2017 Pivnica Brhlovce “Happiness” Pesecká Leánka Slovakia

The husband just now: “OK. That tastes apple juice-y… like cider.”

To be honest, I’d like this better if it were cider. Say, something from Asturias. However, at this juncture, I’m just happy to have a glass of anything other than Sapporo beer (the cheap stuff brewed in Canada, not the awesome stuff brewed in Hokkaido; at the moment, I have an awful lot of that due to an impulse to stock up on rice and shelf stable beef curry at the Japanese supermarket on the way home from work two weeks ago).

Earlier this week – has it really only been a week? – K&L send an email saying that they were closing all of their stores, but were still able to ship and deliver. I haven’t posted to this site in eight years or so, and I haven’t ordered any wine in about the same amount of time – excepting of course the massive purchases I made in South Africa last August in preparation for my 50th birthday celebration with Julian and friends in the Kruger and Cape Town. Five years ago, I think it was, I sold off the last of my collection at auction, save for a few bottles; the proceeds weren’t much, but I was glad to save the cash on hand for a rainy day instead of continuing down a predictably bleary fortysomething path towards increasing alcohol use and bloat. Hey, if I was heading towards 50, I would rather arrive as a mostly fit, REI hiker Dad type instead of a portly bloviating wine blogger. You know.

Given the general mood here in San Diego, I didn’t spend too much time thinking about my wine order: I searched for French wine, white, and ordered by cost: I wanted the least expensive stuff, but a case. Then, why not another case? Yes to the bottle of Nicolas Joly Savennieres I’d always lusted after but never bought. Yes to a wide array of Georgian wines, one of my true loves. And then what to do with the last few empty spaces? Well, search for white wine, other, in stock in Hollywood, not too expensive… and this is how you wind up with a bottle of Slovak white wine from the middle of nowhere that smells like “rainwater” (again, the husband, who’s always had a better nose for these things than I).

Let’s flash back for a few minutes to the winter of 1989. I was living in Tübingen, Germany at the time. I’d just turned 20, had lost my virginity to a gardener at the university, and was finally feeling like hey, maybe I was in fact an adult. As Christmas approached, shit got weird: there was a massive earthquake back home in Northern California, family dynamics changed as a result, and then a Hungarian picnic went haywire and East Germans started flowing over the border to the West. By the time my family landed in Frankfurt, it was pretty clear that decades of paralysis were about to suddenly end in some kind of revolution; on New Year’s Eve, 1989, I found myself in the back seat of a rented Mercedes, my father at the wheel, and talking my way into driving into the ČSSR, the Czechoslovak People’s Republic. My Mom had sent a letter to a hotel in Prague hoping for a reservation, but things were typically socialist and hadn’t quite worked. The Hotel Beke in Budapest had confirmed, and we’d enjoyed a couple of days there, eating McDonald’s on Marx tér and discovering the pleasures of Hungarian Turkish baths – oh, and lest I forget, there was a wonderful night out at a Cuban socialist restaurant with shitty Cuba Libres followed by a lip-synced production of CATS that made zero sense, followed by a round of indescribable schnitzel at the Karl Liebknecht Sausage Stand, or some such shit – and then we were up bright and early on the 31st and on our way to the border post just outside of Bratislava.

Now, I do speak German, and I speak it reasonably well – usually well enough to pass for German and not sound like an obvious American. I have also always had a thing for socialist-speak, largely because it was just so God damn weird when compared to the Reagan-era California that I grew up with. This is just to say that I was able to speak us through the border post with a minimum of fuss; shortly afterwards, my Dad stopped at the tourist office in Bratislava, who let me use their phone to call the hotel in Prague to see what the heck was up with our reservation.

Dear reader, you will surely not be surprised to hear that the hotel in Prague did not give a millishit as to what the hell had happened to our bourgeois Western reservation. They were kinda busy with the Velvet Revolution and settling old scores with the Soviets. Ah well. So back on the highway it was in hopes that showing up in person would present a Situation That Must Be Dealt With… and also a place to sleep for the night.

On the way from Bratislava to Brno, we must have passed through Pivnica Brhlovce, which is a small winery in what’s now Slovakia.

In 1989, and at least through the early part of 1990, it would have been impossible to imagine a wine like this being produced, or even any kind of idiosyncratic small business like this existing. This is made from Fetească Regală, which is a Romanian grape that isn’t particularly noteworthy. It’s biodynamic. All of it exudes a very 2020-esque fuck you, this is strictly for the cool kids kind of vibe, which I am very there for. It’s got a weird, pale, coppery look and smells to me like Cabbage Patch Kids on acid; that is, it’s definitely more reminiscent of apples than grapes and is frankly hard to pin down as wine. Even so: how is it as a beverage? Is it… happy?

You know, it kind of is. There’s something exuberant about its feisty fuck you-ness; this dares you to drink it and ignore anything you might feel about rural Slovakia or the outskirts of Bratislava. Sure, you drove past when you were 20 and all that registered were the endless rows of prefab concrete apartment buildings. Sure, you were still in disbelief that that Hungarian masseur was so friendly and seeing Ceaușescu executed on live TV. You thought it was awesome that you had a Big Mac in front of a Lenin status; you thought it was amazing that you scored a copy of Paul’s Boutique on cassette for just a dollar or so… but what did you drink that was good? Sure, there was beer, but it was just OK. Those Cuba Libres got you drunk, but hell, they sucked; Pepsi with Havana Club isn’t all that. But what would that Christmas have been like with a glass of happiness?

There was nothing for us in Prague. The hotel had never received Mom’s letter, and all of the hotels we stopped at turned us away; they were too busy getting ready to finally kick the Soviets out of the country. On the way back towards West Germany, we stopped in Pilsen briefly to get gas, which devolved into a very weird situation as a large mob of Roma showed up to demand Westmarks. We didn’t have much, just enough to buy a quarter tank of gas, which we weren’t sure would even get us to the border. There was an awkward, desperate piss stop in a field somewhere in Bohemia; we had to slow down, conserving gasoline, and drove slowly through the ominous dark towards the West.

Dear reader: somehow – a Christmas miracle? – I convinced the border guards to give us all of our Western currency back. We drove across that border two hours before midnight; I found a small restaurant with an apartment for rent in the back that fit all four of us. They had already closed up for the night, but they made us pizzas. We ate, we drank good Bavarian beer, we slept well. It was a good night.

Back to the wine, though: should you buy this? I have no idea. Is it good? Does it matter? The simple fact that things like this exist give me hope. I never would have expected that something this human would exist in 2020 knowing what it was like there in 1990.

This wine tastes like hope.