Decoding My Spanish Wine Fixation

Spanish wines shall always have a special meaning for me.

Author: William Pollard
Do you remember the last time you visited with your best friend? The meal you shared, the place, the wine? This is a self-indulgent post, but I’m sharing it because the sentiment and revelation are sincere. And I need to sleep at night.

I have an obsession with Spanish wines. I don’t talk of it, but I have wondered to myself, "Where does this attraction come from?"

Could there be an underlying impulse which draws me to the Iberian Peninsula? Some clarity emerged recently while reading

“Twirled on a fork and lifted to the mouth, they whisper secrets. This, you tell yourself, is a flavor one shouldn’t speak of.” 
Anthony Bourdain, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook

One of my Father’s Day gifts was the book Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain. I’m fond of how Mr. Bourdain puts words together. His style is in a word, "picante". He tells gritty, honest stories about real people and the food he loves to eat. I appreciate his direct, from the soul story telling style. He survived his demons, had astounding success with his book “Kitchen Confidential” and become an international celebrity via his “No Reservations” TV gig. And his hair is gray like mine.

But why am I drawn to Spanish wines?

There are understandable reasons why I'm attracted to Spanish wines, here’s my list:

1. My maternal great-grandmother was Spanish.

2. My mom’s first language is Spanish (she’s Mexican).

3. I minored in Spanish (I would have majored, but Contemporary Mexican Lit killed that goal).

4. Spanish Music:
a. In 1983 I studied Spanish in Mexico, my host family introduced me to the famous Spanish singer Rocio Jurado, I’ve been a fan ever since.
b. Twenty years ago I discovered the Gipsy Kings, I love their music (just check my iPad).
c. Flamenco music/dance is a powerful art form – I prefer Flamenco with guitar and singing, with the “Grita”.

5. Is there something else?

#5 My best friend John.

John and I met in Seattle, on the bus to high school. We remained friends for 32 years. John was funny, smart, off-center, and not shy about his uniqueness; he was a lot of fun to hang out with.

John embraced family and friends; he’d rather focus on the good times and amusing friends by inventing funny songs than being serious. John valued honesty; he was the first to call someone out on their B.S.

William, Mark, John - Atlantic City, NJ 1986
After high school, John went to College in New Jersey, while I attended Western Washington University. Summers we spent in Seattle - I'm not Anthony Bourdain, so I'm not divulging any of those stories. John majored in Spanish, I minored in Spanish. He eventually settled down in New Jersey. In 2003 he finally met his dream woman, a Spanish speaker from Ecuador. I was best man at his wedding. He studied Spanish because of me he said (John had a long-time crush on my Mom, so I think it was really because of her).

Wedding Day and Cake October 2003
The door is opened, the light is on.

While I was in the middle of reading "Medium Raw", Chapter 8, I abruptly had some insight into my Spanish wine fixation. I unexpectedly recalled the last meal I shared with my best friend John. “Ahhh, that's it” escaped my lips at that moment.

In September 2007, John was in Seattle visiting his parents, for health reasons. He asked me to visit. Of course I went. Neither John nor I had lived in Seattle for decades, so it was an adventure re-discovering the city. Finding a good place to eat was always part of the fun.

On our last night together, we dined at Bilbao Spanish Restaurant and Tapas Bar in the University District. We delighted in several servings of perfectly prepared grilled lamb chops (Chuletas de Cordero). We ate so many lamb chops that night, the chef had to come out and see who kept ordering them. And the wine we drank that night? The wine was from Spain… of course! That’s the connection to Spanish wine I had forgotten! The recollection of good Spanish wine shared with my best friend was an unexpected revelation. That delicious dinner became our final meal together.

My best friend John died the first weekend of October 2009.

I won’t go into the details of his death; it was sudden, unexpected, at his apartment in New Jersey. Most of that year I had enjoyed living as an expat with my family in Abu Dhabi, but we had to return to the States in September. John told me I had to return home for a reason. I ended up writing his eulogy within two weeks of that conversation.

When you have a three decade friendship, your shared history is like a treasure, both rare and priceless – your conversations are not limited by days, months or years, they pause and re-start like time has no meaning. It was that way with us. I no longer recall which bottles of Spanish wine we enjoyed that last evening, but, Spanish wines shall always remind me of that priceless friendship. It was Spanish wine I last enjoyed with my best friend, it seems fitting.

John, until our conversation starts again, I’ll drink Spanish wine and remember you.

Hasta Entonces

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