Serving the lamb: the religious hierarchy of wine serfdom
All these articles about what wines to drink at Thanksgiving are giving me a headache, but I get it. They’re a staple of the wine publishing trade. Heck, for all I know, someone’s gonna write one for Wine Enthusiast! While I defer to no one in my penchant for the best wine and food pairings, Thanksgiving is the annual lacuna in this fun practice. Such is the nature of the traditional table that there’s almost no wine you can put on it that someone won’t like, or that won’t match up with something. At our annual family turkey day, I just pack up a crate of this and that–a little dry white, some Chardonnay, some bubbly, a Pinot Noir, Zinfandel for sure, even a Cabernet, and definitely some sweet wine, and that’s it.
People always turn to me as the expert to ask what to drink with what, but for the most part I defer from taking up that mantle. In many respects, I’m the least wine snobby person I know, and I think it has to do with my constitutional makeup. I’ve always been acutely aware of snobbism in life. Hated it from day one. A snob might have been that preppy kid in 8th grade who was too good to talk to me and my friends. It could have been the frat boy when I was a frosh in college, who went around thinking he was God’s gift to the world. My first experience in wine snobs was meeting the country’s leading collectors when I wrote The Collecting Page at Wine Spectator. My lord, what a tedious bunch of men. Too much money, too little self-respect, and a complete lacking of common sense etiquette. It was a variation on the old “Mine is bigger than yours,” except it was “Mine is older than yours,” or “Mine cost more money than yours,” or “Mine is much rarer than yours.” Better still, a combination of all three. I saw the soft underbelly of the wine world at that time, and it had a profound effect on me. I think that’s why Wine Enthusiast and I are such a perfect fit. We’re the anti-snob magazine. Wine is about fun, and laughter, and companionship, and eating lots of fantastic food. It’s not about having a heart attack worrying about whether the ‘02 or the ‘03 will better serve the lamb.
Still, there can be obvious mismatches. When we were in Monterey the other day, we (four of us) went to an Italian restaurant, Cibo. Cookie and Allison ordered angel hair pasta with fish, Lisa had the breaded cod, and I opted for a pizza with green apples and prosciutto (unbearably good). Then the girls handed me the wine list and told me to have at it. I could have gone through every permutation in my head over the precise nature of the meats, sauces and spices, the way some people I know do, and agonized over the possibility that something might go dreadfully wrong. But I didn’t. I saw a Nozzole Riserva, with six years of bottle age, and that was that. I used to drink a lot of Nozzole in the Eighties and knew it would be fine, which it was. Dry as dust, so smooth in tannins, earthy and rich in cherries and tobacco. The girls loved it with their food, I loved it with mine. A no brainer. (Our server liked my pick, too.)
This Thanksgiving we’re having about 20 people at Maxine’s, down in San Mateo. I promised to help with the prep. There will be little kids, medium sized mini-adults, proper adults and, uh, aging boomers. I like Thanksgiving because it’s our country’s own holiday, secular, and fun, but with a serious point. I’m sure all of us of legal age who are not on 12-step programs (a few in my family are) will indulge like crazy, which if fine with me. I love getting my blood alcohol to illegal limits when I’m with friends, although as most of you know, I will not drive after I’ve been drinking. Fortunately, I’ll stay the night at Maxine’s, then drive home to Oakland early the next morning. For all my loathing of driving the Bay Area’s impossibly crowded, frustrating freeways, I adore driving just as dawn is breaking. Heading east on the 101, you come around Hospital Curve and there it is, downtown San Francisco, the soaring towers (the Jukebox Marriott, as Herb Caen called it, is my favorite) gleaming in the rising sun, the sky over the East Bay Hills ablaze in fire. When I’m able to relax and just drive instead of battling my way through gridlock, I sense how small the Bay Area really is. If you’re on the Bay Bridge, Napa is just to your left, Sonoma a little behind your left shoulder, Livermore Valley straight ahead, and the Santa Cruz Mountains just over your right shoulder. I’ve driven from Boonville to Oakland early on a Sunday morning in an hour and twenty minutes. It seems far away, but it’s not.
Oh, the headline on this post? I don’t know what it means, either. I just liked the sound of the words.