Things of the Year: LJ's Wine of the Year, 5 Important Songs, "Planets of the Universe"

LJ'S THING OF THE YEAR: My Wine of the Year 

At my restaurant I sell a wine called Passopisciaro. It is made out of grapes grown on the slope of an active volcano, in Sicily, in the year 2012. It is a crazy wine that reminds me of myself, but it also doesn’t remind me of myself. Sometimes it reminds me of not-myself.
        It’s weird, but not intimidatingly so. It’s not a “somm wine,” which is how sommeliers refer to crazy wines that anyone in the world who isn’t a somm or at least a nerd would hate because they taste like things you’re not supposed to eat, such as dirt. Passopisciaro tastes predominantly of fruit.
        But it also doesn’t taste like fruit. Sometimes it tastes of not-fruit.
        The first time I tried it it reminded me of the ocean— “but, like, gross ocean,” said my bartender, who is insightful. It made me think of a grey day at a beach, but not a good beach, a bad beach: a beach that people don’t go to, a beach with stones instead of sand. It reminded me of the feeling of slurpy seaweed slurping around your bare feet and the water being unpleasantly too cold. Mushy gritty underwater-ground. A “smoothie wine,” my bartender called it, referring to its odd density, the strange thickness of it: a murky, opaque wine that you couldn’t look through a drop of.
        That was two months ago. Two months ago, I rejected the Passopisciaro: I thought it was cool, but I didn’t think people would buy it. But last week I was forced to put it on my by the glass list out of desperation; I needed a high-end Etna to round things out, and it was the only one I had enough of in stock.

(“All I care about is wine,” I so often hear myself say.
        I say it out loud, and I say it in my head. It has at this point usurped everything. It’s the lens through which I view the situation I’m in, as the Beatles used to be.
        Wine is first now, I’m an artist second.)

        All I care about is wine. Here it is, here is the magic of it:

Something happened to that wine over the course of those two extra months it spent aging in bottle. There are sommeliers more sciencey than me who could probably explain why it happened, all that shit about chemical reactions that I will never give a fuck about— I may be a sommelier first, but I’m still an artist second, and I don’t care about chemistry, I care about poetry. I don’t care how the crops were grown or how they pruned the vines. What’s a vine even??? I'm just kidding, I know what a vine is, sort of. But mostly I care about what the winemaker’s face looked like, what her house looks like— I always have to Google Maps the vineyard. I care about which of my childhood memories it conjures up the most, and what song I loved best on the morning of the first day I drank it. There’s a Nebbiolo I know that I first tried within an hour of listening to Venus, my favourite Television song. And so that wine will always taste like a picture of that song, rendered in mechanical pencil, 0.5 weight lead. The picture of the song is a picture of a city, hyper-linear at its core, unfurling into calligraphic frills.
        For her birthday I bought my friend Erin a bottle of Carema made from grapes harvested on her birthday five years prior. I remembered what we were doing on that day, that October 20th we spent together. That wine was the beginning and ending of something: a span of five years and the time we spent inside of it. 
        I drank it for the first time last Friday. My wine director came downstairs and told me that whenever I had a spare moment he had some open treats for me up in the cellar. Eventually, I had a spare moment, and I drank the treats. One of them was that wine, the “Erin wine.” I drank it in the room with the map of the mountain on the wall, next to the cellar, which smells like cedar. I wanted to save a sip of it for my bartender to try but I could not. I could not let it go.
        It was from Piemonte but it reminded me of Austria. December 1899 or some other month or year. I don’t know what the real December 1899 felt like; maybe I’m thinking of something more like February 1691. A little ballerina kid, graphite smeared across her eyes, a tiny wooden box. A pale pink flower woven through a brown tweed buttonhole. Men always call it feminine and they're right, it's feminine and serious; I took it very seriously. It didn’t ask to be taken very seriously, it didn’t command me to take it very seriously. It did nothing. It was an introvert. A church.

Two months later, the Passopisciaro bloomed. It laid low and grew. It wasn’t a gross ocean anymore; it wasn’t an ocean at all- it was still a smoothie, though.
        On the nose, it’s all brimstone and ash. That’s the volcanic soil talking, the Etna trademark. If you want to understand what “minerality” means, drink a wine grown down the side of Mt. Etna: they are to minerality as a Paul McCartney song is to melody. (You want to know if a given somm is worth her salt? Ask her if she’s ever sniffed a rock.) I usually taste minerality as being very somber, but in this instance it’s… glam, almost. Glitzy! Sparkly! Rock & Roll. It’s like: imagine if you found out the world was ending tomorrow, and then you threw a party.
        And then there’s licorice, or liquorice as we used to say in England, licorice so snarky it's a permanent marker almost. It reminds me of how when I was a little kid my grandparents ran a business out of their basement, real estate or something, this was the 1980s: all Filofaxes & fax machines; they even had a car phone. I remember sitting in that office, getting makeshift high by simultaneously spinning around in a spinny-chair and sniffing a permanent marker. That’s the permanent marker the Passopisciaro smells like.   
        But then— like I said— there is fruit.
        Here’s what the fruit is like.
        Imagine the juice of a thousand— no, twenty thousands— little baskets of berries—blackberries, raspberries, summer cherries— condensed into one single drop. Imagine the intensity of that fruit flavour! It’s literally sort of sexual, as anything operating at that level of intensity is doomed to be.
        Some wine tastes expensive; this isn’t one of them. It’s better than that.
        Burgundian Pinot Noir tastes expensive. It makes people who aren’t used to paying a premium for great wine understand why people pay a premium for great wine. But the Passopisciaro makes people who haven’t devoted their entire lives to tasting wine understand why somebody might.
        Two months ago it was a scuzzy hunk of pond-scum, and now it’s fucking Ulysses, or maybe it's Finnegan's Wake. I wrote the first draft of this thing eleven days ago and every morning I go back into the document and change Ulysses to Finnegan's Wake, and then the next day I change it back to what it said two days before. But this is me definitively landing on Finnegan's Wake. It's got a good sense of humour. 
         If it were music it would be something from a long time ago that I don't know the name of, something a bunch of drunk Middle Ages people played at a pub in Bavaria on instruments that don't exist anymore, or never existed. But if you heard it with your today-ears it would sound almost unfathomably punk rock. Like maybe the pub was burning down at the same time as they played it, but nobody died. Somebody rescued them. The drummer rescued them.  
        It also sounds like Can, the record with with green beans on the cover, or Ars Vita Longa Brevis by the Nice. "Art is long, life is short," that means. That's nice. It’s smoking cigars, a Scorpio, the corner of Sesame Street inhabited by Oscar the Grouch. It’s the patron saint of every genius who ever broke out of prison using cunning. If it were a person it’d be Ludwig von Beethoven, Mata Hari, or the Marquis de Sade.
        The Passopisciaro is without a shadow of a doubt the most impressive wine I drank in 2016, but that’s not why it’s my Thing of the Year.
       It’s my Thing of the Year because whatever happened to it over the course of those two extra months it spent transforming into some greater, perfect version of itself, whatever cosmic event or chemical reaction occurred—
       In 2016, the same thing happened to me.

LIZ'S THING OF THE YEAR: All of These Songs

Here's a list of songs that were important to me in 2016:


The first week of October I got sick and read Bruce Springsteen’s memoir in six days. All I really wanted from the book was fun stories about Bruce growing up in New Jersey, about girls and Asbury Park and the beach and the boardwalk and all the scuzzy bars he played in back in the day - like this sentence, about the girlfriend he lived with in 1972:

“She was Italian, funny, a beatific tomboy, with just the hint of a lazy eye, and wore a pair of glasses that made me think of the wonders of the library.”

I could live on sentences like that, and on stories like the one about 14-year-old Bruce walking to the bowling alley after school, drinking a Coke and eating a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, then going to the bowling-alley phone booth to call his girlfriend and talk about the Beatles. But then there’s all this wisdom to the book - he writes a lot about how his inclination is to disappear into his work, and how he recognizes how damaging that is, and how he’s tried to manage it and be present for the people who need him. It seems like something he hasn’t quite figured out yet, like an ongoing tension: how to go about building a good and full and happy life despite his lone-wolf tendencies.

So, that got to me. My favorite Bruce song right now and maybe forever, apart from the Bruce song I have tattooed on my right shoulder, is the version of "Because the Night" from Winterland Ballroom in 1978. Not even the whole song: just the intro, which is this big sprawlingly gorgeous guitar solo that feels like climbing and falling and falling, or just going nowhere but feeling like everywhere. The guitar solo is so much more romantic to me than the words. To me it beats "Desire and hunger is the fire I breathe" a thousand times over, at least.


There's a scene in the penultimate episode of the most recent season of Halt and Catch Fire where the show's two most damaged and semi-tragically-in-love characters reunite after years apart, and then get drunk and dance to "Velouria" by the Pixies in a hotel room in Vegas. They're total goofs and not very good dancers; I feel like they both dance exactly like me. I love how they mirror each other, especially with the shoulder-shaking, but my favorite is when Cameron is dancing alone for a little bit: she does that dumb hopping thing and she's so palpably blissed out on making a big splash with her cool riot-grrrl-y video game and then having this magic night with someone who's equally perfect and terrible for her. When she spins around, you can feel the spinning. I want to see and make more things that feel like spinning like that.


The day after David Bowie died I went to his Walk of Fame star twice. On the second visit, late at night, there was a little "Under Pressure" singalong and it was beautiful and ridiculous. The last minute and a half of "Under Pressure" is the most important music to me of this year; I want it to be important to everyone. Earlier this month I got invited to a birthday party at a karaoke bar and my main plan was to make everybody sing "Under Pressure" and have the last minute and a half be so intense and cathartic - but then by the time the party came around I'd gotten sick and lost my voice. AIN'T THAT JUST LIKE 2016, hahaha


The dumbest yet most emotionally intelligent thing I did this year was take a week off work to go to New York to see Wolf Parade at Bowery Ballroom. They opened with "It's a Curse," so whenever I listen now it's that night again and the lights just went down and the band just walked out to "Magnificent Seven" and then there's that hot clunky guitar intro kind of knifing into the dark and everyone in the room's heart's exploding into a billion shining stars, all in the very same instant!!!! I'm a teenager. When Dan yells that line about "We walked five whole minutes to the dark edge of town/Took a long look at nothing and then turned back around," it sounds like every book I've ever wanted to write.


"The Beast and Dragon, Adored" has lived on my computer for a long time but I didn't really pay attention until I read this thing by Matthew Perpetua, about how people pay to see others believe in themselves. The most important lyrics are: "When you don't feel it, it shows, they tear out your soul" and "And when you believe they call it rock and roll"; they happen in succession and I hear the second lyric as a response to the first, like vanquishing the hell out of any self-doubt and deciding to be totally glorious, because you can. It's so deeply corny, and the corniness is 1,000 percent earned. This song and those lyrics mean more and more to me every single crazy day.


-"Vincent" by Car Seat Headrest, which was playing when I totaled my car on election night
-all of Lemonade obviously
-"Hello Stranger" because of Moonlight
-the new album by my best friends the Red Hot Chili Peppers
-"Down on the Street" by the Stooges because of Diary of a Teenage Girl which was my favorite movie I watched this year by a longshot

JEN'S THING OF THE YEAR: "Planets of the Universe" (Early Demo Version) by Fleetwood Mac on Repeat Forever

I heard this song for the first time this year performed by Justin Vivian Bond. It's devastatingly beautiful and one of Stevie's best songs, for sure. According to JVB's introduction Lindsey Buckingham kept it off of Rumours because he believed it to be a hex. What an asshole. I recommend avoiding Stevie's recent recording of it and listening to this specific recording on repeat for the rest of your life.