Food and Wine Still Matter

Sad things happen in life, right? A little rain must fall. Well, my project here in Tasting Notes is to write about wine and food in the context of life—songs in the key of life, for those who love Stevie—and the key of life has the occasional minor chord. Like the following: I’m at a tasting one evening, with Eileen Crane, the president and winemaker of Domaine Carneros. That part was fun: Her publicity folks had the idea of pairing Carneros sparklers with cheap snacks, and although I’m not much interested in flavored potato chips and veggie popcorn from Trader Joe’s, I was pleasantly surprised. I’ll cover those pairings in another post, because they really were interesting, but here’s the blue part: When I got home and started making dinner, I got a call from my mother. My father had fallen, she said—25 feet from a rock-climbing wall, at the Berkeley climbing gym. He’d broken his back, he was in the hospital, but he could still wiggle his toes so he would probably be OK.

My father is 68 years old, but he’s been a rock climber for almost 30 years, and for much of that time I was his main climbing partner. I asked if I should come right to the emergency room, but my mother insisted that I should not, that she had support from my father’s friend Rick, who had been there at the time of the accident, and that she would want me the next day for sure. I should rest, in other words, and be ready in the morning.

So now I’m at my kitchen island, and the family is hungry, and I’m scared for my dad, and my wife is offering to call for takeout. Then I realize that I want to cook. I want to go through my motions, soothe myself with the chopping and the routine. I want a glass of wine, too, and I’ve got two nice reds open from the prior night: an Angove’s Shiraz, from Australia, and a Shannon Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. So I pour glasses of both, unwilling to choose. Perhaps a rosé would’ve made more sense with the meal, but I prefer to enjoy the wine I have before me, and to appreciate its gifts.

Nothing makes this kind of pain OK; my father is a broken-up mess in terrible pain, and this is sad and confusing. We all live in fear of the deaths of our lovers and parents, and this looked so much like the imagined inevitable: the sudden stroke, the loss of mobility, hospital rooms and a radically changed quality of life. It wasn’t this imagined inevitable, of course; it was a rock-climbing accident by a capable and athletic man who will recover and carry on a good life, albeit with serious injuries to rehabilitate. But those fears live so close to the surface that I couldn’t deny them. The end, I was reminded, waits always around the corner, until it doesn’t.

So I’m not saying the food and wine made all of this OK. But something still surfaced from the recipe—salt cod, eggs, and potatoes—and from the wine. The recipe was yet another of these Olney miracles from his Simple French Food, a coded education in a way of life. Hard to believe, right? The recipe sounding so prosaic. And yet … with the potatoes boiled and then pan-fried in slices, and the hard-cooked eggs crumbled in, and the fish also crumbled in, and finely chopped parsley all over, it had a secret message about feeding the essential self, reaching to the elemental foods of a simple life and culling together a rustic, restorative way to fill the belly.

2006 Shannon Ridge Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon
Grapes: 90 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Petit Verdot
Appellation: Lake County
Wood: 9 months in French oak
Alcohol: 14.4 percent
Cases Produced: 3,720
Suggested Retail Price: $19
Tasting Notes: I smelled ripe plum and spice; I thought the wine had a thick, viscous mouthfeel; I tasted concentrated blackberry and thought it was nicely balanced overall. A good, solid wine.

2007 Angove’s Nine Vines Shiraz Viognier
Grapes: 94 percent Shiraz, 6 percent Viognier
Wood: “A short period in second use barrels,” according to the media sheet
Alcohol: 14.5 percent
Price: typically $11.99
Tasting Notes: Taking a deep whiff, I caught a strong mixture of the Shiraz fruit, the Viognier floral quality, a certain gassy/cheese element that suggested strong, hearty foods. In the mouth, the wine had a more delicate feel than I expected, just enough tannin to give it some grip, and a youthful quality to the red-apple fruit. A very nice wine at an equally nice price.