Zhadi's Den

Random essays on wine, writing, moving to San Francisco, surfing, cats (exotic and otherwise) and zombies...depending on my mood.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Bringing in 2006

New Year's Collage by Chris

The Centerpiece of the Meal, a double magnum of 1983 Chateau Latour

I'm telling you, 2005 was one hell of a year. One year of hell, for that matter. Oh, it wasn't all bad. There were bright spots of fun, optimism, love, and lots of beach walks scattered throughout. But all in all I could not wait to see the end of it.

Now, I am not a big fan of New Year's Eve parties. For the last 10 or so years, my idea of a good way to bring in January 1st was to stay at home with Brian, watch movies, have champagne and snacks. I'd invariably fall asleep before midnight, wake up for one drowsy toast as the clock struck 12:00 (or the digital equivalent of 'struck'), and then fall back asleep. And this year, my first Christmas and New Year's without Brian in almost two decades, I just wanted to sleep through the whole transition into 2006. Okay, I wanted a glass of champagne too. But basically I just wanted 2005 and all the weirdness and stress of relocation and loss out the door and out of my life. Me and Dave

Then I received an email from Billy B, my favorite gourmet cook and wine expert, inviting me and Dave down to his annual New Year's Eve dinner held at his mother's house in Pasadena. I'd heard legends of these dinners, the culinary equivalent of the treasure of Sierra Madre. My sister had been describing them in glowing, restaurant reviewesque detail for years.

I thought about it. It would be a totally new experience for New Year's Eve. I'd get to see some family for at least part of the actual holidays, not to mention hang out with Billy, who I hadn't seen since our wine weekend (which I haven't finished writing about...BAD blogger!). And the food and wine was bound to be fantastic. We would spend the night at Billy's, so no breathalizer tests on the side of the road after the party. I could say one last goodbye to the house in Glendale (Brian was leaving January 4th), we could spend the night at Lisa's, maybe watch some Buffy or old Star Trek, then drive home Monday morning. Somehow it just seemed like the right thing to do, the perfect anecdote to my holiday blues. I asked if we could bring anything. Billy said just show some cleavage. I assumed he meant me, not Dave, so I packed accordingly.

The only downside was that both Southern and Northern California were expecting the 'worst winter storms in years!' all New Year's weekend.

Decanter on a stick

Eh. Big deal. I've driven in rain before, I thought as Dave and I left San Francisco Saturday morning.

Ah, foolish me. It was the worst weather I've ever experienced while behind the wheel of a car. The tumbleweeds alone turned the drive into a bizarre version of Centipede, trying to

avoid them as they scooted across I-99. I finally just drove into 'em rather than risk skidding out in the rain. I mean...c'mon, let's get real here. Que es mas macho? A tumbleweed? Or an SL2 Saturn? Although some of those tumbleweeds were mighty big. We saw one the size of a refrigerator plastered to the front of an SUV like some bizarre hunting trophy. The ones that made it across traffic then lined up along the median and rolled down along the concrete as if they had someplace VERY important to go. Like on the other side of the freeway, waiting for us on the return drive...I kept thinking of the Outer Limits episode with the sentient tumbleweeds.

Eight hydro-planing, wheel vibrating, tree-limb and tumbleweed dodging, white-knuckled hours later, we pulled up in front of Billy's house in Pasadena, one of the spacious, quiet older neighborhoods. The door was opened by Chris, wine aficianado and all around great gal. She had a glass of Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc in one hand. Things were definitely looking up.

Dana and Friend, above, with Tess and Billy, right

A half hour later, Dave and I were cleaned up, drinking bubbly with Billy and Chris, and, wonder of wonders, I was relaxed. We'd safely made it to our destination, I was dressed for a party (the required cleavage was present), and had seen the centerpiece to the dinner; a double magnum of 1983 Chateau Latour. This is the kind of wine I'd read about, the kind that wine snobs talk about, and something I never dreamed I'd get to try. It would be served at dinner, with one of Billy's famous roasted slabs of red meat.

Chris, Wine expert and Sharer of Decanter on a Stick

Chris opened a bottle of 1987 Grgich Hills Cabernet. We tried a sip and decided it needed some breathing room. She pulled out the glasses she had brought for Billy as a present: two huge crystal bowls on improbably thin stems. She and Billy had traveled to Tuscany together where they'd had glasses like these, dubbed 'decanters on a stick.' Yes, size really does matter, folks. The Cab smelled good in a regular wine glass, but the nose was incredible when the Grgich was poured into one of the decanters on a stick. Chris let me share her glass -- and the enriched wine drinking experience -- through the evening, which was extremely generous of her. Like a good sister, I made sure to pour a bit of the Grgich Hills Cab in a glass so that Lisa, due shortly, would be sure to get some.

Other guests, including Lisa, started arriving shortly thereafter. They included: Tess, a longtime friend of Billy's of whom I've heard many nice things; Tess's husband John, who brought the Latour; Mark, a classic Star Trek fan (that was good enough for me); and Other Dana, a friend of Tess's. It was a very convivial group, presided over by Billy as host and chef.

Mark, above, and Lisa with a glass of Haut Brion

We went on a tour of the wine closet and wine cellar...Madre de dios, the legends were true!

I could have spent hours examining all the bottles and their labels, wallowing in an extensieclecticclectic collection of wines collected over the years. We opened a 1973 Haut Brion and a non-vintage Chateau Palmer Margeaux, comparing the nose and flavor of the same wines poured in regular wine glasses and the decanters on sticks. All of the wines were delicious, but the older wines were definitely subtle. If a person was looking for a big, lush fruit bomb, these were not wines they'd appreciate. The Haut Brion was the richest of the wines I tasted and reminded me of dusty blackberries. The topics of conversation ranged from classic Star Trek (a party was planned at Lisa's house the following night) to stories of Billy's adventures with Chris in Tuscany. Everyone was pleasantly and mildly inebriated in a very genteel way, that sort of gauzy glow that surrounds you. You know, kinda like Cybil Sheppard had on "Moonlighting" when they used vasoline on the lens to make her look younger?

At any rate, we were all happy and ready to eat by the time dinner rolled around. And what a dinner...

Huge slabs of rare roasted meat, homemade Yorkshire pudding, and mashed potatoes with truffles were included in the feast laid out before us. Billy fretted because the meat, to his mind, was 'hideously overcooked' (it was pinkish red, oozing with juices). Evidently part of the New Year's tradition is bemoaning the fact that he'd overcooked the meat while everyone else protests that it looks (and tastes) wonderful. I've never had Yorkshire pudding before, just read about it British mysteries and A Christmas Carol. It was golden and crispy on the outside; savory, yummy on the inside.

Master Chef Billy at work

I'd be more descriptive, but I was too busy enjoying it to take more detailed notes. Same goes for the mashed potatoes. If you've never had a dish infused with truffles, it's hard to describe the subtle, almost musky flavor that it adds. Suffice it to say that I ate enough of 'em to destroy a month's worth of Atkins style dieting. And it was so worth it!

The Latour was decanted into four separate decanters to allow it to breathe and reduce the sediment when poured into glasses. The color was surprisingly dark; I'd expected it to have that slightly brownish orange tinge around the edge that comes with older wines. The flavors were very subtle, earthy and tinged with a hint of green pepper and spice. It complimented the meat wonderfully. And there was just also the 'ain't this cool?' factor of drinking a $1500 bottle of wine from one of the most famous wine houses and terroirs in the world.

Other Dana, elegant for the evening

Dinner ended. Stuffed full of food and drink, I decided to take a nap until midnight. What can I say? I'm a woman who needs some traditions...and who needs naps after rich food and drink. Evidently it's a family trait 'cause Lisa did the same thing. I curled up in a back room and snoozed happily until a few minutes before midnight, when Dave woke me up for a champagne toast to ring in the new year. Everyone convened on the back patio with a glass of Veuve Cliquot (otherwise known as 'The Widow), and raised a glass to 2006.

All in all, I'd say that the legends ARE true. Thank you, Billy, for a wonderful time. It was truly the perfect bridge between the old and the new, an optimistic end to a bad year, and a marvelous beginning to what I hope will be a stellar 2006!

Several glasses of wine into the evening!


  • At 9:34 AM, Blogger Dave Fitzgerald said…

    Love those pics! What a great night that was....

  • At 11:55 PM, Blogger Other Lisa said…


    I really don't like mashed potatos...and yet, I liked those...

    And did you forget the cheeses and the scharfenburger brownies?

  • At 8:13 AM, Blogger zhadi said…

    I didn't eat any of the cheeses...I was totally stuffed by that time! I also didn't mention my cookies! ah well...

  • At 2:23 PM, Blogger FreeThinker said…

    2006 started out with a happy bang, I can see! Cheers!

  • At 1:51 PM, Blogger Other Lisa said…

    Oh, man...the truffled cheese....mmmm.....truffles....


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