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Sparkling Wine

Interview with Alison Schneider, Jepson's wine maker
by Paul Donaldson

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Sparkling Wine Review Mark Kernaghan savors rosés for the holidays

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HelloGoodbye Suzie Sims-Fletcher says hello and David Sirois says goodbye.

Passion Forum Dr. James Smith speaks about his passion for opera

Under the Goldlight—True Tales of Drinking Champagne Our newest column...Dave Brown takes us on one heck of a night


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Drinker's Poetry J. Blake Gordon & Slattery

Fiction Anna Luciano tackles coming home for the holidays


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      It had started off innocently enough, as these situations have the habit of doing on their own, but it was the speed and direction the night went that is worth remembering, which is not to suggest that the lack of need for research to corroborate the details.   I was left to my own devices one fine evening a few years back, which usually leads to situations where mayhem and debauchery abound the likes of which haven't been seen since the Barbary pirates were raiding the coast of Tripoli in the nineteenth century (g.f.).

...a true story

by Better Drink staff writer Dave Brown....

            It was a beautiful summer day in the year 2001, and one of my best friends from my childhood days was to be married the following day to a beautiful woman who we all loved and cherished as a new member of our circle of friends.   I had flown home from some town in this great, if not staunchly Republican country on a Friday afternoon.   I am not exactly sure where I flew from, and am not in the least surprised to find this knowledge lost to me for this was the summer of the notorious Clam Bake Tour 2001, in which I worked for a catering company that traversed the Southern states bringing along with us tasty delights from the Northeast coast, such as clams, mussels, and of course lobster.   Now I have seen a great many sights, but I am always amazed at the sheer gluttony of human beings when presented with a buffet style dinner that serves lobster, especially when the clientele involves well paid and well practiced medical doctors.  

            Not to digress, but when a person who nets an income well into the six figure income bracket finds it necessary to steal beat up wicker baskets, $.50 crackers (to break the lobster shells), and finally, though certainly not lastly, wet-naps.   Now I am a fan of the wet-nap, don't get me wrong, but I have never felt the need to build a cache of them.   I imagine that they can be useful on long trips that involve small children, or simply used to freshen oneself up, but they are available in most supermarkets and usually come in convenient packaging where dispensing is easy and self contained, while the stolen individually-wrapped wet-naps pile up in the offender's glove-box like a desperate college student hides condoms in his sock drawer.

            Being a catering crew that was worth its weight in gold, we traveled with a full bar, and it was usually my responsibility to manage the bar and distribute the libations to the many thirsty patrons, whose favorite beer, indecently, was Bud light, a ghastly drink on its own, and when consumed en-masse, one can imagine why Southern stereotypes exist. During this time, when the dinner was winding down and we were well on our way to the next function, we would usually enjoy a cold beer or begin to tackle the left over wines that we also carried.   It was not until the week's end that we would lay into the heavier liquids, which is another tale for another day.   But suffice it to say, that by this time, I was well accustomed to the drink and the good times that came with it.

            To return to the point at hand, I arrived in Syracuse, New York early to mid afternoon, and was escorted by a friend to one of the many malls that surround the city to receive the final fitting for my tux.   I recall being slightly hung-over for the event and sauntered off to a restaurant that happened to serve for a little hair of the dog so to speak. This did not make the tailor at all happy as they were expecting to close soon and he needed to adjust the sleeves, not an easy task when the arm in question is otherwise engaged lifting weights at a bar.   Despite the protests administered upon my return, it had occurred to me that an evening filled with chaos was about to set sail with the aforementioned pirates.  

            We arrived at the rehearsal without a hitch, and suffered through the tedium of the wedding planner's insistence that we take the matter seriously.   Now, I am not one to usually judge a book by its cover, but I must confess that I have noticed a trend among wedding planners, and ours certainly fit the description: short, generously plump-though not displeasingly so-with her hair fixed in a tight bun and the peculiar absence of a band on her ring finger.   I do not mean to be cruel, but to insist upon perfection without the slightest bit of personal experience or the ability to acknowledge the overall simplicity of the matter, nor the emotions of the bride and groom-who were also not amused in the least by the Nazi-like insistence that we run the program again and again until she has become satisfied that we cretins have finally mastered the idea-is ludicrous.   As I walked up and down the isle for the fourth time, my head began to throb anew and I was looking forward to the celebratory libations that awaited us less than a mile from the church.  

The moment finally arrived when we were released from the clutches of "The Planner", and joyously made haste to the rehearsal dinner where waiting for us were cold and open beers.   There is nothing quite like a cold beer on a hot day when one is forced to wear more formal attire and has been recently subjected to such nonsense as previously mentioned.   The guests started to arrive and we began our third or fourth beers when we were asked to sit for dinner.   It was at this moment, as bottles of champagne were carried to the tables, that the evening yawned and opened its maw to show us the horrors that it had been planning in our absence.   All I recalled about this particular lovely beverage's container was that it had an orange-ish colored label, and a cork.   Now normally mentioning the cork would appear mundane, except that when one is in high spirits, and is surrounded by a number of his mates, he will invariably send said cork flying in the direction of another's back-side.   We have all heard the argument that boys will be boys, and this is especially true when one of them is about to be married, which brings the best of friends together after a considerable absence from each other's presence.   This was certainly the case this particular evening and whilst no one was looking, the loud sound of a popping cork repeatedly echoed throughout the evening, each immediately followed by an exclamation of surprise as another cork wound its way home.

            It was soon after many glasses were drowned into our stuffed bellies, which slowly fogged our thoughts and dulled our wits, when something happened I will not soon forget.   A late arriver to the party appeared and brought with him an item which shall live in infamy among this great gathering of friends long after I have departed this earth. Someone had apparently made a phone call to bring re-enforcements to the party which, I might add, was not really needed, but I must insist that the bubbly goodness of the champagne had distorted our judgments to the point of no return. The last variable of the equation arrived, and it manifested itself in the form of a rather large, ornamentally sized bottle of champagne, which also, coincidently, had what became known as "The Mother Cork."   I am not sure whose arse was struck with this monster, though I am fairly certain that it left an equally sizable bruise.   We gathered in a circle, each taking his respective turn beating up our newly arrived friend, and rubbing the bruises that were forming on our posteriors.   Even when the bottle approached its inevitable demise of being deprived of its contents, two hands were required to lift the heavy weight of the bottle to our lips.   It should be noted here that we did not exercise any amount of class when consuming the contents. No flutes were dirtied during the consumption.   We did not even consider the use of plastic cups, which would have, I believe, slowed the consumption and prevented the evening from slipping merrily out of control.   But invoking the principle of boys will be boys; we chose the barbaric route of standing in a circle, passing the bottle around, raising it until the dimpled bottom was held perpendicular to the darkening sky.  

            As the last drop was sucked from the bottle, and I am sure that some one had stuck their tongue inside the opening to lick what may have been trapped there, someone had the stellar idea that we should throw one last bachelor party of sorts for the groom. Now these ideas are almost always borne out of alcohol induced reverie, and this one was as it turned out, was no exception. We decided to pay a visit to the only casino in the area that lay about an hour's journey from where we were celebrating.   We approached the bridesmaids with the idea and were grossly and flatly rejected; apparently our reverie was ours and ours alone.   Undaunted, we piled headlong into a mini-van, having grabbed whatever half drunk bottles we could find, along with the brilliant idea to swing by the store to sequester more for the trip home.  

            The sun had finally set and we were quickly winding our way at near breakneck speeds to gamble our last dollars away.   We had made remarkable time, considering that we stopped no less than three times on the New York State Thruway to relieve ourselves on the shoulder, and by this time, it is safe to assume that I was indeed inebriated beyond the point of normal intoxication, and had no business whatsoever going to a casino, much less any other place that held good people simply looking for an innocently good time.   Anyone who knows anything about the overindulgence of champagne consumption, will tell you that the buzz is effervescent and carries with it a feeling of intense mirth, so much so that to stop smiling and laughing would be a direct violation of nature's laws, and for me to sit calmly and concentrate on a game was completely out of the question.   My friends on the other hand, were more accustomed to such games and immediately sat down with pockets full of converted dollars, leaving me to drift away on my own.   I wandered off, clutching with a death-grip like ferocity my last remaining ten dollar bill.  

I was in search of fun, in the form of finding a bar, a girl, or some other amusement, and not necessarily in that order. I was off and while I cannot be sure of all the details, I do recall sitting down at a slot machine to chat with an elderly couple. This in and of itself is not an oddity where I am concerned, as I often find myself seeking out older generations to pick their brains for their stories and philosophies on life.   What was unusual was my snap decision to speak to them in what was in my opinion, a rather poor Irish brogue.   They instantly took to me as most people tend to do with the Irish because of their gift for gab and uncanny charm. This I think they would later regret. I discerned from initial conversation they were from the region and were simply looking for an evening out together.   I made the assumption that they had earned this privilege through hard work and patience, and desired at this point to spend their last few dollars at the slots, looking to hit it big and establish a nest egg that would leave them and their offspring comfortable for many years to come.  

They must have been mightily impressed because they instantly believed my story of having just stepped off the boat from Sligo.   I had intuited their confidence in me as I asked them if I could bestow upon them some of the 'ol Irish luck, and was permitted to touch their coins before they inserted them into the slot. However, I was soon pulling the lever and inserting coins for them. They watched as coin after coin disappeared into the darkness of the machine without as much as a penny falling in reward, despite my tireless efforts to win their fortune. They asked all sorts of questions about the old country and I delighted them with stories that were completely fabricated and nonsensical as I unabashedly reached into their KFC family sized bucket of tokens to insert into the slots.   I imagine that it must have been painfully obvious to them at this point that I was drunk, and must perhaps wondered what I planned on doing with the ten dollar bill still clutched tightly in my hand.   Would I hand it over to them in compensation for ruining their evening, or to replace the coins that I said were sure winners?   Perhaps in retrospect I should have given that money to them.after-all, I had taken their coins, inserted them into their machine, and the one I sat in front of, with reckless abandon.    In effect, I suppose I had robbed these poor folks of - not only of their money - but their fun a well, and that is a crime that cannot be punished until one wakes up the next morning and feels the heavy weight of guilt pressing down on ones conscience.  

They suffered my presence well enough until I began to inquire about their unmarried daughters: were they attractive and more important available?   They kindly laughed with a negative response - their daughters were happily married with their own families.   Undeterred, I quickly inquired about their granddaughters, a question that I recommend never to be asked to a God-fearing Christian couple in the twilight of their years. Insulted, and rightfully so, they asked me to leave, a request I obliged, though not without a regret that I had no leads, and could not help but wonder what they thought of the Irish and their gift of gab now.  

It was not long after this that I began to wander about in search of my friends who were somewhere in this huge arena of flashing lights, tintinnabulations of bells and scantily clad waitresses balancing loads of drinks and other table necessities on a small tray.   Taking my cue from the latter I decided to order a scotch and upon receiving it gulped down the peaty contents which soon proved to be my undoing. I felt the evening wavering on the head of a pin and I began to feel what it must be like for angels who dance there merrily, spinning and twirling endlessly in God's love. Only it was not God's love I was then experiencing, rather something more akin to his wrath at having disrupted such a lovely couple, and the scotch had become the vessel of his displeasure. The time had come to remove myself from the nightmare that had unfolded itself before me.  

I headed for the exit and much to my chagrin, could not locate one that looked familiar.   I walked in loops and circles desperately looking for any sign of my wayward friends or the exit sign that would lead me home.   After a few minutes, in what seemed like hours, I grew frustrated and needed to escape the glitz and glamour of the casino. Not being able to find a suitable exit of my own, I did the next best thing and strolled up to the largest, most intimidating security guard and asked him to escort me out of the building.   He said that was not his job and I would have to find my own way out.     Undeterred and showing surprisingly resourceful methods, I proceeded to insult the man.   He soon acquiesced and led me by the arm out of the casino.   I thanked him kindly, receiving a gruff (though I am sure I detected a hint of amusement) grunt in response.   As the aforementioned luck of the Irish would have it, at the precise moment we approached an exit, I was spotted by one of my good friends who quickly came to my side with the utmost concern in his voice, and inquired why I was being escorted from the casino in this manner.   Smiling in answer, I continued with my usher until he bade me goodnight, like a true gentleman is wont to do, and returned to his post. My friend looked me up and down and stopping at the ten dollar bill still clutched tightly in my hand.

My friend, all the while laughing, showed me to the van, but could not, for the lack of keys, put me in it.   We stood for a moment as he hung onto my arm to stabilize me, wondering what we should do.   Necessity, being the mother of invention, presented us with a solution.   I grabbed onto the van as best as I could while he hoisted me up by my feet until I was resting comfortably on the roof.   I do not know if I caused any damage, but it seemed like a lovely place to be at the time so I made the most of it.   My friend left to locate the keys as he too had been separated and could not find anyone, but was also in the frame of mind where he wanted to depart.   So here I was a six foot five inch man lying peacefully (though oddly consciously) under the stars on top of a minivan in the middle of a vast, packed casino parking lot.   Boredom quickly set in, but I knew that I could not leave as that would likely prove disastrous; instead I reached into my pocket, exchanged the ten dollar bill for a cell phone, and proceeded to call everyone in the electronic rolodex (with obvious familial exceptions).    I spoke to more voicemail prompts than living people, which later proved to be beneficial.   I recounted all the details of the evening over the span of ten messages, and had I not done this, this evening would have been washed into obscurity.

Somehow I had lost consciousness and awoke to find myself stuffed into the back of the mini-van covered with coats, empty cans and bottles, no doubt placed there by my adoring friends, with a desire to be anywhere but there.   As I stirred, I made a bit of a racket as items fell off my person and onto the floor. I heard a raucous laughter and peered over the seat to see a laughing company of the most inebriated people I have ever seen.   And as the van hurled into the night, my head falling back onto the pile of debris, I closed my eyes and let darkness swallow me into its void.  

 

 

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