“Where I am, and where I’m not.” Orin Swift Machete 2015

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The package, wrapped up in tinfoil and shoved into a corner, appeared upon my desk, unexpected, like so many other wonders. It’s shape revealed it to be either a bottle of wine or a terrible lamp, while the accompanying card, in handwriting unpolished yet legible much like my own, struck a chord, reminding me that while competition is the nature of sport, the fruit of competition is far greater than merely victory in competition. This thoughtful act of gratitude resonated with me, as I rammed the curvaceous and aluminum-wrapped treasure into my satchel, tucked the card into my diary, and headed for the door.

I am not in Kearney right now. For the second year in a row, I am not at state cross country.

Cross Country is one of those strange sports where you expect to make it to state. In four years of coaching high school basketball, we made the state tournament once, missing it narrowly the other times. Interestingly, we won that year, now fifteen ago, and nothing since then has slaked me thirst for another championship. I remain thirsty, yet in that time I have also grown grounded and more secure. I am grateful to have discovered cross country, though now at the end of my fifth year of coaching it, I am disappointed for the second straight year to have been left out of the state tournament which begins tomorrow in Kearney, Nebraska. As is so often murmured, there is always next year — but only for the coach. I find myself thinking a great deal about my seniors these days. They’ll go on to do amazing things, though I regret not having been able to get them to the state meet.

Tonight, after a short coaches meeting, the second this week, I headed home to make dinner, and I decided that perhaps there would come no better time to enjoy the gracious gift from the parent of one of my runners than tonight, when a part of me feels as if I should be somewhere else. I am here, and I must be okay with that. I must enjoy being here. Wine would help, I thought, and while Sonja picked up the kids from daycare I assembled a simple salad. For the handful of people who read this blog for the recipes (you know who you are), I will give you the visuals of my most killer steak salad.

Easy to make, easy to like, I settled on salad after Sonja made a passionate appeal to stick to our diet, which I honored. After all, salad with two pounds of steak on it is still salad, and of course, I had a tremendous wine to pair with it.

Sonja and I had visited the Orin Swift tasting room two or three years ago, and remain big fans to this day. “Machete,” this vintage 2015, is a tremendous wine.  Dave Phinney, the winemaker whom I’ve had a man-crush on for years, has a thing for the ten-month grace period, and many of his wines in oak that long. Machete gets 40% of that new, and for a Petite Sirah with an attitude problem, that sort of oak exposure is plenty.  Rich and robust and a monster at 15.2%, Machete is notoriously in your face from label to palate, each one as audacious as the other.  Deep murky purple with a young ruby rim,  a little forest floor funk on the black fruit bouquet rounds it out. It’s chewy on the palate, blackberry, currant, raspberry, plum, earthy notes, and spice box making up the majority of the waves that come crashing in. The wine is surprisingly smooth for its many complications, and drinks easily.  The finish lingers, seemingly indefatigable, upon the palate, and it paired quite well with the red meat. Normally, I wouldn’t pair red wine with raw onions, but I knew that Phinney’s monster Petite could handle it – -and it did. This is killer juice; 93 points from Parker, 92 from Spectator, and from me, a nod and a wine-sipping grin intended to say “pretty damn good” to anyone who’ll listen.

After dinner, we took a walk — perhaps the last one of the year, as we’ve already had enough snow for a snowman and the near-seventy temps are sure to subside soon as the days shorten and the time for enjoying the great outdoors in relative comfort draws to a close. Perhaps, if we had qualified for state as I had hoped, I’d never have considered what I was missing by not being here tonight, but given where I am, I enjoyed our dinner, our wine, and the walk with my wife and children a great deal. Of course, it’s always good to find yourself contented where you are.

Cheers to being happy where you are, and to accepting where you are not,

Mark

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