Her nails were painted crimson red, the pungent color popping from those long, wand-like fingers. “Your choice?” I asked my friend (Charles), as we peered down at his mother’s still body. “No, hers,” he said. “She always said that when she died, she wanted her nails to be painted Merlot red.” It was an awkward moment, as I just didn’t know what to say to Charles, who lost his mother from an unexpected heart attack a couple days after her 50th birthday. We used to call her Lady Veggie because she was so health conscious, but I guess even healthy people have to die.
As the viewing entered its 5th hour, Charles asked solemnly, “You got the goods?” I pulled the paper bag and cork screw from my purse. We sat on the hood of his convertible and sipped on the 2005 Domaine Mousset Les Garrigues Côtes-du-Rhône Villages. For two days, I drove all over Miami looking for the 2005 La Garrigue Côtes du Rhône, but the only venue that seemed to carry the label was Crown Wine & Spirits, and they only had the 2006 vintage, which paled in comparison to the 2004 and 2005. The sales guy at Total Wine highly recommended Les Garrigues as an alternative, so I figured since the labels are spelled similarly, why not. Charles and I both love The Rhone Valley, and we actually met at a Rhone Valley wine tasting in Chelsea back in 2000, so while I didn’t have the money for a nice Châteauneuf-du-Pape, I wanted to get something with a similar personality.
“Hmmmm,” he said. “This smells like my mother’s flourless black forest cake. I can smell kirsch and maraschino cherries.” The wine also had raspberry flavors and this beautiful, bright acidity that lingered through a long, cinnamon-y finish. We sat on the car pouring the wine into wine glasses Charles usually keeps in his car. There was a burnt orange haze flashing through the sky, as if the angels were pouring glasses of sherry through the firmament. People walked by to give Charles their condolences, and I started to feel a little uncomfortable after Charles’ aunt stomped over to the car and whispered loudly, “You think your mother would have liked for you to be drinking wine on your car instead of greeting your guests.” He looked her dead in the eye, poured a little wine into the earth and responded, “My mother would have only been mad if I was drinking shitty wine.”
We had the munchies, so we drove over to the nearby KFC. “What kinds of wine did your mother like?,” I asked him. “Anything from The Rhone Valley, but she also loved Barolo, Brunello and some California Zinfandels. Someone sent her a bottle of this Four Vines Zinfandel a few months ago. That was the last glass of wine we had together. It was pretty damn good, too, but mostly, she loved Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”
I could see Charles’ eyes glazing up. He was an only child, and while his mother doted on him, their last encounter was bitter. “She was going to Haiti to visit my father’s mother,” he told me. “She wanted to spend her birthday there, and I was pretty relieved for that. She was nagging me about law school, calling me all the time, asking me when I was finally going to take the bar again. I couldn’t wait to get rid of her…Then my aunt called a couple days later… and I had to go collect my mother’s body from the airport.” In the last eight years that I’ve known Charles, he has never been this emotionally open. He’s the quintessential 6’3″ ex-football player jock. His mother, a successful Senegalese chef who trained in Paris, raised Charles alone after his father left the family when he was seven years old.
The evening after the funeral, North Miami Beach was on fire with live Brazilian jazz and the most delicious food I’ve had to date: huge blue crabs sticking out of Dutch pots filled with black rice, lamb chops, Peach Melba, and flourless black forest cake. There must have been about 300 hundred people present. We sat on top of his convertible staring at the sherry-colored sunset. “You got the stuff?,” I asked Charles. Then, with a feeling that I just rubbed Aladdin’s lamp, out came the 2001 Domaine Roger Sabon Cuvee Prestige Châteauneuf-du-Pape from a tattered paper bag. We bowed our heads in a moment silence.
“God, I hope it’s not corked,” he said.