No, really. It was. The weather was miserable, with steady rain all day, an occasional grumble of thunder off in the distance, whippy winds coming from nowhere, and occasional hailstorms piling up little glistening projectiles over the streets and lawns.
But the magic hour was approaching. BettyLu had been working away all day in the kitchen, assisted by a hard working and lusty wench with some surprising talents, and the guests were about to arrive. Lou had the wines arrayed on the counter of the bar. Everything, finally, was in readiness.
The legendary JBL (he invented wine retail in California) arrived, looking dapper and Euro-stylish with one arm tucked carefully away inside the folds of his leather jacket. We all suspected a tale out of James Bond's exploits..but it was only trying to climb the precarious hills of upper Berkeley after a hail storm and losing balance that occasioned the limp wrist. It's dangerous going out to get the newspaper in Berkeley. Californians just aren't used to inclement weather of the frozen variety. Lynn, apparently intelligent enough not too walk down icy clay slopes in the rain, looked fine, and a welcome sight she was for us Oregon travelers.
Then they came in a clutter: Mark Anisman, the stylish doctor and wine aficionado from up-valley; the elusive Pimpernel of wine, Alan Bree, with a Ridge lurking underneath his coat for Lou (although it's not in any way an unusual or remarkable sight to see Bree and Ridge in the same place---it's been said that Bree knows more about Ridge than that guy Draper, and it may be true---closely followed by Nils Lofgren, rock star...no, I mean Nils Venge, wine star.
The space between wine bar and kitchen immediately became crowded, as it always does on cassoulet night, as everyone maneuvered for position halfway between the wine and the food, and thus halfway between BettyLu and Lou, and stories about the year were babbled betwixt and between, and a year past was caught up on.
The lineup of wines was, as usual, impressive.
Lou keeps his excellent cellar well stocked with lovely Austrian wines. This time he pulled out a Rudi Pichler Gruner Veltliner Smaragd 2001. I never fail to marvel at the silky-smooth, rich mouthfeel of a good Gruner---and this is a very good Gruner at the right age, although it will probably live for a very long time to come. That celery seed and white pepper nose with minerals and acids lurking underneath round it out and firm it up even more. It's perfect with the little crisp pastry cups filled with lime-laced ceviche that are going around.
Next up was another Austrian...another Wachau...another 2001...another Smaragd...and another winner, but this time a Riesling, the 2001Franz Hirtzberger Singerriedel Riesling.
If anything, more brisk and acid-driven, with a clean, slaty, brisk, lean---well, you get the idea. Shiver the senses Riesling, this is. Hair rising on the arms Riesling. Covet the bottle Riesling. Why don't I drink more Riesling? Riesling. (Because I don't have many Rieslings like this on hand usually.)
Strictly in the interests of scientific curiosity, I decided it was necessary to sample ceviche once more, this time with the Hirtzberger. Wow! Two things emerge immediately: BettyLu (and her talented sous-chef) know how to make great ceviche, and Lou knows how to match wines with ceviche.
End of Part I. Part II to come, with a classic French and a nouvelle Veneto shortly!