February 13, 2015
The warm weather the last few days seems to have reminded everyone of spring and summer's imminent return. For me, the promise of warmer weather conjures wistful memories of summers past.
In the summer of 1986, I went to Spain to study Spanish, but the sea breeze was temperate and the Ciudad Valencia was languid. I spent many a sunny afternoon on the patio of some bar or other, overlooking the Mediterranean, eating paella unequalled elsewhere on the planet, drinking excellent Spanish beer, and smoking Cubans - dang, those were the days.
Last Sunday evening we held our monthly TFB staff meeting in pristine weather in our new garden space - kind of a test run for evenings of al fresco dining to come. We marked the occasion by grilling sausage and vegetables on Josh's Webber grill. The kids stayed late and I felt truly humbled at my team's increasing investment and growing sense of our shared community of work (big ups to Hall Sheriff, whose tenure as general manager over the last year is starting to yield real results).
It was our employee Logan Ross who got me thinking about that summer in Spain. Logan works mostly days and has had limited opportunity to learn about our wine program and posed an interesting question. "What makes a wine good?" he asked me, "We spend all this time talking about how unique our wine list is - what's so special about it?"
My love of fine wine is deeply related to my sense of what makes for a good life (summers spent on the coast of Spain for instance). An excellent wine can cast a magical glamour over a meal with close friends - rendering the colors more quietly vivid, deepening the feeling of a conversation about something shared and loved. And I believe that our particular list, comprised predominantly of terroir expressive "food wines," creates so many opportunities for this kind of magic, that I couldn't quite decide where to begin in answering Logan.
For me, the measure of a wine is always the same - did the bottle change and improve over the hour that we spent with it? Did it give itself away easily, or did it insist upon patience and attention before revealing its charms? When we split that last small splash among two or three waiting glasses, did we find ourselves impressed with its increasing elegance and balance? Did we wistfully regret that there was not just one more pour?
It took a moment, but my answer came when I remembered that Logan is a talented and committed musician. "You know how it is" I asked him, "with disposable pop - the choices seem to go down such predictable pathways that you can sing along even if you've never heard the song before?" I looked over at him the fading light, perched on the edge of one of our new picnic tables. "Our wine list" I ventured, "tends to be both a more challenging, and (I hope), a good bit more rewarding." "Oh" he said, "our wine list is like Miles Davis."
It took me a moment to respond. He completely got it, and I found myself lost in a memory of a winding street in the heart of Valencia's old downtown. A handbill on a rock wall announced that Miles Davis would be playing that very night in the nearby bullfight arena. I'd heard of Miles and knew him to be one of the icons of jazz, despite knowing little of his music. The moment felt auspicious. I trundled off to the arena and bought tickets.
A group of us found ourselves later that evening in the bullfight arena with 20,000 or so young Spaniards grooving under a glorious night sky and a giant orb of moon I hadn't realized was full until we emerged from the tunnel.
Miles appeared onstage above us minutes after our arrival with a dozen or more players in tow. Each song began with a recognizable melody (even a Michael Jackson tune as I recall). The players would begin playing in tight harmonies, completely in synch. But slowly, one by one, each of them would drift from the theme, exploring side avenues - reinterpreting melodic and rhythmic possibilities - finding their way to deeper levels of chaos and dissonance. We strained to hear the through line and struggled to remember the starting point. I recall leaning into the music as I sought to sift through the noise and strain the increasingly loose connections for the underlying melodies.
But at some point Miles' would give his imperceptible signal - maybe a glance, or a slight nod - and in that moment the players would fall instantaneously rocking back into one unified glorious harmonically organized jam. The song structure would come rushing back and get the crowd rolling in magnificent waves of energy. I knew nothing about jazz. But that night I became a convert.
Next time you're at TFB, join me for a glass of wine. We'll swap stories on wine, music and summers passed.
PS - We're more or less booked for Valentine's Day service, but we almost always have a few late cancelations, so email us if you still need a table. And next time you join us for dinner, ask your server to tell you about their favorite wine on our list and why they like it - you might find yourself introduced to a new favorite.