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WBW #43: Dude's Comfort Wine (or How I Survived My Brother's Heart Surgery)

For Wine Blogging Wednesday #43 (this round hosted over at the fine WineLifeToday blog), we've been asked to review a "Comfort Wine" - and to explain why, like a good comfort food, this wine evokes some special, relaxing, or good-ol'-down-home feeling for us.

First, let's start with my comfort wine. Then I'll lay the story on you - and to give you fair warning, this time the story is a bit intense. But I think it will be worth the read.

The wine is Chateau Cabrieres Chateauneuf Du Pape. As always, Dude will provide a bit of history (and then a bit of his story).

CDP (as wine geeks like to call Chateauneuf Du Pape) is a region in the Southern Rhone valley of France, it's name means "New House of the Pope" and stems from the 14th century (when Pope Clement V relocated the Holy See to France - a fascinating story in and of itself if you've got time to read it). CDP wines still bear the French papal insignia on their bottles.

CDP doesn't so much have soil as it has rock. The vines literally grow through large stones called galets, which absorb the daytime heat and reflect it back on the growing grapes in the cooler evenings (and help with moisture retention when things get really dry in the summertime). The result is that the grapes get pretty ripe, pretty fast. And when I say grapes - as in plural - I mean it: up to 13 varietals are permitted in the red blends from the region, though these days the majority percentages are given to Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre.

CDP generally gets a bad rap among the wine geek crowd, because the winemaking is generally prone to Brett (short for Brettanomyces, a yeast that adds complexity but can lead to overly mousy flavors if not kept in check). Also, the wines are not terribly food-friendly due to their lower acidity. And to top it all off, CDPs often go through a "dumb" period in their development, where they temporarily lose their vibrancy as they mature - and it's generally not easily predictable, so you can get burned if you pop the cork at the wrong time.

At this point you might be asking yourself, "what's to like at all about this CDP crap?" Well, when done right, red CDPs are dark, spicy, and jammy, with firm tannin and hints of stone and minerals, sometimes with a bit of spice on the nose for good measure - in other words, they can totally rock (and not just from those galets)! As for my review...

Smokey dark fruit, slightly gamey, evoking rocky minerals, and a bit of mushroom. Finishes a bit too rough and heavy. It's good, but not anything to write home about.

But this wine is my guilty pleasure.

Why? Because it reminds me of the biggest lightening of an emotional load that I've ever experienced...

Set the Way-Back Machine for Jan. 2003. Dude is in Toronto (in the middle of one of their coldest cold spells) with his mom, his younger brother, and younger bro's then-fiancee. A few months before, younger bro' was getting checked by his doc after a bout of heat exhaustion (brought on from hot-weather mountain biking in Delaware). During that treatment, doc decides to check younger bro's heart (which has a congenital valve defect), just to be on the safe side. Lo and behold, younger bro's heart defect is in overdrive - and if he wants to live more than another year, he's going to need serious heart surgery.

That's where Toronto comes in. Toronto may not be famous for its normal, everyday medical care, but it's home to Tirone David, one of the best heart surgeons on the planet and (most importantly for little bro'), an expert at the Ross procedure. Younger bro' had chosen Ross as the preferred method for mending his ticker, as it was the most compatible with his healthy, active lifestyle.

The days leading up to surgery were intense but not without their fun times, and we kept it together pretty well - until the big day came. What I remember most was sitting in the waiting room for about nine of the most grueling, emotional, and sickening hours of my life. I was trying to keep calm, cool, and collected so that mom and sister-in-law-to-be could remain calm, cool, and collected. But the surgery took far longer than we'd anticipated, and there was news of complications - but not news of how severe those complications were, or what they meant for little bro's chances of survival. Eventually, I took a "walk to clear my head," which was basically an excuse to find a quiet corner in the hospital and totally lose it to my tears, anxiety and exhaustion.

It was an experience I wouldn't have wished on my worst enemy.

Little bro' was revived several hours later. And he began to do well, working his way to an improbably swift recovery. The day he was released from the hospital, I made my way to the nearest shopping area to get Gameboys (little bro' is a gamer), provisions for dinner, and most importantly wine (which by that time I sorely, sorely needed). Now, the LCBO stores aren't much better than their PLCB counterparts, and I was getting mighty frustrated by the poor wine selection on offer. Running out of time before having to meet the family back at the hotel, and needing a quick pick, I grabbed a bottle of the Chateau Cabrieres Chateauneuf Du Pape and hightailed it out of there.

That evening, eating dinner with my extended family in our hotel suite, and seeing my little bro' on the mend and nearly back to his old self, the weight of the entire earth seemed to lift right off of my shoulders. Each sip of that Chateau Cabrieres Chateauneuf Du Pape tasted like the purest, rarest red nectar - straight from the good earth, poured right from the glass directly into my soul.

Little bro' is still with us, is still going strong, is still mountain biking, and is now the proud father of a little baby girl.

And Dude still feels a little bit of the world's weight coming off his shoulders whenever he sips a glass of that heavy-finishing Chateau Cabrieres.

He ain't heavy, he's my brother...



Jeff said...

Wow, great post. Not exactly the story I expected behind a comfort wine but thanks for sharing. It's always the wines I share during those significant times that stick in my head.

Joe Roberts said...

Thanks, Jeff!

I hope it's not a total bug-out. I should put a warning at the top - "Keep Reading... It's a Happy Ending, I Swear!!!"


Anonymous said...

Great read! I chose the Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc at: http://drinksareonme.net/?p=221

Anonymous said...

Duuuude! I got salty tears in my Sangiovese! You made me cry like a retiring quarterback. So thankful for your happy ending and I will think you you and your lil bro every time I sip on some CdP!

Joe Roberts said...

dale cruse - thanks, man! Can't go wrong with the Krug, great choice.

oenophilia - thanks; sorry about the tear-jerker. I feel the love!

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