Wince Country

Sometimes, wine country is “wince” country – as when one inadvertently refers to one’s sommelier as one’s “dealer.” An acquaintance had me over to preview galleys of his forthcoming aeronautics tome and offered me a glass of wine. This is standard procedure when dulling the critical faculties of those of us in the media and particularly effective, I’m sure he assumed, when dealing with me – or at least my besotted persona, which I had left drying out somewhere before it could hang me out to dry. When I declined, the author insisted. “My dealer says it’s a tremendous wine,” he said. I raised an eyebrow and countered, “You mean your sommelier?” The author claimed he had said “sommelier” in the first place. I reiterated. He did the same. Awkward silence. I accepted his wine before the creeping chill in our conversation overtook the room as I gamely thumbed through his spaceship book.

When gossiping with a woman I know from the medical profession (tales of patient woe sans names, of course), she recounted a situation in which a client stated his preference to take his pain medication intravenously. When he was informed that “shooting aspirin” would be inappropriate in his case, the client admitted that he sought the needles so that he might extract wine samples through the corks of bottles stowed in his cellar. The doctor declined but was curious and asked why the man needed to sample the wine. “To taste the future,” he said in a menacing tone, then slurped at his fingers for added drama before dashing out the door.

The above examples of wince country moments are, of course, not remotely representative of the typical local experience – an experience that I’ve come to adore for its beauty, bounty and bonhomie. Nowhere on earth will one find a more hospitable and generous city. Everyone is welcome, including the occasional weirdo who, inevitably, will encounter me at some mixer or other and share moments best perceived through a glass, darkly. The hoary confidences I’ve accrued these past few years could fill a book (well, at least a slim book) and have always been fertile matter for this column. Though I don’t necessarily invite these admissions, I do happily lend my ear because the best stories are often those that drift into the corners of parties, gather at the ends of bars and lurk in alleyways, searching, patiently, for an author. Moreover, it’s my job.

Consider, what happened when I was invited to a “cat party” in which everyone was garbed in feline drag and prowled the premises, occasionally sticking their painted noses into bowls of white wine. “Sort of gives new meaning to the much maligned wine descriptor ‘cat pee,’” I joked, before being asked to leave because my cat costume consisted solely of a spiked collar slipped around my wrist. I was joined on my way out by another under-dressed invitee, who regaled me with tales of the pantomime horse party I had missed and how the equine halves departed in different color configurations from how they had arrived.

Last week, while shuffling down the bike path, I was entreated to drink with a pair of young men sipping from a bottle shrouded in a brown paper bag. When I declined, assuming the bottle they were nursing was filled with some noxious swill concocted to keep the fringe dumb and suppressed, they revealed it was a locally produced wine of splendid vintage that had received innumerable honors. I joined them and after a while realized, as my higher functions gradually became eclipsed, that if I were going to suppress the fringe that I too might bottle it in such a way that would appeal to … but then the thought escaped me. It’s all in a day’s work in Nomaville.

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