Monday, September 25, 2006

Ice wine, anyone?

No one who knows me well is surprised when I say that I like sweet things. Sweet coffee, tea, candy, cookies; if it's first five ingredients include sugar, I'm all over it. So imagine my glee when I was introduced to ice wine nearly two years ago at a dinner party across the street at a neighbor's house. Phil and Alicia invited us over for a meal that had been lovingly and exquisitely prepared by Phil's brother. What a meal! Palate cleansers between courses. Cheese and fruit tray. (Lemon stilton cheese is a delight.) Fine crystal glasses and china plates. I was impressed.

But the high point of the evening for me was the small glass of ice wine that was served with dessert. (Or was it dessert???) Phil's brother explained that ice wine is produced from grapes that are left on the vine long after the autumn harvest. These grapes are allowed to freeze on the vine. Then they are carefully plucked, pressed, and fermented. The result is the sweetest wine I've ever tasted - and I have been known to suck down white zinfandel with abandon.

The bottles are usually narrow in shape and high in price. Normally, there aren't many bottles on the store shelves, but each one has a beautiful label and a story all its own. Frozen grapes picked with frozen fingers, carried into icy barns, run through chilled presses and vats. It has to stay cold. And months later, perhaps years later, it arrives at the tables of expectant and extravagant diners in fine goblets. Yum.

It's been a tough summer around here. Family crises. Drought conditions. Ant invasions. Marital apathy. I've been bored at times. Lonely at times. Missing faraway friends in distant cities. Wishing for long walks on wide boulevards in Madrid, Rome, London, and Barcelona. Wishing for the sun, sand, and surf of Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and Menorca. Lots of feeling sorry for myself.

This Saturday at an all-day writing retreat, those two disparate lines of thought came together. I was feeling a lot like a frozen grape on the vine. Left to chill. Neglected. Forgotten. Waiting. Wishing. Hoping. From the vine to the winepress. "Ouch. That hurts. Crushed. Mashed. Squeezed. Pressed still more to squeeze out still more of my very lifeblood. Enough; I've had enough. I give. Uncle. What's it gonna take to release the pressure?"

As I wrote and cried and wrote and cried some more, as I thought and rethought, looked back and craned my neck to try to look ahead, it hit me: ice wine is the best wine, the sweetest, the finest, and certainly among the most costly. Frozen, then crushed, then savored. It takes time, pain, and patience to get that wine, but it's certainly well worth the wait and the work.

Perhaps the best is yet to come for me as well.
Perhaps there is sweetness to be gleaned from what feels like bitterness.
Warmth from the cold.

Sitting there, I remembered how blessed I am.
To have the husband I have.
These two beautiful children.
Even though they sometimes press me, pull me,
crush me, and press me some more, there is still hope.
Hope that love, passion, and fire are possible again.
To that hope I now cling.

On Saturday night, Steve and I went out for dinner. Our first stop was The World of Wine, a huge store dedicated to the drunken debauchery of Charlotte's many fine residents. We wandered the aisles marveling at the varieties and the cost of the wine. There were 1/2 kegs of beer on sale for over $100. Insane! I saw Rothschild Pauillac wine for over $200 per bottle. And some bottles were more expensive than that.

Needless to say, we bought ice wine. It's chilling in the fridge, awaiting the time when we will open it, pour it into our not-so-delicate glasses, and raise a toast to the sweetness that can come from the most frozen of tundras. Here's to hope.

Anyone care to join me in a toast?
I'll bring ice wine.

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