Wine Rating: 95
The sun was rising as I sat comfortably in the captain’s chair on the quarterdeck of a 48’ Clipper sailboat named It’s Hedly. A beautiful, near-perfect bottle of Italian Amarone wine with rich raisin, spice, and plum notes, was in a decanter nestled between my legs. I glanced starboard and the lights illuminating the pool at the Long Beach Yacht Club could be seen about 600 yards away. A place that, as a kid, I treated as a second home.
It’s Hedley was moored at the end of a long dock, surrounded by other docked boats of comparable size. She looked out onto the quiet harbor. The pale blue water reflected lights from the Davies Bridge like a polished mirror.
From below I could hear talking, a bit of giggling, and clinks from shot glasses coming from the main stateroom and one of the smaller staterooms located on the lower deck. I took a long, slow sip of the Amarone and eased back in the chair, and stroked her cheek as she slept.
2 or Possibly 5 Hours Prior
I was working the closing shift at Morry’s. Saturday nights always brought in a mixed crowd of beer-drinking college frats, Tickle Pink, Bartles & James drinking college girls, and the local weekend sailors looking for an excellent rum to enjoy as they sailed away. The good thing about Saturday night was that Morry’s didn’t deliver. Well, they did but only to our regulars, and, even then, from a secret menu that included items only our special customers knew about. The order would usually be something to the effect of French cheese, wine crackers, and champagne. More often than not, the delivery would be to a boat where a married man would be entertaining someone pretty. These orders would not be rung up on their Morry’s house account, but would instead be paid for by cash. And the tip? Always significant.
My shift had ended at nine o’clock and on my way-out, Alan, Morry’s manager, said an order had come in and told me to deliver it on my way home. He said, “Keep the entire payment, and I’ll just deduct it from your next paycheck.” This was a regular practice when there was a late-night, cash payment delivery. I picked up the box which contained rum, tequila, Monte Cristo cigars, peach schnapps, caviar, and various chips and sweets. I looked at the address and, although I couldn’t place the customer, I knew the dock area.
I fired up my well-loved 68’ Volkswagen Bug, headed down Naples Plaza, made a left on The Toledo until I hit Appian Way and Alamitos Bay Marina was right in front of me. I turned right on Appian and took the roundabout at the end of the street, next to the yacht club. If you’re sculling in from the water, the docks are in Basin 4. I parked the Bug, grabbed the delivery and headed to Dock C, Slip 13. The marina was quiet. There were only a few cars in the lot and those there had Boat Parking Only permit stickers on their windshields. Many boats had left for the weekend or may have just been out for the night. Either way, the weather was sublime for sailing and, no doubt, The Isthmus on Catalina Island would be very crowded.
The tide was low, so the dock was at a dangerous incline. Evil Knievel could have used it to launch across the Colorado River. The only real safe way down would have been to crawl, and slide the box behind me. I didn’t do that, but I thought about it. It was damn steep!
Most of the boats tied were nearly or entirely dark, except the one at the end of the dock. It was a large sailer; the mooring lights were on, and I could hear music playing. As I got closer, I heard Bob Marley singing about freedom. This did not seem like the typical late-night delivery, as most of this sort were ‘more discreet.’ This loud party atmosphere was unusual.
As I approached, someone shouted, “Turi!” from the upper deck. The dock lights prevented me from seeing anything beyond twenty-feet in front of me. Then another voice yelled, “Turi!” This time, a shadowy figure emerged and stepped out onto the boat’s gangplank. As I got closer, carrying the box of booze and eats that was only growing heavier, I could finally see who’d been shouting at me. It was two old high school friends that I hadn’t seen in over 3-years when they’d left Naples to head for college.
“Is that Glenn?” I shouted back, as I walked up the gangplank.
“Yeah, it’s me! I’m with Peter, Emily, Susan, and Bree!” Glenn ran up to me and took the heavy box out of my hands and put it down at his feet. “Holy shit! It’s great to see you!” Glenn said.
“When did you guys get back in town?” I asked.
“I got back yesterday, and Peter got here this morning.” We hugged and looked at each other, the way old friends who have shared many coming-of-age moments throughout their adolescents often do. I took a moment, looked at them both, and just smiled. All the memories we’d shared as crazy kids washed over me at once.
“Ok, wait a minute. I have two questions.” I looked at Glenn and said, “Whose boat is this?” and “Who’s paying this bill?”
Glenn laughed as Peter handed me a Heineken. I looked at it, shrugged and took a sip. “Oh, excuse me! I forgot, Mr. Wine-Man doesn’t like beer.” Peter said. I laughed, took a longer swig and raised it to them both.
“It’s my step-father’s boat,” Glenn said. “My parents went to Spain for a few weeks and he asked me to stop by and turn the engine over.” I nodded and clinked my bottle to his.
“Well, I guess you’re captain, so permission to come aboard, sir?” Glenn picked up the box at his feet, turned and walked back across the gangplank, bellowing, “Permission granted! Just remove your shoes.”
I followed Glenn onto the main deck and reminded him of my ‘second’ question. “Ummm… and who will be paying for this tonight? You guys didn’t exactly order the cheap stuff.”
Bree joined us on the deck, walked right up to me, gave me a hug and said, “Hello, John. It’s been a while. It’s nice to see you.” Handing me an envelope, she added, “It’s all there and the tip is included.” Bree’s father was a brain surgeon and head of the Neurological Department at a big hospital somewhere in Los Angeles. In high school, she drove a BMW 5 series and lived on an American Express black card. I didn’t need to count what was in the envelope. I knew we were square and that I’d been well taken care of.
For the next hour, we sat and talked about what we’d been up to and about the past. We talked about our friends who were in medical and law school and about a few who had died. We talked about our futures and who we hoped we would one day be. As I looked out at the harbor, waves of memories came rushing in and crashed over me. I’m not sure I could even count just how many times I’d sailed out of this marina on a small Laser Sailboat on Wet Wednesdays, seeing this exact view. Or hang out at the Yacht Club, buying lunches that we’d charge to our parent’s accounts, but who would never even notice because they didn’t bother (or need) to review their membership bill at the end of the month.
In that group, on that night, sat a future Fortune 500 CEO, the future Creative Director for what would become one of the most famous tech companies in the world, two future lawyers, a future holistic practitioner and… a writer. You might not have been able to imagine it then, but we’d all find our success and reach our dreams.
“Turi!” Glenn said. “You’ve been nursing that beer for an hour. It’s probably skunked by now.”
“Well, you guys didn’t order any wine!”
Glenn stood up and said, “Come with me.” I followed him below deck to the main salon. He walked over to the bar and gestured to the cabinet next to it. I obliged, opening the door, and a light came on, illuminating a fully stocked, 200-bottle wine fridge, the front of which was camouflaged with a matching cherry wood that was carried through the rest of the salon.
“Wow! Now, this is beautiful!” I said to Glenn. “Hello, my lovelies,” I whispered to the bottles.
Then, in his most adult voice, Glenn said, “Okay, here’s the deal. Help yourself to one or two bottles, but don’t touch the Rothschild’s, the Haut Brion’s or any Bordeaux. My stepdad loves his French shit. There’s enough obscure stuff in here that he won’t notice if a couple of those are missing.” He slapped me on the shoulder, turned to walk away and said, “Hey, don’t take all day. Emily has been asking about you.”
Emily? Really? I thought. I knew of her but didn’t really know her. She was a year younger than us and I’d only seen her at random parties every now and then during high school. Not to mention, she never looked at me. She was damn cute, though. She always had a smile on her face. Always. Hmmm… I pondered her as I looked over the incredible wine selection, ninety percent of which was Bordeaux. Wait, correction: Ninety percent was ‘Grand Cru’ Bordeaux. That’s a huge distinction. The truth is, there was not a bad bottle in the bunch. These wines were from some of the most amazing estates, and what made it even more remarkable was that this was a 200-bottle wine fridge, fully stocked with truly extraordinary wines and… it was on a boat! I could only imagine what his cellar at home must have looked like. One day! I thought to myself. One day, I’ll have something just like this.
Using my Sherlock Holmes-like deduction, I figured the best wines, the ‘best of the best,’ would be at eye level. So, by way of deduction, I went to the bottom, the place most don’t bother or care to look. This reasoning holds true in retail as well. Shelf space has a premium, and when it’s on the bottom, it’s often overlooked, which was perfect for my scenario. Just as I’d hoped (and suspected, given Glenn’s step dad’s killer taste), bottom shelf or not, it did not disappoint. Right there, low and behold, I found an assortment of California cults and obscure Italian wines. There were also a couple of super Tuscans. Yes! There were two Sassicaia that lay sleeping. They were beauties. Then I spotted it. There, in the very back! While poking around, I saw it; one of my grandfather’s favorite wines. He called them raisin wine because they let the grapes dry and turn to raisins before pressing. That was the one I wanted, and I pulled out a 1979 Bertani Amarone.
I walked over to the bar, found a cork puller and a decanter, and opened the bottle. Apricot, plum, and fig aromas filled the lower deck. What a stunner she was. I slowly decanted the wine and then headed topside.
By this point, my friends had opened the rum and tequila and, seeing them in this way, so mature, relaxing on chaise lounges and engaging in small talk, felt a bit strange. It suited them, and yet, it hadn’t been long ago that things were really different. We were different, and I remember it all. Still. Fondly.
Standing there, I listened to them talk, smiled, and remembered. Only a few years back, during someone else’s boat party, Peter was jumping on a trampoline they had on their dock. Drunk out of his mind, he came at me in mid-air, cannonball style. I mean, right at me. At that moment, I could see it in his face: every expectation was there that I’d try to catch him or, at the very least, that I’d break his fall. So I did what any drunken teenager would do as their dear friend Supermans towards them: I moved out of the way and watched him land face first on the AsrtoTurf covered deck. (Twenty-five or some odd years later he still holds a grudge that I didn’t catch him, and it always makes me laugh.) The following Monday was picture day at school, and if you look at our old yearbook, you can see Peter with a massive bruise on his chin.
We sat. Relaxed. Talked about mid-terms, dorm life, and life outside of high school. I was one of the few that stayed in Long Beach to get my generals finished at City College before I figured out what I wanted to do next. I mean, someone had to make sure Naples stayed afloat while the next generation went off to take on the world. I didn’t know it then, but I would take on the world in a different way.
“Hey, Turi!” Peter yelled. “Since you’re the food and wine guy, can you make us something with what you brought and whatever’s in the galley?”
“I’ll figure something out.” I said. I walked over to the box, poked around and said, “Well other than the booze, you guys didn’t exactly order gourmet. It looks like a stoner with a case of the munchies placed the order.”
Susan raised her hand, “My bad,” she said, “but at least I ordered caviar.”
I grabbed the contents of the box. “Yeah, but it’s Sevruga, not Beluga,” I said, eliciting snarky comments as I made my way below.
“Feel free to use whatever you find. My stepdad keeps it pretty well stocked,” I heard Glenn holler.
I rifled through the refrigerator and cupboards and laid out what had been ordered from Morry’s. Using what was there, I put together what I remember being a really picturesque charcuterie platter. Seriously, Glenn’s stepdad was not one to cut corners. The food I found in the galley was jaw-dropping. Although I knew this spread would be lost on most of my friends, that didn’t matter. The point was, it wasn’t lost on me! Amidst the bounty was a half-pound of Winnimere, Rogue River Blue, and a third cheese that I had only ever heard about but had never actually seen: an Extra Old Bitto. Unbelievable. I was amazed at the caliber of the meats and cheeses that seemed to be so casually stocked. This was the good life, and I was in my element. And did I mention, this was on a boat? I sliced the cheese, cut up some fruit, some prosciutto, some mortadella, and put the Cheetos that Susan ordered in a bowl. I found a large silver serving tray and said, “This will do!” I put the bowl of Cheetos right next to the caviar and my favorite Vermont common crackers. I found a wooden platter for the meat and cheese and the finishing touch, a deep saucer to pour some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I was damn impressed with myself.
The Amarone was opening in the decanter, and I could smell the aromatics filling the air. The perfumed tones reminded me of spending time at my grandfather’s house. It was the only wine he drank. It only needed a few more minutes, and then… it would be ready.
The night moved at a comfortable pace that suited me. We entertained ourselves from the galley to the salon, from the upper deck to the lounge area on the bow. The conversations drifted from teenage parties to surfing in Mexico, from growing up to longing for the time when Naples and Belmont Shore were secluded areas of Long Beach, long before change set in and went from flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts to corporate clothing and dining conglomerates came to strike their claim and plant their flags.
As often happens on nights like this, people paired off, and I had some quiet time with Emily. I shared the Amarone with her, and I talked her ear off about everything I knew and loved about wine and, specifically, about ‘this’ wine. I enthusiastically told her, “This bottle was released only a few months ago. Bertani holds its wines for 6 to 10 years before release. Do you know what a big deal that is? No winery can afford to do that. But that’s the only way they can know that what they are releasing is true to their standard of quality.” I explained to her that the varietal of Corvina and Rondinella grapes had been growing in Italy for centuries. We talked and drank, or rather, I talked, and we drank.
We moved up to the quarterdeck and cuddled under a blanket as the fog rolled in and the harbor turned into a John Carpenter movie. The shadows within the fog set the mood as we kissed and kept each other warm and enjoyed the full bloom of the wine. In silence, the night slowly faded into dawn, and we fell asleep wrapped in a blanket as the cold night air washed over us.
Yep! That’s how it went down. Some many years later, I’m still not sharing the unabridged version. Not everything needs to be brought out for consumption. Yet, you may be wondering, why the secrecy? Well, maybe I want to protect my dear friends from complete embarrassment. Regardless of the reasons for not wanting to divulge every little detail, I will say this: by the time dawn snuck up on us, a few things “may” have happened and it’s possible that…
Thousands of dollars’ worth of wine was opened. Someone got an accidental black eye. A $450,000 boat nearly collided on the jetty rocks because two friends could not agree on the point of sail, as a very inebriated rich girl was at the helm. And a pretty girl (might have) told me that this night would be the benchmark for how every man she’d meet in the future was to treat her.
Yes, there is more to the story. No, I’m telling you.
Suffice it to say, I drank a world-class wine (or several) with an adorable person and some genuinely dear friends, and that’s what’s most important.
Bertani Amarone, 2006
Produced by: Bertani
Bottled in 2012
Appearance (Color): Dark red
Aroma (Complexity): Plum, dry fruits, tobacco
Body (Texture and Weight): Heavy
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Raisins, plum, spice, berry fruit
Finish (What lingers): Plum and licorice
Food Pairing: Red meat, or an after-dinner meditation
Serving Temperature: 64°
Drink now through time