I’ve wanted for some time to write about the pleasure of getting drunk, and now seems a good occasion. I’m not talking about getting bombed, just having two or three glasses of wine with dinner. Because the fact is, inebriation is part and parcel of wine drinking, and I was reminded of it when I tied one on recently.
For reasons that wouldn’t make good reading, I hadn’t had a good meal or a good drink in about a week, and then, one night, I did. I pan-fried a grass-fed petit tender—a beautiful steak—and sautéed about a pound of wild mustard leaves, and made a quick pan-sauce reduction with some leftover Cabernet Sauvignon and some veal demi, and sautéed a few mushrooms. I opened a 2004 Matanzas Creek Merlot, Bennett Valley—the latest release, incidentally. Eating long and well and thoroughly, satisfying my spirit as well as my belly, I drank enough to get drunk, by which I mean half the bottle (I’m a lightweight).
I found my way to the couch and looked out the window at the falling dusk and saw the clouds pink in the blue-gray sky and felt this cleansing wave of peace and realized that it is a particular species of peace that I only ever feel while full and drunk on good food and wine. It’s a peace that comes from animal satisfaction, but also from the lingering symphony of flavors and aromas, a kind of emotional euphoria akin to the feeling I get after a beautiful performance of music. Pizza and beer, lovely as they can be, would never have the same effect on me. My taste buds seem to vibrate on and on from good food and wine, as if just the right chord has been struck, and my body was telling me that the steak and greens were precisely what I’d needed, and even as the meal grew distant and I was left with the sense of drunkenness, I nevertheless felt a deeply soul-satisfying quality to that drunkenness, one that ran down to my bones.
And finally, as I try to articulate it all, I remember the book Big Sur, by Jack Kerouac. I’m a very selective Kerouac fan: On the Road does little for me. The Dharma Bums so perfectly captures certain dreams of my own youth as to be electrifying, every time I glance through it. Then there’s Big Sur, which tells the story of an alcoholic Jack leaving San Francisco for a writing dry-out session at Allen Ginsberg’s cabin in Big Sur. The writing, through the first half, is as beautiful as anything Jack ever wrote; then his friends show up, and he starts drinking, and it descends into pure maudlin pathos. The rest of the book is terrible. I’m reminded of this because I never know what to think of the rapture of inebriation. I know the rapture can be genuine, in the moment; but it so rarely translates into anything. Perhaps the wise path is the one Kerouac did not take: just enjoying the good drunken bellyful, and not asking it to mean anything.
2004 Matanzas Creek Merlot, Bennett Valley
Grapes: 93 percent Merlot, 3 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 3 percent Syrah, 1 percent Cabernet Franc
Grape Sources: 92 percent Bennett Valley, 6 percent Knights Valley, 2 percent Alexander Valley
Wood: 15 months in French oak barrels, none of it new
Alcohol: 14.5 percent
Price: $29 from the winery
My Tasting Notes: This is the kind of wine that makes me love California Merlot again. It’s got that smooth, plummy quality, with this cool round fruit in the middle, but also soft tannins and just a little spice. The winery suggests drinking it lightly chilled, and I agree completely. This was a beautiful complement to my meal.