Yesterday, I said something to Titus, my not-quite-two-year-old-son, which included the phrase “by myself” therein. Afterwards, he kept repeating it, over and over, as if it were some sort of request. Generally an affectionate boy who loves to give hugs so long as you aren’t interrupting something far more important like playing with his toy trains, I was nevertheless struck by the power of such a simple phrase. Hearing my son say “by myself” immediately prompted in me a sort of guttural urge to respond in the negative. You don’t have to be by yourself, ever; you have me! I wanted to say to him each time, as if already my toddler whose “r” is still decidedly a “w” were deciding between Stanford and Penn.
Titus isn’t really a loner. His mother and I are grateful for his wide circle of friends at daycare, and the way he plays with others. We had friends over last night, and not only did our little bot emulate everything that three-year-old Lily did, but he woke up this morning asking where Lily was and hoping to play with her again. He could’ve gotten that from either Sonja or myself, as both of us possess that side as well as a “by myself” side that helps us all to understand (and not kill) one another. And yet, there are times when we truly desire one another’s company and can’t get on the same page. Tonight, I offered Sonja to share this wine with me. Her response: “If I could only have ice cream or wine for the rest of my life, I’d choose ice cream.” What a cruel thing to say, I thought, and I walked away alone, covering the wine’s ears (you know, right above the shoulders) so that it wouldn’t have to hear such horrible things.
The story of Chateau Montelena is in some ways a “by myself” story as well. The winery holds a special place in my heart, both for its history as well as for the unique things that it does, in addition to the fond memories Sonja and I have from visiting it on our honeymoon. They were one of the earliest wineries established in a place not then known for viticulture. Their reestablishment in the early ’70’s also of course took place at a time prior to when owning a winery in Napa was a guaranteed money-maker (some say it still isn’t). But there are other things that set Chateau Montelena apart as well, and one of those is Cabernet.
I recently taught a class on the Judgment of Paris, the event where Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay won top honors, beating the great French Chards of the day back in 1976. I’ve written about that event at length, and was even interviewed about it by NBC. But it was only when I taught this class, with a little help from friends at Chateau Montelena, that I was able to taste an older vintage of their Chardonnay. It was the 2001, another wine I recently reviewed on this blog, and it was utterly astounding.
One would certainly think that a winery made famous by Chardonnay would focus on Chardonnay, but while Chateau Montelena does still produce a very fine take on the varietal, the more I’ve come to know them, the more I’ve been taken with their incredible Cabernets. Holed up in my study tonight, a loner, my lamp is becoming increasingly more important with every passing moment as the windows that usually keep it so well lit give way to utter darkness. And here I sit by lamplight, my phone silenced and away, my children asleep, my wife in the other room, possibly finishing her ice cream, possibly asleep herself, while I am sipping at a Cabernet.
And what a Cabernet it is. It is well documented that I am a fan of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, but what jumps out at me about this wine first is how atypical it is in contrast to many I have tried from the region. At first blush, this is clearly an old-world style wine crafted with age-worthyness in mind. Dark, fringing on black, with a beautiful ruby lip encircling it, it boasts the sort of nose that I think I’d have if I were wine, refined, yet not wanting to give up many secrets. Bright fruits and herbal qualities whisper quietly to my nose, teasing me with the thought of menthol — is it there or am I only dreaming it? Sitting alone in my office, lurking in my Lerkem as Titus and my hero-poet would put it, I have only myself to consult about the wine.
Open and decanting for well over an hour now, the wine evolves from a place of tightness, showing graphite and minerals, into the realm of coffee, cocoa, and black fruits. The structure is imposing, a bit like Gregor Clegane: saying nothing, not having to, undeniably powerful even in silence. These refined tannins, though they don’t prevent the wine from drinking well now, ensure that this wine will last at least as long as I will, maybe longer. Hints of earl gray and further black and purple fruits linger on a long dry finish. The 2013 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is drinking nicely now for a young release, and there’s no reason for you not to enjoy it. Then again, if you’ve got space in your cellar and some patience, you’re sure to be rewarded.
Sitting here alone, in my study, I look around. Books and more books. A bust of Shakespeare that simultaneously offers inspiration and makes me feel a little pompous. Art from Rwanda. A map of London where I once lived. The diplomas I spent so much of my life working towards. Sommelier pins. A few photographs. My pipe. And a coaster. Always a coaster, there not to protect the scratched and battered faux-marble top of my desk, but to remind me that when you’re alone, especially when you’re writing, you’d be a fool not to have a drink within reach. A loner need not be lonely, after all. I must be sure to teach this to my son.