by Adam Sobsey
I was writing last time about how it's been rather pleasant to think, fantasize, etc. about wine during this time of Lenten abstinence, as a surrogate for drinking it. (Practical note: two weeks to go!) I took this daydreaminess to a new level on Saturday by attending a wine auction.
I'd never been to one, and I'm not sure there really are or have been (m)any others around here. But Leland Little, a local auction house, decided recently to add wine to its portfolio; their new wine director, Mark Solomon, a really nice guy whom I last spotted at our restaurant drinking a '99 DRC, came by and invited me. I was on a pretty tight budget, but I looked at the catalog of bottles on offer anyway. (Like I wouldn't?) Most of them were hopelessly superannuated---it is not true that wine gets better with age. Or perhaps it's truer to say that some wine gets better, for a while, and then gets worse. There was a lot of Bordeaux from the not-very-good 1972 vintage, all way past its prime, and with scary looking ullage in some cases. There was a fair amount of California stuff that I wasn't interested in; there was a lot of status wine you can't really drink at this point---you'd be best off to stick it on your mantle and show it off, and thereby appear to be a wine snob of terminal rank. This stuff is meant to be consumed, people! It ain't trophies!
But there were a few lots that had promise and appeal, so there I was---brochure in hand, handwritten notes, dollar amounts---on Saturday. Not long before they got to the wine portion of the auction (this was an all-day affair, hundreds of things for sale from 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM), a guy in front of me spent about $20,000 on old vases in about 10 minutes. In other words, this was not a room for amateurs. Great bargains were generally not be had.
Good thing I had my notes. Each lot of wine was hustled through the process in about, oh, 45 seconds. The auctioneer did his rat-a-tat thing, the internet-bid guy kept going "hup!" and the phone proxies kept going "yep!" and a few of us in the actual room occasionally raised our hands and that is how a wine could start under $200 and sell for over $500 practically before you could even say the entire name of it. Good thing I had previously crunched my numbers. I bid on a few things but didn't quite win the Sociando-Mallet 1983 or the Abbona Barolo 1989; just barely refrained from upping my bid on the Smith Haut-Lafitte (also 1983); got blown away on the A. Grivault Meursault 1990 "Clos des Perrieres." It was Heather who noticed that the vast majority of the wine, thousands of dollars' worth---including all of those dead 1972's---was bought by the same phone bidder, the mysterious "No. 51." Hey, pal, leave some for the rest of us next time.
But it was a lot of fun, and in the rather giddy experience of looking and bidding, I actually felt I had had a little wine by the end of the day. I even managed to lay off buying a beautiful little Santenay that's been sitting patiently on the Hillsborough Weaver Street's shelf, getting better with age, for over a year now.
There was another reason I felt I had had a little wine, too.
Even though Saturday was a beautiful day and I was pretty well rested---and had, of course, had nothing to drink the previous night---I had a splitting, partially blinding headache all day, the kind you associate with a hangover: right behind the eyes, unshakable, malicious. After the auction, I went for a short but brisk run in the late-afternoon warmth (80 degrees!), in order to try to shake the ache loose, and then went to work. At work, I feel compelled to add, a guest brought in a couple of rare wines, and I confess (this Lent procedure being a Catholic thing) that I had a sip of the Bollinger 1998 pre-phylloxera special bottling (wow), and another of a Chambolle 2001 "Les Amoureuses" (another installment in my ongoing, what-is-wrong-with-me failure to "get" Chambolle; I've had basic Bourgogne Rouge that gave more pleasure for far less money).
Headache subsided, then returned, with a criminal vengeance, by 10:00. I popped some ibuprofen before bed and felt better today, but seem to have pulled a muscle or something on the top of my foot. Had to take it easy. Limping.
Which leads me to this: is not drinking having an indirect but powerful effect on my corpus? Have I gotten accustomed to it in such a deep way that not having alcohol could give me a weird, apparently sourceless headache, which could in turn lead obliquely to a compensatory run that would result in an injured foot? Maybe it isn't that I'm having a direct reaction to an alcohol-free period, but a second-order one instead, defined by domino-effect problems. Maybe this is what a modest but incessant pattern of use leads to: ramified, fragmented consequences, rather than DT's and sneaky benders. Food for thought, or rather, wine.
I said last time that I had made a little breakthrough, a discovery, an illumination of sorts. Didn't get to that in this entry. Will next time.