My BFF Jay McInerney
I am easily awestruck. When my sister-in-law confided that she'd almost run over Cameron Diaz with her new Lexus, I got chills. This was my closest connection to a Hollywood star yet. I sometimes boast another LA pal sat next to Adam Sandler at synagogue last Yom Kippur. And then she saw Thom Filicia of Queer Eye fame at a neighborhood Chipotle outpost in the same week! Of course as an Us Weekly subscriber, I am already intimate with most Hollywood A-listers. Last year, in a lopsided game of one upsmanship with my star-sighting neighbors to the north, I famously was convinced that Apolo Anton Ohno was in my track club; turns out I was wrong. I conceded to misidentification only after concocting vivid scenarios in which my new BFF and I were photographed together in the front row of DWTS. Show-stopping wines and famous wine personalities leave me equally undone. You probably recall my heart palpitations as I unintelligibly stuttered into Josh Jensen's answering machine. Scoring a paparazzi shot next to Gary Pisoni left me high for days. Thinking about Le Pin makes me tingly. I read about lavish wines as often as I can. But to be blunt, my reading material reflects an extravagance that far exceeds the holdings in my personal cellar. While my bloated bravado sounds pretty legit when I recount the relative merits of DRC vs. Echezeaux, I've never actually tasted the former. Then last weekend, in celebration of Brian's birthday, the edifice dividing wine fiction from actual wine tasting began to crack. Super som Jesse Rodriguez had personally collected a magnificent array of "birthday juice" to toast Brian's 37th year.
He wasn't kidding. In a lineup of sensational vino, the piece de resistance was a Paolo Bea Montefalco Rosso Riserva. I blurted out, "I know this stuff from Jay McInerney," before realizing its implications. I'd never tasted this wine before and certainly didn't "know" celebrated fiction author Jay McInerney, as in hanging out together for a summer barbecue and sharing a beer. My weird confession was like insinuating a friendship with Jennifer Garner after internalizing some semi-intimate quotes printed in a Vanity Fair interview; it sounds stalker-ish and creepy. But I sort of feel like I do know Jay McInerney through his killer essay collection, A Hedonist in the Cellar (and it is here that I sheepishly confess that I have not yet read Bright Lights, Big City). His pieces resonate with me, and his images stick. As Jesse revealed the label, I recalled McInerney's colorful musings on Paolo Bea. He writes, "I felt kind of like Keats encountering Chapman's Homer." I love that! "I was thinking of Michael Corleone/Al Pacino's smoldering, rustic Sicilian bride in The Godfather." Oh yes my "still unravish'd bride of quietness!" He continues, "I imagine [the winemaker] stomping the grapes with his feet and bottling by hand." Now flash forward to what I vaguely recollect telling Jesse. "He thinks some vestigial virgin sorts all the grapes by hand." So yes, my exact recall of pertinent imagery was a little convoluted, but hey, we were already 7 glasses of wine into dinner...
What we actually drank was a red blend: 60% Sangiovese grape, 25% Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, and 15% Sangratino de Montefalco, called the "Montefalco Rosso Riserva." To be precise, McInerney's invocation was to Paolo Bea's 100% pure Sangratino de Montefalco bottling, but I was still equally dazzled. In fact 3 years ago, just after Hedonist was released, this very essay inspired my own frenzied search for any bottle of Sangratino, for Brian's then birthday surprise (FYI: found one at the Wine Bank). I will say Bea's Rosso Riserva was magnificent with crispy, pan fried sweetbreads, a creamy parmesean sauce and outrageously rich caramelized onions. And then to halve my six degrees of separation to three, Jesse recounted pouring McInerney a Paolo Bea at The French Laundry some years back. As if that weren't enough, I grabbed the NYT book review the next morning only to see McInerney's dark, brooding face staring back to me in a full page black and white portrait, honoring his current release How It Ended: New and Collected Stories. So obviously, I know McInerney.
As always, I reveal these details not so you'll google "Paolo Bea" to score your very own Rosso Riserva right now but instead to nudge you to read and learn about wines beyond what feels comfortable today. Sure it's better to drink in the flesh than to read in the abstract. But if you're stuck in the middle seat on a 10 hour flight to Paolo's farm in Umbria, you'll be hard pressed to find his wines on the flight attendant's cart.