear you’re going to Japan! Is someone sending you there?” I said I was going to Japan to write something, and that I kept forgetting the precise name of the organization involved but that it had something to do with sake, and then, this sort of lesser known beverage called shochu—
As soon as I said the word “sake” she snapped her fingers and, in a tone that suggested she was on the brink of unravelling a mystery, said, “You know, I just read something the other day, about Japanese soldiers, American Japanese, who fought for the Allies in World War II — they used some word to describe them. I can’t for the life of me remember it — but does your trip have anything to do with them?” I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, except to assure her that my trip to Japan was most assuredly not being sponsored by Japanese-American World War II veterans.
Afterward, we agreed to play hide and seek with Karen’s two-and-a-half year old, Riley. Riley wanted to hide first. He ran into the living room and stood behind a lamp. After we “found” him, Karen volunteered to hide.
Karen crouched between an ottoman and a wall in the living room, one of five rooms in the entire house. Riley ran through all of them several times. When once again he found himself in the living room, Karen called out “Riley! Riley!” Merle, who rarely barks, ran over to Karen and started to bark at her. Riley just stood there with his mouth open, utterly mystified.
I led Riley around the house by the hand and showed him all the closets and cubbyholes and how the shower had a curtain that one could draw. “These are good places to hide and good places to find people hiding,” I said. He seemed to get it and wanted to hide again. I counted down and shouted “Ready or not, here I come.” Riley lay down on floor right in front of me and put a large stuffed animal over his head.
“Your son is literally the worst hide and seek player alive,” I told Karen. “And your mom thinks all Japanese words are the same.”
She poured herself another tumbler of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, the only possible response.
I found myself, with my friend Sam, at a film festival documentary about people battling the odds against a horrible disease and engaging in a long grueling race to raise money for it.
“I read a study last year that said something like the best time to drink is to get through something you don’t really want to do,” Sam said. “Or something like that.” I decided I had no choice but to purchase a $7 plastic cup of local Zinfandel. I’m not going to say which one, because I don’t really like big Zinfandels and I don’t want to insult one in particular.
Documentaries about people with diseases never sit well with me. Most of them aren’t very good. They’re often not much more than ads to give money to the disease, and why wouldn’t you give money to any other disease? Why wouldn’t they just make an ad? You have to sit there feeling like a monster. What if you had this disease? What if your mom did? What if your kid did? There were kids in the movie with the disease, beautiful children who would slowly lose coordination and then die, unless a cure was found.
I couldn’t stop myself from poking holes in it. “Do you think it’s weird that this race that these two disabled men were in started in Oceanside, right near a big Marine base, and ended in Annapolis — where the Naval Academy is?” I whispered a few minutes in.
“There’s a Q and A,” Sam whispered back. “This is your big chance to demand that two disabled guys explain why they’re participating in the military-industrial complex.”
Local Zinfandels mostly taste like high-quality grape jelly that just so happens to get you drunk. There might be some good ones, but they’d have to have some tannins or acid to temper their juiciness, and this one had neither. There’s a wine expression, “fruit forward.” This wine was not merely fruit forward. It was as if this wine were comprised ten thousand rows of fruit, each of which was jockeying to make it into the front row, and at any given time, most of them were succeeding.
Big wines tend to have a lot of alcohol. After just a few sips, I felt my cynicism bury itself under fermented ripeness, like a hermit crab buries itself in the sand, eyes still warily peeking out. After a few more sips I stopped thinking about single-payer health care and how sentimentality is the helpmate of capitalism. I let local Zinfandel warmth course through me. “Mankind’s struggle against the odds is beautiful,” I whispered to Sam, and he whispered back, “Yes — in all its forms.”