Why wine? Why wine instead of other forms of alcohol? Of course it tastes good. It’s complex. It’s transportive. It pairs well with food…on and on…but that’s not it. What in the one thing wine does better than anything else? Wine is, in my opinion, the perfect social lubricant. Nothing enhances good friendships like wine.
I am lucky enough to have a fairly tight knit group of about 10 friends (appropriately referred to as the Scum Dogs or Dogs) in Austin that date back over thirty years. Some of us met in college, some in MBA School, and many of us were introduced to each other by a former MBA professor at the University of Texas who now lives in Seattle and, in his retirement, owns what else, an Oregon Pinot winery. (Note to Ken:…Thanks…and oh…oh.. we’d appreciate some wine). Some are single. Some are married. Only two of us are still married to our first wives. Some have children while some do not. Some of those children are grown, some are in college and there are one or two still in high school. The point is, a lot of life has been lived in this group of men who are all in their 50’s and 60’s and the Dogs have been lucky enough not to lose anyone, though there have been a couple of close calls.
Ed serves as our “community organizer.” He’s the unofficial and unappointed head dog. He’s the guy who makes sure no birthdays are forgotten and everyone gets the e-mail about “special dog meetings” that coincidentally occur at happy hour, usually at a wine bar. He plans our guy’s trips. But last night was Ed’s birthday party and he turned the big 6-0. Ed is the quintessential Austin enigma. He’s thin, fit, witty, urbane in a Texas quirky way, does yoga, rarely eats red meat. He also happens to own the iconic Texas Bar-B-Que chain County Line. Only in Austin.
We gathered at Ed and Michelle’s house around 7:30. The evening was still, the moon was two slivers short of full and the temperature made you want to stay outside all night under the big moss covered oaks. Many of the 20 or so guests brought wine so there was a hodge podge of reds and whites; all good, none great, but it was not a night about great wine. It was a night made great by wine.
Ed’s beautiful (add the superlatives of your choice, they all fit) wife, Michelle throws this party every year and, with only a few exceptions; the guest list remains the same. Old friends together to celebrate one of our own. At least that’s what we tell Ed.
The real reason (don’t tell Ed) we flock to this party is Michelle’s rustic Italian cooking and of course the wine. Michelle has studied both voice (cabaret) and cooking in Italy and learned her lessons well. The party started like many, in the kitchen. Wine was flowing; Michelle in her chef’s coat slicing though the growing throng to the oven and stove as we waited to see which of the decadent 7-10 courses would be served first. I got lucky, the grilled and bacon wrapped figs I so adore was one of the first offerings. It paired beautifully with the Zin I was drinking. There was pumpkin pasta with pesto, arugula salad with viande séchée (beef prosciutto), salmon, thinly sliced tenderloin with mushrooms, stuffed pesto dumplings. There were a couple of courses that were devoured so fast, I didn’t even see them. That skinny girl can cook!…and sing.
The party moved on out to the living room and slowly filled with laughter, cajoling (birthday harassment) and reminiscing. Later a few of the folks left and the rest of us moved out under the oaks on that starlit night to enjoy the rest of the wine (throw in some chocolate and LBV port, a personal weakness). We sat around a table, bottles and wine glasses strewn across the top. The volume picked up, and we pestered Michelle to sing a song from her upcoming Holiday Cabaret. Good friends having a good time.
At that point I couldn’t help but think how many times over the centuries friends have gathered under the stars with wine and no intent but just share the moment. Greeks did it, Romans did it, Medieval French and Italians did it, families did it and friends through time did it. And now, along with others across the world, last night we again did it, our friendship was enhanced by sharing wine. I could have stayed under that giant oak tree all night or at least until the wine ran out.
So here’s to friends….and the wine that helps to bind us all together.
Happy Birthday…Ed! and “Thanks” for making me feel young. 😉