Published in Fresno Bee, Nov. 3, 1999
I once had a grand collection of wine..
Mostly Bordeaux from the heralded 1982 vintage, a few bottles from the legendary 1961 crop, and one glorious bottle of 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc that I treated like a newborn, swaddling it in terry cloth towels when ever I moved it. My temperature-controlled wine locked in West Los Angeles cooled the hottest of California Cabernet Sauvignon from the '84, '85, and '86 vintage.
Then I met Carmen..
Carmen lived the high life. She had a town house in swanky Century City and an apartment on East 50th Street in Manhattan, two blocks from the famous French restaurant Lutece where she was a fixture in the dining room.
She had dresses that cost more than my 1983 Ford Ranger.
We met four years ago (1995) when we sat next to each other at a luncheon featuring 1988 red burgundies at trendy Campanile in Los Angeles. Though there were eight other people at the upstairs private dining room, we hardly noticed them
After the luncheon, we walked down the street, sat on a once-elegant - now tattered - old couch that a La Brea Avenue used furniture store had on sidewalk display and talked until the sun went down
I called her the next day, but she was off to New York. When she came back to Los Angeles, we went to dinner. I brought along a Chateau Beaucastel, 1978. The next morning, I brought her some blood orange juice. It did the trick better than the classic Rhone.
We had a great week and the she went back to New York for business.
Then I lost my job. I was a city hall reporter from the Los Angeles Times and was smacked in a huge layoff.
But, I didn't tell Carmen about the job loss. I mean, why tell someone 3,000 miles away you're unemployed? What good does that do? Certainly wouldn't score me any points. Anyway, I figured I'd be back on the job soon.
But, work didn't come so easily. Freelancing was rough.
Still, I was having fun. We talked every night. Like kids, sometimes for an hour. She had class and she knew white burgundies like no one I'd ever known.
She would be back in LA. in a month and we'd have a swell time, she told me.
But, at that time, my money, never a strong point, was hitting new depths. The checking account was dwindling faster than a bottle of Krug on New Year's Eve. My savings account, like the gas tank on a V-12 Ferrari Enzo after a drive from Sanger to Sonoma, was on empty. My credit cards were as useless as merlot from North Dakota.
My only financial plus was my 401(k) account, but I knew if I went into it, I would be taxed and penalized 50%. The financial crisis had not yet reached that panicked stage. No, this was just run-of-the-mil desperation.
Plain and simple, I needed a lot of extra cash to lavish on a girl. Why else does one need extra cash anyway?
One July night, she called and said she was coming back to Los Angeles in three days. She couldn't wait to see me, she said softly.
I needed some romancing cash, I thought.
I did the unthinkable.
Now, I know any true wine lover reading this may find what follows deplorable But, this might be love. Or at least a romantic case of lust.
I started selling my wine collection.
The first to go were the extras I had of first-growth Bordeaux from the '82 and '83 vintages. Heck, some of them aren't drinkable for another decade, I reasoned to myself. What good are they doing me collecting dust in some freezing Westside warehouse, I rationalized. Anyway, I'd sell them, get back on my financial feet in a year or two and start buying them back, I planned.
I walked into 20/20 Wine in Los Angeles like I was carrying letters of transit out of Casablanca. I sold an 1982 Cheval Blanc I had bought for $60 I got $150, $160 for it. A Latour, Margaux, a Mouton from 1982 and I had $700.
Then I took a few bottles out of my cellar to drink.
Carmen came to town and I was ready for her with a magnum of '85 Dom Perignon Rose at her townhouse and reservations at Valentino, my favorite Italian restaurant.
That was a grand week.
She went back to New York, wanting to know when I was going to come see her in Manhattan. I sold more bottles, mostly California Cabernet, and soon boarded a midnight flight to New York City.
We dined grandly thee: Lutece (Zind Humbrecht Tokay Pinot Gris); Lespinasse (Montrachet from Ramonet); Union Square Cafe (Screaming Eagle Cabernet with the best cheeseburgers). It was wonderful.
I flew back to LAX. My cousin Greg took me home. I borrowed five bucks to eat the next day.
This continued for six months. Carmen would come back. I'd go to New York. Soon, my wine locker looked like downtown Beirut during the civil war. Desolation reigned. Only a few bottles, like the survivors of the Battle of Stalingrad, remained.
Then, over a series of painful phone calls, Carmen let me know that it was all over for us. She had met a rich man. I knew all along this wasn't gong to be a lasting relationship, but, still it kinda hurt.
However, no sooner did I get dumped, I got a new, better job back at the Times covering South Central Los Angeles and Watts. Within a few months, I met a beautiful woman and forgot about Carmen.
Through that disaster, I managed to keep the 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc. But, the '82 Bordeaux are gone. A few drunk, the majority sold.
I thought about that foolish period of my life - one of many - the other day when I saw a bottle of 1982 Cheval Blanc for $595.
But, hey, things are going better now. Maybe my irrational logic for selling them wasn't that far off. I have an even better job now at the Fresno Bee and maybe one day I will be able to buy them back. That would be nice.