I had little recollection of what story I wanted to re-live when I sat down to write this story – but I was excited at the prospect of writing about an evening involving the drinking of Champagne. My drinking memories had been muddied, resulting in a confluence of stories that I have had difficulty peeling apart. I instead decided upon the next best course of action: creating a night; a new memory; one that would stand out amongst all the others. Cognizant images were rattling around my head, so I began piecing together a montage of my greatest moments in hopes that the simple memories would produce fabulous results. Wrecked cars, Pulp-Fiction-like moments, near death experiences (not directly related to the wrecked car, though there was a relation there I think), the time spent on St. John’s where I was smuggled onto foreign lands in the bottom of a sail-boat without identification and the melee that ensued when I stepped onto their beaches, karaoke evenings in Richmond Va.…, all of these moments rolled into a single great night. However, the end did yield some important conclusions one should consider before embarking on a similar notion of contriving an evening in hopes of a glorious story. The evening was full of grand debauchery coupled with painful lessons for why one should simply let things happen on their own. It began in early April, when I called some of my dearest friends and invited them to participate in my research. I was careful not to stress what I wanted to occur, simply that I needed to write an article drinking champagne, and that I simply could not remember with any clarity, a night that may or may not have involved drinking the stuff. So on a chilly Saturday in late April, the troops gathered to aid me in my quest.
I do not remember all the bottles very clearly; my roommate tossed them after they sat around for a couple of days during the hangover fallout. All that remained were the corks that had landed in various spots around the apartment with French (one in Spanish) words declaring what they were. As I began writing this, I had no idea what it was we drank. It was not until some time later when I began cleaning up for yet another fiesta that I found them in their various resting places: windowsills, under couches, one on top of the refrigerator, another, lodging on a bookshelf. It seems as though the corks, and not just from champagne, but from reds as well, refuse to be thrown away, as if they were possessed by the spiritual entities of the parties of which they were a part.
The corks revealed that one champagne was a Veuve Clicquot yellow label, another, a Moet and Chandon, a third was a Roederer Brut Premier, and the forth was a Spanish Sparkler which called itself Avinyo Brut Cava (once I found the corks, I was able to locate their names using the internet). The fifth remains a mystery, though it might have been a Mumms – the cork has yet to show up. And while the wines themselves were all relatively wonderful, what matters most, is how the night progressed and what can happen when we celebrate, with no clear objective in mind.
At seven in the evening, the doorbell rang. I was greeted by my friend Patrick, donned in a jacket that appeared to be made out of denim patches, with matching vest, and a bright orange shirt underneath. His wife Stacey, bearing the Moet and Chandon and various other items which were to be prepared for snacking, accompanied him. I placed their bottle in the refrigerator, uncorked the Veuve Clicquot. This is the only one I would remember, and if I recall correctly it had hints of citrus and apple. The remainder were drunk for the sole purpose of becoming just that…drunk. We were underway.
On one hand I was hoping for a train-wreck styled evening wanting to taste a bit of the debauchery I have lived in some of the previous nights briefly mentioned above. On the other, I wanted the night to progress on its own, an organic night where the train de-railed on its own. We were nearly through this bottle when another couple, Marc and Dana arrived, bearing more gifts, of food and wine – most notably a 2001 Hermitage.
We began preparing some food to retard our drunkenness, so we could see it coming and be generally prepared to withstand the onslaught. I think it is prudent to mention what we ate, solely as a matter or courtesy, or, if for no other reason to make one salivate: insalata caprese, a hot pepper spiced smoked salmon dip, adobo pepper marinated pan seared scallops, a corn salsa with some sort of fancy chip, garlic flat bread, a nice French loaf, strawberries, cheese, crackers, and various dark chocolates were strewn about within arms reach to throw down into our bellies. If there was anything else, the champagne rinsed the memory clean. We grazed and drank, meandering our way through the five bottles of champagne, two or three bottles of red, the white, as we played various selections of music and set our conversation free to drift on the happiness that accompanies drinking great wines amongst great friends.
As we were finishing the forth bottle, my roommate Tony, and his gal Thea arrived, and having arrived somewhat late were greeted with a small hailstorm of corks (which is how I deduced I came to find them strewn about my apartment). Soon thereafter, the final pairing arrived stepping into what I can only describe as something from one of the final scenes from Apocalypse Now, the only difference being we were all in full swing party mode rather than in some drugged haze surrounding the Vietnam War, and they appeared to be a little behind us. The general lighting was the same though, candles burning, psychedelic music playing, and there was if I remember a smoky haze hanging over the room, though of that I cannot be sure as my mind was hazy and in turn my memory. They knew however, that they were involved in something grand, when I sloppily poured a 12 oz. glass of wine for the young woman who arrived with my friend. The look on her face as the wine nearly flowed over the rim was close to shock and dismay. I believe they only wanted to stay for a little while, and the look on her face was a look of resignation that it might be a longer night than they hoped.
The arrival of the new couple caused the dynamic of the soiree to shift slightly as we re-directed our buzz and conversation to include them. Needless to say, it was somewhat difficult and cumbersome, but we managed well enough. It was the first time most of the people had met each other, and while those times can be awkward, nights like that lend an impression to people allowing them to work from a common experience for the next gathering. Regardless of the dynamics though, a six pack of Sam Adams alongside a complimentary sixer of Magner’s cider, and the tour de-force, so to speak, a bottle of 2000 Woodbridge Zinfandel. It must be said that amongst fifty to sixty dollar bottles of champagne, reds, and white, the arrival of a six dollar bottle of Woodbridge sent a small ripple of dismay amongst some of the guests. Others may disagree, and I may not argue with them now, but at the time, I loved that bottle of wine. It may have been the single best bottle of red consumed that evening, or it may have been because I was fairly loaded. Either way, I was not even aware that they still existed. Who keeps Woodbridge around for six years? I have always thought of Woodbridge as being the top to middle-shelf-supermarket wine you get for $9.99 because it’s on sale and it’s the best they have, or, you are slightly desperate and too lazy to walk to the wine shop.
So here we arrived with this innocuous bottle of Woodbridge. I recalled the nights when I worked on a clam bake tour back in 2001, where Woodbridge was served to the people who came to eat our fare. What they did not drink, (which was never much) we drank when our shift was over, leaving us crippled most mornings. It was cheap mass produced wine. It did the job, but by no means should it ever be considered good. So what to do with this bottle that was now in front of us? The givers had departed and we were able to discuss it freely without anyone being hurt or shamed. We un-corked the thing, and, I retrieved my decanter to make sure it was treated with mock respect and was able to breathe properly, as any six year old Woodbridge should be allowed to do. In all fairness, the fact that it was not vinegary or raisin-y [sic] in color spoke volumes. I expected the wine to be terrible. I swirled the wine in the decanter, grabbed my best balloon in a show of mock pretension and poured myself a glass. The shocking realization was that I found the wine to be rather lovely! And though there were attendees who argued it was not, and others who agreed with me, it simply was the finest red I had tasted that evening. Perhaps it was residual memories that had arisen and affected on me an impression from my time spent working with it that caused me to think this way but what stands out to me is that in spite of the professions that the wine was wonky, it was downed with reckless voracity.
Here is where the evening grew murky. It was late, my roommate, Thea, and I were all that remained, and as we polished off the last few remaining drops of wine, I noticed I was rotten drunk. The debauchery I had been hoping for had not occurred. The malicious and reckless destruction of brain cells did occur, but where were the broken tables? Where were the marauding pirates of Barbary? The night had fizzled and I felt cheated somehow. It was then that I did the only sensible thing I did all night and shuffled off to my room where I was out before I hit the bed.
My eyes blinked open and I stared at the ceiling. My first thought was one of bliss. I had no headache! I had no hangover! I raised myself out of bed and realized that the pirates had arrived, albeit a bit late and without my knowledge, and whacked me over the head for going to bed early. The move to get up allowed the wounds from the night before to catch up with my now exploding head. I hated myself and the whole idea of the previous evening’s celebration. I spent the entire day shifting from one uncomfortable position to another. Advil, water, some cokes, a greasy egg and sausage sandwich, bad TV, and little naps. None of them made a bit of difference. My Sunday was as wasted as I was the night before and there was nothing to do but wait the day out. Sadly, my Monday was not much of an improvement. It would appear that my hangovers were beginning to stretch into two day affairs. Though I am only just 31, the wear and tear of the nights excursions were beginning to take a heavy toll. I made the usual vows of swearing off all such nonsense for at least a few months, but as usual, found myself back on the winning team just a short week later.
I then realized what had happened and what I had become. In an unexpected turn, I realized the essence of that particular night was one complete joy, it had become one of the best nights of my life. My best friends had gathered to drink with me, and drink we did, and sang songs, ate wonderful foods, shared our lives with each other, and were merry the entire time we celebrated.
Each person has their own reality which dictates how the evening progresses. My friends arrived with the idea of spending a night in the company of friends and getting loaded in the process. I spent the night looking for something to happen, and all I found in the end was the bottle of Woodbridge. It took a couple of days for it to settle on me, but I realized that instead of making attempts to relive or recapture past glories one should simply allow sleeping dogs lie and move through an evening with out trying to steer the ship. Let the pirates take care of that, they are the professionals after all.
In hindsight I understand that if someone gives you a bottle of bad wine, it should be drank, and drank within the company of the people who brought it, so long as one understands what lies in wait the morning after. I am incidentally, blaming the massive headache on the Woodbridge. Was there a lesson to learn from all of this? Thinking about it, I am not sure there ever really is one, at least as far as objective truths go, but hey, all that needs to be known or understood, is that it was another great night in a series of many that has been my life.
Currently an English teacher in Chicago, Dave enjoys sitting back with a nice bottle shared between friends while reading snipets of poetry and pondering the nuances of life and the small joys that accompany it.