The White Wine List Of My Dreams


There are worse things to write than a wine list, but I’d rather write about a wine list, since a wine list doesn’t have enough words. Once I had a wine list where I wrote little descriptions of what the wines tasted like underneath their names, but that still wasn’t enough: when it comes to words, I need at least a thousand to really get me going.
        Now, I don’t think wine lists should have descriptions of the wines at all, especially not cutesy or clever ones. It’s pointless: there’s nothing any writer could do to stop the names of the wines from being the most beautiful words on the page. Just try and write a sentence that looks as good as, for instance, Méo-Camuzet Vosne-Romanée Premier— no— 1er Cru, or even just ‘1er Cru,’ when you write it like that, with the 1. Imagine opening up a pretty old book to any page and seeing those beautiful words written down in the middle of it. Your eye would be drawn to them. See how ugly the sentence "Your eye would be drawn to them" looks comparatively?
        So that’s the first thing I want to say about the imaginary wine list I'm writing about: it doesn’t have descriptions. And it would be shaped like a book, and bound. It’s alright when wine lists are just one long piece of paper but I hate when they’re something so precious, a clipboard or a duo-tang or whatever. Some “fresh new take” on a wine list being a wine list. Give me a break.
       The wine list I'm writing about doesn't exist because, if it did, I would have to write it, it would have to belong to my wine bar, and I don't want to have a wine bar. I’m too lazy, not rich enough, and also, I don’t really like wine bars. I go to them because I have to, because I’m a person who lives in a city in North America and likes to drink good wine— but I also think that no wine can be enjoyed to its fullest at a WINE BAR in a CITY in NORTH AMERICA. Wine tastes first-best on the vineyard where it’s made, second-best in a bar/restaurant close to where it’s made (which would probably never be called a “wine bar,” unless you’re in California), third-best in a person’s home close to where it’s made, a hundredth-best in some drippy wine bar in Cleveland or Vancouver or whatever. Whenever a new wine bar opens up in Toronto and a person tells me it’s “good,” I take it with a grain of salt. You have to assume that every wine bar in your city is necessarily an abomination, and then grade it on a curve.
        If I were ever rich enough to open up a wine bar, I’d also have to be bored. Like, the richest, boredest person you could imagine. If I were just regular rich and bored, I’d want to go work on a vineyard and do physical labour for the love of the game; if I were very rich and bored, I'd get a job working as a food runner at a restaurant. Food runner is my favourite job— it’s so easy, and you never have to talk to a person. So, in this fake scenario, I would already have had to carry out those two phases of rich person boredom for long enough that I’d have reached a point of no longer being satisfied by my food-running gig, which seems impossible, but, you know. Stranger things have happened, I guess. 
        So that’s the back-story. I’d quit my job as a fifty-five year old food runner, move back to Toronto, and open up a wine bar. I’d call it John F. Kennedy International Airport— no, John F. Kennedy Int’l Airport, Int’l, with the apostrophe. Not for any real reason: I just think it’s a solid name. And I hate when wine bar names are so transparent about the wine bar being a wine bar. Like, calm down. If your wine bar is a wine bar, we’ll figure out that it’s a wine bar. You don’t have to name it “Tannin.”
       At John F. Kennedy Int’l Airport, the wine by the glass list would be a small slip of paper paper-clipped to the front of the wine-book wine-list. It would be written in inky black Micron pen in my cutesy loopy penmanship, then photocopied using an inky-smelling Xerox machine from twenty-five years ago (or, fifty years ago, since my wine bar is set twenty-five years in the future), and the belly of the machine would overheat, and you could warm your hands on it, and when the paper printed out it would feel hot too.


Champagne & Egg Yolk


A cook at my restaurant was experimenting with sous-vide-ing egg yolks; I was polishing wine glasses and watching him. A shell was cracked open, and a white had not set. The gluey white fell dramatically, in ribbons, away from the yolk and into the sink, reminding me of once-melted, now-set candlewax. The clean orbs of yolk, barely-translucent marbles made of sunset, were a greater success. They sat sweetly on a small white plate. They were perfect.
        We ate the egg yolks smeared on ripped-off hunks of baguette with butter and fleur de sel. Oily and plush, fat, almost fudge-like in texture. The salt was spunky, like pop-rocks, and the butter was unnecessary but so necessary: a silky, deafening indulgence, cream on cream—
        It was perfect. That bite of food was perfect.
        I went downstairs and packed up my things. I put on my coat, and came upstairs to find a runnier execution: this time, the yolk was flat, as if tidily cut out of the middle of a classic fried egg, and its juicy innards were contained only by a thin, frail skin. Pierced with the tip of a butter knife, the yolk oozed out of itself. It was dementedly satisyfing to watch, like one of those zit-popping videos on YouTube.
       I walked home, and later received a text message asking me what wine pairs best with runny egg yolk. I knew the answer without having to think of it.


Some Rieslings I Have Known


I wanted to get a gold nameplate necklace spelling out the name of a wine grape, but I couldn’t decide which one. My two favourites, Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, are each two words long, which posed a problem: I would have to jarringly interrupt the flow of the pendant’s perfect cursive to introduce a capital letter mid-word, CabernetFranc or CheninBlanc, which are both horrible-looking and remind me of names of mid-nineties tech start-ups: HydraSonic, IntraTek, UniCorp. Alternately, I could buy two necklaces (say: one Chenin and one Blanc), with one chain slightly longer, but then the chains would get tangled up in each other, and I’d have to wear two necklaces.
        I (truly) spent years mulling over which one-word wine grape I’d most like to champion: Chardonnay was too on-the-nose, and somehow the physicality of the word itself connotes a trash-glam aesthetic I don’t really relate to. Nebbiolo would be too loopy-looking: same goes for Tempranillo. Lord knows I love a single-varietal Carignan, but nobody’s ever heard of it, and I didn’t feel like explaining it to people all the time. Malbec? Sangiovese? Regal, yes, but not in my wheelhouse, non-options. Mourvèdre I adore, but like Carignan, it’s too niche. Syrah looks like Mynah bird and I don’t even love it; Shiraz I don’t acknowledge as being a real thing. When people talk to me about Shiraz, I assholeishly repeat it as “Syrah” back to them. 
        Viognier, Grenache, Riesling, Dolcetto. These were my last grapes standing.


Late last spring, I co-hosted a staff wine tasting with my ex-wine boss, who was visiting from LA. We tasted a dry, weirdly-minerally Riesling from Piemonte, and he told us the story of the time he’d met an Austrian Riesling producer with a tattoo on his inner forearm of the word “RIESLING” in a garish, fifties-horror-movie style font, surrounded by images of skulls, demons, lightning bolts and the flames of hell.
        The staff were delighted, and I asked “Can I date him?” to make them laugh. In my head, I thought, “If someone believes in Riesling enough to ink it onto their body for the entire rest of their life, the least I can do is write it on a necklace,” and the next day I finally purchased my wine-grape-nameplate, off a poorly-designed website called MyNameNecklace.com.
        Once it arrived, I never took it of. I wore it every single day for the next eight months— “Is that your name?” people sometimes asked, and I would say “I wish!”
        Even more frequently, and expectedly, “Is Riesling your favourite?” people would ask, to which I always replied:
        “It’s not my favourite wine grape, but it’s certainly the noblest.”


Desperately Seeking Susan Taught Me How to Walk Down the Street


When I was a teenager I read a semi-trashy unauthorized biography of Patti Smith, and there was a story about Patti being a kid and finding a book of Arthur Rimbaud's poetry, in French. Patti said something about how she didn't know French but she knew the book was going to be important to her, and how the words glittered even though she couldn't understand them. 

I saw Desperately Seeking Susan for the first time when I was seven, in the theater, with my mom and my best friend. I loved it immediately and continued to love it the 800 times I watched it on VHS throughout my childhood, but now I love it more than ever. It's a glittering poem, or a treasure box whose treasure I couldn't fully appreciate at first, because when I was seven I hadn't seen Stranger Than Paradise or listened to Blank Generation. All the pieces of treasure are things that I've grown up to love and need, many of them in the last year or so. Each time I watch it now I notice something new, the most recent catch being a copy of Adventure by Television on the floor of Dez's apartment. It's infinitely formative, in ways that never stop revealing themselves. So here's a scattershot little post about my current fave movie, and all the things I love most about it today:

i. Look at this beautiful cast photo. I love that it's bookended by Richard Hell and John Lurie whose song "Small Car" I've listened to 500 zillion times since first hearing it this summer. My birthday's in six days and I'd love to be given an exclusive behind-the-scenes video documenting this photo shoot.

The only failure of that photo is that Richard Hell doesn't look so great, which makes no sense, because how hard can it be to make Richard Hell look great? The movie calls him a gangster, but I prefer to think of him as a jewel thief- Richard Hell makes me romantic about everything. Let's look at some pictures of him looking good:

Ever since Richard Hell became one of my favorite people I've wished there were a Desperately Seeking Susan prequel starring him and Madonna, about all the fun they had till he started getting serious. It would correct the one tragedy of the movie, which is that Richard Hell never actually speaks. You know the part on At Folsom Prison when Johnny Cash tells June Carter "I love to watch you talk"? That's how I feel about Richard Hell. His speech is so loose and lazy but there's still some kind of spark to it, because he's a Roman candle and a comet and 12 other kinds of fireworks. Give yourself an early Christmas present and spend a few seconds watching Richard Hell talk. Watch him say "You know I don't care about money" in 1979

Earlier this year I had a moment of deep clarity and recognized that my all-time favorite song lyric is the part in "Venus" by Television that goes Richie said, "Hey man, let's dress up like cops, think of what we could do." It's a true story about when Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine lived together and Richard wanted to dress up like cops and go out and raise hell, but Tom wouldn't go along with it. I love the accuracy of Tom Verlaine's Richard Hell impression, his use of the diminutive, his willingness to admit to being the uptight one. You know that movie Let's Be Cops that came out a few years ago? I wish that were a documentary starring Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell, filmed on a night that never happened. 

My favorite Richard Hell song this year was "You Gotta Lose," from that great big Ork Records compilation which I love. It's a poem and a bop, it's a little mean but it never not brightens my head and punches me up: listening to Richard Hell gives you good attitude. Let's live life like a movie where Richard Hell is forever passed out in our trashed hotel room with the red velvet flocked wallpaper, a bottle of champagne by the bed and a box of chocolates on the floor.

(BTW, "anecdotes about when Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine lived together" is my favorite genre of literature. Richard Hell wasn't the best roommate- the two of them shared a bed, and whenever Richard brought a girl home Tom would have to go sleep on the roof. There's also a story about the time their refrigerator broke and the landlord wouldn't fix it, so then they threw it out the window. You can read all this in the beautiful book I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, by Richard Hell.)


Reds of Summer


1. Dolcetto (mid-June through mid-July)

The word Dolcetto sounds like it should be the name of a song, a kind of song, or a story about a song. Or a part of an opera or a style of opera or a sort of symphony.
        It’s a wine grape: the “lesser Piemontese wine grape,” it’s called, which makes me want to love it, because it’s more interesting to love the thing you’re supposed to love less more. Loving something you’re supposed to love less because of the reasons you’re supposed to love it less is one of the most beautiful things that can happen to a person, but it doesn’t make very much sense when it comes to loving wine grapes. It makes the most sense when it comes to loving one-eyed, or three-legged, dogs.

I don’t love Dolcettos the wines, mostly I just like them, but I love one Dolcetto, my Dolcetto: My Summer Red. The first time I ever drank it was in the wintertime, but I didn’t like it then: maybe because it didn’t suit the wintertime, or maybe because it needed six more months to age in bottle, or maybe because it was the first Dolcetto I ever tasted, and I was gearing up for myself to love Dolcetto so much more than I love Nebbiolo— the more-er Piemontese wine grape— and was so disappointed to find out that I didn’t that it temporarily blinded me, or my tongue at least.
        I was tasting it with a bunch of kids whose boss I am. I was mad at the Dolcetto for not being as good as I wanted it to be: I couldn’t slot it into anywhere, couldn’t figure out if it was serious or gluggable or light-bodied or medium-bodied or fruit-forward or medium-tannin or aromatic or fucking anything, at all, besides being a bottle that looked good on a table, with a matte lipsticky dark pink foil and a swishy little watercolour of a rose on the label, which duped all the children into thinking it tasted like flowers— everyone was saying “It’s kind of floral,” but I couldn’t taste it: I suck at being able to taste the tastes of different flowers in wine— I only know rose, because everyone knows rose, and there’s a certain wine-y taste that I’ve come to know as being “white flower,” but it’s not because I know what white flowers smell like, it’s because I’ve been tasting wines for long enough to know that when certain wines taste like a certain something, it’s “white flower.”


Some Wine I Drank In England


1. 2 $14 glasses of NV Bisol Desiderio e Figli 'Belstar' Prosecco DOC

I am at an airport bar, and sadly, it’s not a very good one. But I am, however, here. So that's something!
        At work yesterday, I told my friend how much I was looking forward to having a drink at an airport bar— “If you’re having a drink at an airport bar,” I told her, “It means you have literally nothing, in the world, to do, except have a drink at an airport bar.”
         Even being on holiday is higher-stress than being at an airport bar. On holidays you have to go do something, go look at something, see a building, eat a food you can't get at home. You're supposed to be having a very special time and if for whatever reason at whatever moment you're not, it means you're fucking up your holiday and that kind of thing gets me really skittish. No one would ever ask you to be having a very special time at an airport bar. So I feel very safe here.
       Here I am, me, at this piece of crap. I have fully committed myself to being here, drinking a glass of Prosecco, which I ordered on an iPad, which is bolstered to a wall. I briefly considered giving Wayne Gretzky Estates’ Chardonnay “No. 99” a go, as a joke about being Canadian to myself, but I needed bubbles. I needed this thing I’m doing to be as close to my romantic ideal of “drinking champagne at an airport bar” as I could get it.

Something I often say, and sometimes believe, is that I want it to say It’s only called Champagne if it’s from the Champagne region of France on my tombstone. Drinking a glass of Prosecco at an airport bar and telling someone you drank a glass of Champagne at an airport bar is, sorry, unacceptable. On instinct I just started writing a sentence that began "Calling Prosecco Champagne is like calling...", but really, there's no comparison more coherent, more profound, than Prosecco v. Champagne itself: "Calling generic-brand club soda Perrier is like calling Prosecco Champagne," you could say, or, "Calling your synthetic velour H&M camisole velvet is like calling Prosecco Champagne" — 
        Calling Prosecco Champagne is like calling Prosecco Champagne. Calling Prosecco Champagne is slightly worse than calling Prosecco Cava. Calling Cava Champagne is slightly better than calling Prosecco Champagne. Calling Cava Prosecco is gauche. Calling Champagne Prosecco is literally the gauchest thing a human being could do. If I ever heard a person call Champagne Prosecco, I would literally die, for seemingly no reason, on the spot. 

(My tasting note for Belstar Prosecco: Sugar on the nose, plain white sugar, the bad stuff. And there’s fruit on it, stupid generic fruit flavour— it’s imprecise. Pears? Tangerines. Synthetic tangerine, some tangerine & acacia flower Bath & Body Works-branded bubble bathy body sprayey thing, but I don’t hate it, in fact I love it, it’s an on-the-nose example of its own horribleness, so I appreciate it for that, and also, okay, here's my thing: it’s better than a Fresca! That’s my tagline for Belstar Prosecco, if I were Don Draper pitching to the Belstar people, just get me in a room... "One hundred percent, unfuckwithably, you literally can’t deny it, the taste of it tastes better in your mouth than the taste of a can of Fresca- though not by much! But by a little.") 


Infinitely Stunned with a Pail of Rainbow Sherbet: A 2017 Thing About Kurt Cobain


If Kurt Cobain were alive he’d be turning 50 on Monday. Here are some Kurt things I’ve been thinking about lately:

i. Last month I listened to a bad recording of the Nirvana show I went to when I was 15. One of the first times Kurt talks to the crowd he says “Please don’t throw shoes” with this great big sigh in his voice - it’s only a few songs in, and he’s already so exasperated with us. He sounds like a sulky babysitter, and in a way he kind of is.

There’s some other good commentary during the show, about gin and AC/DC and the Buzzcocks and being addicted to cigarettes, but I was mostly listening for this thing that happened after “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and before “All Apologies.” It starts at 1:13:00 of the video below, when Krist goes off on some guy in the crowd for groping a girl in the pit. He’s yelling and cursing in his big dopey Krist voice, and then Kurt comes in and just serenely eviscerates the guy. I loved him so much for that, and played that moment over and over in my head for so long after that night. I will never get over Kurt Cobain’s speaking voice, how he could be both deeply calm and totally withering at the same time. Some withering stage banter from Kurt Cobain would be so good in 2017.

The Sunday of the weekend Kurt died, I went out for my usual Sunday-morning breakfast with my dad and his girlfriend. I wore the shirt I bought the night I went to see Nirvana, and I ordered pancakes and made a big show of being sad about Kurt being dead. While we waited for our food my dad mansplained to me about how Kurt Cobain was the John Lennon of my generation, which I hated: I thought it was a lazy opinion lifted from a lazy description in the local newspaper, and I still feel that way. Kurt Cobain and John Lennon each had his own job to do in this world, and they were both very good at those jobs, but neither has all that much to do with the other.

HOWEVER, one thing that connects Kurt Cobain and John Lennon in my mind now is the likelihood that they’d both be fantastically hateful of the current president of the United States. They’d talk the most amazing shit about that person, and it would comfort us and make us feel cool. One of the qualities I most value in a rock-and-roll musician is the ability to make me feel temporarily protected from the ugly bullshit of the world but also in on some secret way to rise above it, and I suppose John Lennon and Kurt Cobain have each got that in spades.

ii. Once upon a time when I was still a journalist and got paid to go to extravagant places and write about them, I spent a few days at a resort on a mountain by the ocean in Central California. During my stay I went on a hike with one of the guys who ran the resort, whose name was Jonah. Jonah was from Israel and served in the Israeli army and then came to America and got into the wellness industry. On our hike up the mountain and down to the beach he told me how, at some point in the last year of Kurt Cobain’s life, Kurt’s handlers had sent him to stay at the health spa where Jonah used to work. He talked about how he’d met with Kurt and how Kurt was this quiet kid, and how he wished they hadn’t pushed him back out into the world so quickly. He said something like, “They should have just let him be for a while. He was a poet.” I think that's maybe the loveliest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say about Kurt Cobain. Kurt doesn't get nearly enough loveliness spoken about him.

I’ve been listening to Bleach and Incesticide a lot lately and you can really feel Kurt being an unhealthy kid, with his weird stomach disease and all that. And there’s this video of the band practicing at Krist’s mom’s house in 1988, and they all remind me of the depressed metalhead boy who sat at my lunch table in ninth grade and always ate the worst lunches. They seem like they take terrible care of themselves, and eat the worst food all the time.

I remember watching a clip of that video when I was about 17 and thinking, “Nirvana are kind of gross.” But now we’re far away enough from their era that the grossness has become romantic. Nirvana makes me miss all the bad food I never eat anymore: foods from being a kid in 1988, like SpaghettiOs and Devil Dogs, ambrosia salad and strawberry Quik, a bologna sandwich on Wonder Bread, rainbow sherbet by the pail. Or how sometimes in school our snack would be a big slice of government cheese, served with a tiny carton of chocolate milk. I never even knew government cheese was called government cheese until I heard Krist say “government cheese” in an interview in 1993. No other band in the world had ever happened on a government-cheese level. Nirvana was the only one who knew those mundane/shitty details of your life, and now they make me remember parts of my life that I might have forgotten otherwise.

I wonder what Kurt ate when he was at the health spa with Jonah. I feel like some miso soup and brown rice and roasted barley tea would have been good for him. I wonder if he would have ever quit smoking or just kept at it forever. I wonder if he would have made an album with Michael Stipe like he talked about, or made a new wave record and brought back breakdancing like he also talked about. I wonder what his hair situation would be these days, and also his facial-hair situation. I wonder if he’d be into music like Grimes or Torres or Sheer Mag, and where he’d exist in relation to Kanye. Part of me thinks that by now he would've just gone off to live in a house in the woods in the middle of nowhere - but that might be because when I was 15 and listened to Nirvana all the time, my main dream was to go off and live in a house in the woods in the middle of nowhere. I wrote stories about that, and in the stories the kids listened to so much Nirvana, despite having got exactly what they wanted.

iii. On Sunday I went to look at the building where Kurt and Courtney lived in 1991/1992. It’s a nice place on a nice quiet street, a few blocks from Canter’s. Someone was playing piano inside and there was a Little Tikes basketball hoop on the front lawn. I took some pictures and walked down to Farmers Market, and on my way I passed the newsstand where there was a chubby little girl in a bathing suit and some ridiculous Pomeranians. At Farmers Market I bought a pint of strawberries and a cup of fountain Diet Coke and wrote for a few hours in my secret writing space, then walked back up Fairfax a little after dusk.

To me the stretch of Fairfax between Beverly and Melrose is one of the most reliably exciting places in Los Angeles. It’s always got this crazy energy that I don't really feel anywhere else in town. There’s Canter’s and a bunch of old bakeries and antique shops, but there’s also Undefeated and Supreme and the sidewalk's always packed with skater kids: they all look like the future, and like they’re having more fun than anyone else in the world.

On Sunday night I stopped at the Canter’s bakery and got a piece of chocolate rugelach, then walked back to my car at Kurt & Courtney's house. All the kids were smoking weed and one of the coffee shops was blasting the Patti Smith version of “Gloria” so that it spilled out onto the street and took over everything. It felt like being in 7 different decades at once, which is my favorite way for a city to feel. I ate my rugelach and thought some deep thoughts like, “I wonder if Kurt Cobain liked to walk down the street.” The air was electric and the rugelach was so super-buttery, it was heavier than heaven.

I don’t know what that stretch of Fairfax was like in 1991 and 1992, or if Kurt liked it there or liked L.A. in general. For the most part I don’t feel much of Kurt in Los Angeles, though some of the guitar parts on Nevermind sound like certain parts of the city – like the snarly riff thing at the intro to “Breed,” and then the fuzzed-up bassline that comes in alongside it. It sounds like going fast on some ugly road in the Valley where there’s nothing but auto shops and donut shops and hamburger stands about 40 years past their prime. You feel Nirvana in the most falling-apart places: falling-apart but totally magic.

I guess it's weird that it matters to me to be able to feel the presence of a guy who died 23 years when I’m walking down the street in my own city. It’s like that part in High Fidelity when John Cusack says, “Some people never got over Vietnam, or the night their band opened for Nirvana” -- but for me it’s that I just never got over Nirvana, period. I’m still fascinated by them, and I don’t want to ever get over that fascination. Fascination is useful: it keeps you unbored and unboring. The point is to keep fitting the fascination into your life even as your life changes, to use your idols in a new way so that they can accommodate you forever.

Lately my favorite song for walking around L.A. and thinking about Nirvana is “Drive” by R.E.M. To me that song is about Kurt, and what he did to the world and to the kids, with Nevermind. It sounds a million years old, in a dignified/butterfly-trapped-in-amber sort of way, but it still sounds like it’s all happening right now. I love how serious it is, and how it's somehow graceful about being completely over-the-top. But mostly I love it for sounding quietly stunned. Usually stunned is very fleeting, but listening to "Drive" makes me feel like you can go on being stunned forever. Infinitely stunned is a lovely way to be.