miracles of civilization, is what i calls ’em.
the first time i tasted a really dry sherry, i had accidentally invited a couple of folks who i barely knew to a wine bar in the East Village – i had no idea; i knew the place had a good wine list, but i was going on a recommendation that they had excellent snacks (deep-fried sage-wrapped lamb sausages and red wine oxtail arancini did not disappoint), and i hadn’t thought to ask any further questions about the type of establishment it was. so i showed up in my homemade Bolt Thrower t shirt, hung over and vigorously unkempt, and just sort of hoped for the best (it was a hipster wine bar anyway. i really had nothing to worry about but my own looming insolvency).
i wouldn’t have off the cuff ordered a sherry, but bizarrely as part of their 5 à 7 you could just have a glass of sherry for FREE, so obvs i took them up on it, and i’m glad i did, because it was just so profoundly strange. but strange in a way that has become a very useful reference point for me, an almost perverse-seeming strangeness that i can use to orient other tastes in other wines. because in a pretty undeniable way it sort of just tasted bad. bad and weird, and not really like something that human beings were supposed to drink, and yet (or, of course) i found it totally intriguing and irresistible. i don’t know what it was, and i haven’t had a sherry that quite compares since. i did pick up a bottle¹ somewhere that definitely falls into the same territory, ie: i often describe it as tasting like “if you found a way to make paint thinner start to putrefy” (i mean, there are other things – nuts…citrus zest maybe?) and every time i drink it i get this bizarre feeling of appreciation for the tremendous creaking contradictory machinery of socialization that has brought me to this drink, and this drink to my lips. for i do truly enjoy it, i’m not just putting on airs for the cat (who’s not even very smart, you know), or the pile of unread New York Review of Books that i salvaged from someone’s recycling, and there is something impressive and satisfying about being bound up in this mess that makes the genuine enjoyment of something so clearly derived from decomposing fruit a possibility. the fact that i am enjoying this, i say, is a miracle of civilization. (i actually said that. to myself. and maybe the cat. and maybe to a summer day.)
i don’t think it’s wholly unlike the pleasure one derives from reading a very difficult text.
i had a similar experience this evening at the SAT (Société des Arts Technologiques) Foodlab. i had gone to check out their hiver francais menu (their menus are always worth checking out – always good, always affordable), and got drawn into the intrigue of their very reasonably priced private import wine collection. one of the reds i tasted smelled astonishingly (t0 me at least) not only of barnyard, but really straight up of manure.² horse manure, i think. it even tasted like it, or at least tasted like the smell, and it was really good. it was really interesting, really engaging, and yet not overly complex, just carrying very strong associations of something one does not usually eat. it’s the kind of wine that i feel like i could get addicted to. i don’t know that i’ll make the extra effort of trying to contact the importer and see if there’s any way i could get a bottle or two without having to buy a whole crate, as is usually the protocol, but i am suspicious that i will go back, just for that wine, just for that happy feeling derived from being unsure why you like something, but pretty sure that you do.
(you know what they say…
drink deep, it’s just a taste, and it might not come this way again…
it moves inside you, it stays outside you,
and it’s not something that I could prove, or could choose,
to be moved.)
¹ Lustau’s Palo Cortado “Península”
² an organic wine called R10, by Olivier Lemasson from Loir-et-Cher (which is a place that exists, apparently?). it’s made from Grolleau (30%), Gamay (20%), Pineau d’aunis (20%), Côt (10%) et Pinot noir (20%), but i will admit that i really don’t know what most of it means, having only ever even heard of two of those grape varieties…