Making a break for it
Wherein the wine critic escapes a catered affair
By Tim Protzman firstname.lastname@example.org
This weekend I snuck out of a party.
Now, I’ve crashed hundreds of parties, five weddings, a funeral luncheon, a bar and bat mitzvah, a 50th wedding anniversary, a cigar tasting (with single-malt Scotches) and a graduation party. But I never snuck out of one before.
It all started with the best intentions. Naomi, a former wine rookie, was just getting back into socializing after her father died. I invited her for a wine and supper gathering to view a documentary film about Sri Lanka. The house was right near the beach and I imagined my press credentials would get me an audience with the filmmaker.
It almost happened that way.
We arrived an hour late. A crowd of young teens hung in the front, looking like a casting call for High School Musical.
We introduced ourselves to the host and hostess and we met the filmmaker. He was impressive, but we were starving.
We made our way to the bar. There was nice gin and tonic and good vodka and white wine and red wine. Strangely, there were these beautiful Cerignola olives, elegantly skewered, just waiting to swim in a martini, but no vermouth.
I poured her an Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio. She liked it but was still hungry. I gave her a stick full of green olives. There’s a nice looking antipasto, but no forks or plates. I tell her to use the olive toothpick.
I taste the Ecco Domani. I like it. Slight lemon, then endive flavors. It’s from Fruili Venezia. Ecco domain means “Here’s to tomorrow!” And only $6.99 a bottle.
Some guy behind me with a booming voice greets our host, a German ex-patriot: “Joachim, Splendid party. What was your contribution to this magnificent culinary effort?”
“Just the wine, Greg” Joachim answers.
“It’s delicious, Joachim!! What quaint little wine shop did you find these gems in?”
Trying not to laugh, I remember a delicious 2004 Chateau Lascombes I picked up at Costco. It was $48.49, which was below the usual $50 mark, and it had deep plummy fruit with tobacco smoke, leather, licorice and chocolate hints. And a great price for a Second Growth Margaux.
Now 30 minutes into the event we’re still starving. We head for the town beach to see if the snack bar’s still open. On the way a crying child runs by. We ask if he’s alright but he just runs past.
No snack bar, but we do catch up with the High School Musical cast. They’re having a sand fight.
By now the crying child’s mother is yelling at all the cast members. Junior got sand in his eye.
Back at the party and still no food.
Then suddenly, a dinner bell. Everyone’s off like they’re at Pimlico. Yelling mother sidles up to us and says, “Could Danny cut in? He’s had a rough day.” I let him in but Naomi’s not budging.
We wait in line for nothing. The food’s horrible. I get another glass of Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages 2007 ($10.99), a chewy wine full of grapey Gamay goodness with hints of strawberry and Welch’s Grape Jelly.
I’m thinking about a quick exit. We move toward the gate. The movie’s about to start and people are taking seats around the smallest flat screen I’ve ever seen. Swarms of mosquitoes are descending with the twilight despite a carbon dioxide-powered Mosquito Magnet. It’s now or never. We head out the gate. Only a few steps remain between us and the driveway. No host or hostess in sight.
Almost free. Across the drive toward the car. Then — oh, God, Danny and his MOM!!
We stop and pretend we’re just smoking. She doesn’t come over. But some woman does.
“Oh, you’re smoking… I thought something was on fire,” she says.
Technically it is, I thought.
“They’re about to start,” she says and just like the well-meaning cabin stewards on the Titanic, she beckons us back to the crowded little viewing area, and our doom.
“Come on,” she says.
I had to think fast. Maybe she was one of the hostess’s goon squad. Janice didn’t look too happy and the cheap catered food says “I’m being forced to throw this party for someone I don’t like.”
“I’ve got to use the restroom,” I suddenly say. It was the best I could come up with.
“Me too,” Naomi pipes in.
Once again on our own, we head for the bathroom. But there’s Janice.
“Get a seat,” she urges.
Naomi hits the bathroom first. Stay in there until everyone’s in the swampy mosquito-ridden way-too-small-to-see flat-screen fake movie premier area and we’ll head out the front door and circle behind neighboring cottages to keep hidden from the viewing area, I tell her.
The house falls silent as the guests move into the backyard movie theater. We head out the front door, but it sticks, forcing me to tug it hard. Nothing. Naomi grabs the handle and pulls. It opens with a loud thud. A dog trots into the hallway but we’re already out, leaving the door ajar. We head for a clump of trees, then across the circular cul-de-sac toward our car. We walk past the car, around the back of a cottage and reach the passenger-side doors. The Durango SUV hides us from the movie crowd. I climb across the front seat and turn the key. My only regret is that it’s not standard and I have to turn the engine on instead of just coasting. But we’re away. And I don’t think we’ll have to worry about getting invited back.
We stop at a fried seafood shack and order breaded delicacies.
“Tell me again what the documentary’s about?” Naomi asks.
“Sri Lanka, the civil war there and the atrocities and torture that went on,” I answer.
She looks at me and says: “Makes tonight’s problem seem ridiculous, doesn’t it?”
I just laugh and take a bite out of another fried clam, suddenly feeling very grateful.
Here’s this week’s wines:
• 2004 Fattoria di Cinciano Pietraforte ($24.99). This entry-level Super Tuscan was pleasant but still young. It was big and chocolatey and not unpleasant, but it doesn’t play out as well as Tenuto San Guido Guillalberto Sassicaia, which is only $15 more.
• 2005 E. Guigal Condrieu ($44.89) A 100-percent Viognier grape wine. Had a leaden finish, though. I enjoy the delicacy, the structure, but can’t get past the metallic finish. A rare white Rhone for me, but I’ll try a different vintage and producer next time.
• 2004 Montecastro ($35) From Spain’s Ribera del Duero. All Tempranillo, big subdued fruit with a very dry backbone, that hasn’t reached optimum structure yet.
• 2004 Chateau Beychevelle ($42.39) From Bordeaux’s St. Julien region. A fourth growth and one of the best bargains from Bordeaux’s bargains. The Expert experts give it a 90, an 88 and an 89, but I love the price and the pedigree. Prune, blackberry, chocolate and a touch of pencil lead in the aroma.
• 2002 King Estate Pinot Noir ($46.99). The regular King Estate Pinot Noir is $26.99 and almost as good. This is grown, produced and bottled on the estate or vineyard. The less expensive one uses some sourced grapes. This was my favorite wine of the week. Layered with cherry, apricot and grapefruit rills running through it. The wine had a distinctive Oregonian flavor, which, while husky, bordered on Burgundian.