Despite being way past the age of birthday bragging (and steadfastly making every effort to keep the facts surrounding it on the DL), I nevertheless wake up early on my birthday. It doesn’t hurt that it usually falls somewhere within Thanksgiving break time, so the atmosphere is already festive. Even better, the weather promised to be unseasonably mild, so we were up super early and in the car by 7am. Driving through the early morning fog and drinking our coffee, we browsed through our podcast lineup and chose a Tim Ferriss one called “The Tattooed Heretic of Wine and Whiskey.” (http://fourhourworkweek.com/2015/10/05/richard-betts/) That would be Richard Betts (http://myessentialwine.com/about/). Betts is one of nine master sommeliers who passed the exam on his first try. In spite of this feat, he takes the snobbery out of oenology, which this philistine appreciates.
Betts was the sommelier at the Little Nell in Aspen (https://www.thelittlenell.com/dining/element-47/wine), whose wine cellar we were lucky enough to tour a few years ago (thanks, Maureen Poschman), albeit after Betts’ tenure. His anecdotes are humbling (he once mistakenly mixed two very expensive wines together during a tasting and learned an important lesson about grace when the amused patron let it slide), his advice simple but educational (“Taste, taste, taste!”) and when asked why he thinks extremely successful people aren’t happy, he replied, “Misplaced goals.” That stuck with me. By the time we pulled into our driveway, I had a list of wines, books and people he’d suggested typed into my phone.
Misplaced Goals. One aspect of our lives where we are certain this does not apply is our weekend home. We improve upon it incrementally (read: when we can afford it), and this bit-by-bit, step-by-step system keeps us excited, interested, humbled and happy. When Bertrand asked what I wanted for my birthday, I told him I’d love my mother’s antique hoosier cabinet re-painted. She bought it at some antique shop in the Seventies and it held a prominent spot in our family room until Dad died in 2005. I put dibs on the cabinet, only to move it to our barn in Connecticut, where it sat freezing (or sweating), gathering spider webs and mouse poop for three years. When we moved to Massachusetts, the house had a corner in the kitchen seemingly made for the cabinet, which slid gingerly in, with hardly a fraction of an inch to spare. But the constant discovery of red chips in every soup bowl, highball glass and mug led Bertrand to plan his birthday secret, which I sort of spoiled when I requested exactly what he’d already arranged. But doesn’t she clean up well?
Like seemingly most of Tim Ferriss’ podcast guests, Betts is a devoted exerciser. He works out 5-7 days a week. (There goes my Ferriss invite!) I’m more of the two days a week of 3-4 mile leisurely hikes, dotted with the incremental 1-2-mile mid-week midtown walk. Does that qualify as interval training? And let us not forget the great arm work involved in the mid-hike timer selfie.
But back to the topic at hand: wine. Bertrand is very interested in wine. I, sadly, never learned. When friends were being educated on tannins and rich cabs at Windows on the World in the Eighties and Nineties, I was focusing on learning my lines at community theatre instead. And now, when Bertrand lingers in the wine section at Guido’s grocery store, I’m waiting for him at checkout, sort of patiently tapping my foot. The topic just seems too vast and insurmountable to me at this point. It’s like ninth grade trigonometry: I bet I would have enjoyed it had I paid attention in class, but I started day-dreaming about boys instead, fell behind week after week, then ultimately drowned with a very poor grade to show for it.
But Betts has given me newfound optimism. He suggests focusing on a country or type of wine, then immersing and educating yourself on it. Ok, then! Why not start with Shiraz, since that’s what our friends Bruce and Betsy brought to the Old Inn on the Green at dinner (http://oldinn.com/) later that night.
“It’s my birthday!” I exclaimed when we bumped into them on our way inside. “Join us!” After reassuring them that this serendipity was not interrupting a romantic dinner, Bruce excused himself, only to return ten minutes later with a bottle of Hundred Acre 2009 Shiraz (https://www.hundredacre.com/content/index.html). After James, our sommelier poured it, I tapped my mental Betts handbook, tilted my glass away and read its tears (aka legs). The rich, slow film it begat looked promising. Then I took a sip. It was the best wine I ever tasted.
While my tenderloin and Bertrand’s salmon nearly matched the Shiraz, the conversation beat both. We’ve had Betsy over plenty of times for dinner, and she’d brought Bruce to our latest Summer blowout, but it’s tricky to enjoy a decent conversation when the crowd is large. It’s downright impossible when you’re the hosts. This night made us appreciate the simple pleasures of a balanced conversation with another couple with whom you can share stories of parenting, Berkshire local politics and, well, wine.
“Oh, I don’t know anything about wine,” shrugged Bruce. “I just know what I like. And I’m lucky enough to have a guy who knows, too.”
Know what you like. I can see Richard Betts nodding his approval.
When we got home later that night, Bertrand checked the wine label with his Vivino app. He handed me his phone with a smile. “$349.98.”
We pulled out our fancy stationery and wrote our thank-you note then and there.