“…And next, for the veal consommé with Jerusalem artichokes… a local Pinot Noir with a little age, Littorai Pinot Noir Les Larmes (a blend of different vineyard sites) from Anderson Valley… 2004, an excellent vintage for Pinot in Northern California…” It’s May 2015 in San Francisco – the Golden State Warriors are hot, Grüner V is back, and I’ve willingly listened to FourFiveSeconds about six hundred times. Now, like the movie Memento from my college days, let’s play a little game called “Wine Pairing Rewind.”
It’s May 2010 – thick and humid in Miami. The LA Lakers are hot, Sherry is back, and I’m sick of Lady Gaga. Meet Rachel, my new sales rep., fresh from Hawaii via Southern California with long legs, a warm cozy smile, and black hair so shiny like a Pantene commercial. New cities and unfamiliar landscapes are tough for a newcomer – you have to comb through the fluff of gold and silver to find the brown and green. At the time I lived in a house with my best friend, Berenice, who is a chef – I miss that house, the old “Melrose Place.” We had a faded sea green deck that faced north, overlooking an untamed and fuzzy green backyard with a salt-water pool. We had enough lounge chairs to entertain a high school graduation party, and I was convinced our landlord, Bob, won the collection of circa 1987 patio furniture on the Price is Right. There was the “Margarita Tree,” which bore a strange mutated citrus fruit – giant like a pomelo with the flavor of ruby red grapefruit and key lime. Needless to say, these fruits made excellent Sunday margaritas. The bonus of the house was the hot tub. Looking back, I now realize that our Wednesday “after hours” blind tasting group was not an infamous success because of my dry puns and hospitality, it was the charm of the hot tub - drinking 1er Cru Meursault out of paper cups, littering the yard with chards of Riedel glass, and then somehow managing to make it home alive and well, ready to sling some 1990 Bordeaux the next day!
Rachel was a part of the old Miami crew – the late night Burgundy debates, the sabering of Champagne, and the constant roll of giddy and glee. It makes the expression “those were the days” feel so true. Yet, convincing friendships endure the lows as well as the highs, and we’ve had our stakes. Daylong hospital visits entertained by a tough mother pissing-off a nurse in the pursuit of her daughter’s overdue morphine dose. Divorce court – monotone wives and husbands lined-up like mad shoppers at the grocery store – “Next!” Dumps, break-ups, and heartbreaks interweaved with moving apartments, again and again. In between the lows and highs - there is the sweet cream that fills the middle - free rides to the airport with hip-hop and trivial sommelier gossip, happy hour and Beau Soleil oysters at the River Oyster Bar, and cat-sitting Hana. If there is a “Yoda” of animals, then it is Hana, reserved but wise with a piercing intuition. For someone who is not a huge animal lover – Hana has turned me from cold to warm. I loved when Rachel traveled those romantic ten-day excursions – train rides to Beaune, day trips to the Jura, sleepovers in Alba. While Rachel was day tripping with Savagnin and Chardonnay, I was snug on the couch with a dense book by Jasper Morris, Hana at my feet, overlooking the unbroken strip of fun hotel lights on Miami Beach. The hardwood floors, high ceilings, granite counter tops, even my own washer and dryer, I was hooked. But the best part, as usual, was the wine – Rachel’s modest but well curated stash of limey Meursault, big and rocky Etna, and highly gulp-able Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir. Hana and me… we had it good.
As my friendship progressed with Rachel, it also did with Hana. My native Taurus reliability coupled with a strange domesticated love of cleaning pots and pans secured me a cat-sitting role for life. Now, by circumstance and a little bit of luck, we find ourselves far from Miami, a place where an ambient and foggy 65 is a refreshing pause from the wild and sunny 90. And this time, the stakes are higher. Me – a sommelier in pursuit of a grand exam, running three wine programs by the end of the year, and mildly sidetracked with a freelance gig and a “coming soon” pop-up. Rachel – serving almost a decade at the Four Seasons, then transitioning into distribution… selling big and winning big with natural charm and polish, deservedly connecting the right dots to represent Littorai.
One can’t discuss benchmark California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay without mentioning Littorai and Mr. Ted Lemon. He worked at the best estates in Burgundy and is well noted for being “the first American” to be hired as a winemaker and vineyard manager at the legendary Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault. The wines translate the finest vineyard sites in Anderson Valley, the Sonoma Coast, and the western edge of the Russian River Valley. The Lemons (Ted and his wife Heidi) champion sustainable farming. In addition to using only natural materials, they abstain from using fertilizers in favor of their jewel, the estate compost. Just recently (April 2015), Littorai received the esteemed Environmental Stewardship Award. The philosophy in the vineyard continues into the cellar – natural light, wine movement via gravity flow, and recycled water are the Littorai standard. Like the greatest wines of Burgundy, production is tiny. Last week at the restaurant I added four bottles of four different Littorai Pinot Noirs to the list… after five nights of medium steady service, they are gone. To have and drink Littorai is a moment all by itself.
“And don’t forget to take the Littorai I left for you, it’s on the kitchen counter!” ~Rachel’s last text before she boarded the plane to someplace far and subzero cold. Holding my breath as I peeled back the silver lid to mushy cat-food, I eyed the prized bottles – my reward for this week’s daring cat duties! I gave Hana a kiss, cradled the Littorai in between the legal pads in my messenger bag and headed towards my second home on Mission Street. I could pair this with the sweet and crusty soft-shell Crab… maybe the fat-glowing Winkler Pork loin, or the Vacaville Quail, gamey and butchered to master symmetry. I converse and confide with Chef Mark, “Let’s do the consommé,” he says. It’s eight o’clock on a Friday night, Che just broke a wine glass at the bar, there is a team of grown men with kiddy backpacks hungry at the door, and I’ve got twelve pairings to put down in the next three minutes. My spiel, “And next, for the veal consommé with Jerusalem artichokes… a local Pinot Noir with a little age, Littorai Pinot Noir Les Larmes (a blend of different vineyard sites) from Anderson Valley… 2004, an excellent vintage for Pinot in Northern California,” attempting to be in-and-out and onto table 57. The gentleman immediately looks-up from his fixated tunnel of conversation in business and numbers, and we make brief eye contact, awkward yet pleasant. He says, “Oh my, Littorai… I looovvve Littorai… thank you, thank you.” As I sidestep my way to table 57, I look down at the iconic label, the charcoal sketch of a storybook valley and forest and feel instantly grateful… for good friends, good cats, and Littorai.