The first year of homeownership is about whine and wine
Yesterday, the hot water heater in my upstate New York country house sprung a leak. The plumber I called laughed when he saw my little 20-gallon tank, which, OK, looks like a toy. He also muttered something about Rube Goldberg, an apparent reference to the numerous conduits, tubes, wires and levers connecting my tank to parts unknown. In the end, it was not only laughable but also unfixable.
After he left, I did what I have done on the number of such incidents in my first year of home ownership: I shut the basement door, went upstairs, poured a glass of wine and stared out the window into the solitude of the woods. In 10 months of owning my 1930s bungalow, I’ve had many such moments, considering not the beauty of my surroundings, but my sanity and the state of my checkbook.
The water heater fiasco marked the first anniversary of the day I found my house after a year-long hunt. Four and a half hours after it listed, my real estate agent—90 miles away from me in New York City—was in the house giving me a FaceTime tour. Within 30 minutes, I made an offer. The next day it was accepted and I popped a very nice bottle of bubbly. It seems like I have not stopped drinking since. [JK.]
So, in a sort of ode to my abode, here’s an unempirical but mostly true account of house hunting, repair and drinking.
The day my offer was accepted. For such a momentous event, I popped open Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvée, a blend of the traditional Champagne grapes. Sharing the same chalk soils as that region, it is a good Champagne imposter. This signature wine of the house is a more off-dry style with some honey, light pastry and earthy notes, red apple skin and flesh give it both a bit of tartness and roundness.
The day I signed the contract. Because a lot could still go wrong before closing, I didn’t want to go full-out party. Two Shepherds “Bucking Luna” sparkling Cinsault 2019 was a fun fizz in a can to cautiously celebrate until the deal was in the can. The funky/earthy aroma upon opening blew off to a bright and lively mouth full of tart cranberry and pomegranate.
The day I closed on the house. What should have been a day of celebration was marred by an acrimonious closing. The seller did not fix an issue she promised to, which was not revealed until the final walk through. Her contentious lawyer threatened to pull out of the deal. And what was that issue? The hot water heater. And what did I drink? While sparkling felt out of place, I did deserve some pampering and the Lange Estate Chardonnay “Classique” from Willamette Valley was a delicious salve for my psychic bruises—a round Burgundian-style wine with silky textures, ripe yellow apple, some hazelnut, almond and caramel tones leading to a long, graceful finish.
The day, 24 hours later, I bought a car. Pro tip: If you make two major purchases within 24 hours (and own a car for the first time in 27 years), you’re gonna need some liquid fortitude. Mine was Domaine Cazes Rivesaltes Cuvée Aimé, a blend of Grenache Blanc and Grenache, aged 22 years in barrel and 10 years in the bottle before release. A delicious and exotic layering of flavors: salty caramel, apple crumb, toffee, figs and preserved orange peel.
What I drank on my first night in the new house. We christen ships, why not christen houses, too? I popped two domestic sparklers: Domaine Carneros Le Rêve (2013) and Gloria Ferrer Carneros Reserve Cuvee (2010). The Rêve was rich, toasty and opulent with honey and brioche notes, lemon compote and baked apples—everything I love in a traditional-method wine. And the light and bright Ferrer was a solid expression of zesty citrus, lighter brioche and elevated minerality with some saline threads through it—brilliant with smoked salmon, capers and olive oil.
What we drank after a 14 hours in a rental van picking up from what seemed like every Loews, Home Depot and IKEA in the tri-state area. A day so exhausting, my helpmate and I needed two bottles. No. 1 was Venturini Baldini Ca’ del Vento Lambrusco rose (Emilia-Romagna), a fun lift at the end of the day with takeout brick oven pizza: tart strawberry, a bit of light yeast notes like crackers, a bit of anise. Fresh and fun. No. 2 was a Texan High Plains Sangiovese from Lost Draw, a smooth and silky style unhampered by oak and with the right hit of sour cherry and young strawberry. Bright and elevated.
What we drank with my first house guests Memorial Day weekend, after having slept on progressively deflating air mattresses, seated on lawn chairs inside and watching the rain come down and the gutter flood. Torrential rains squashed plans for al fresco quaffing, but we pulled a bottle that was much brighter than the weather, Early Mountain’s “Five Forks” (2020, Virginia). A rich, balanced blend of Petit Manseng, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Plush, ripe yellow and other tropical fruit and an exotic herbal quality. Layered and satisfying. My guests brought Uccelliera Grappa di Brunello from the 1990s, made from Sangiovese (40%)—complex and wild with dark fruit and candied citrus rind, elevated by an herbal lift.
What I drank after I saw a snake in my basement. There are few times I drink tequila and this was one of them. On hand was the Enemigo Tequila Anejo Cristalino 89, a big burst of agave minerality layered with sweet barrel spices of coconut and vanilla. The smooth mouthfeel also smoothed over my shattered nerves. No worm in the bottle was an added plus.
What I drank the second time I saw a snake in my basement, two days later. Move over tequila. Benriach Speyside Single Malt “Malting Season” (NAS). Warm-toned and creamy textured, this expressed honey, sweet fruit, spice apple and sweet oak. 48.7%
What I drank after I killed the snake on my third sighting in my basement. 52.8% and I needed it. Benriach Speyside Single Malt “Smoke Season” (NAS). Deeply smoky and peaty, seductive aromas jumping out of the glass even from a distance. Fruit wood, a rich and deep expression of caramel, butter and toffee. Round and comforting but also kinda sexy—just like the Lakota spiritualist who removed the snake from the basement and gave it a proper burial. (You are going to buy my book, right?)
What I drank after my basement flooded. Four inches of water looks like a small lake when it’s in your basement and you have no sump pump. After bailing 50 gallons out, I shut the door and called it a night. Two Texan wines buoyed me: a full-bodied Tannat from Bending Branch Winery (Newsom Vineyards) and an Agliancio from Duchman Family Winery. The Tannat overturned my assumptions about both the grape and Texas, this version packed with ripe cherries and black fruits, elevated by a fresh minty-wood edge. The Aglianico was a fun surprise—a shimmering bright ruby wine made in a modern style with sour-cherry and black fruits, smooth tannins and an edgy finish of walnut skin and woodiness that kept it interesting.
What I drank after the handyman abandoned the floor refinishing job, leaving two bedrooms of furniture in the living room, two hours before my house guests arrived. Ancient Peaks “Renegade” 2018, Paso Robles, aptly named for times of desertion. A powerful blend of Syrah, Petit Verdot and Malbec: deep, mature and complex with expressions of chocolate, dried fruits, Medjool dates. A sturdy wine with more staying power than a handyman.
What I drank when the furnace quit at 12 degrees F. While the small space heater I borrowed was cold comfort, the Stone Castle 100% Merlot from Kosovo’s Rahovec Valley helped warm me up. Raspberry jumped out of the glass on the pour and carried through to the palate with classic black-fruit (plum and berries), smoothed-out tannins and a bit of a green herbal edge and a chocolate finish.
What I drank when the pipes froze, -6 degrees. Turned back to Ancient Peaks for a Paso Cabernet Sauvignon that was redolent of dark spice and black tea. A modern style that was plummy and powerful without being jammy, concentrated fruit impressively balanced with acid and structure. A bit more wild and brambly than a Napa style.
What I drank when I finished my kitchen renovation, sat back and admired the result of blood (yes), sweat and tears. Gran Moraine “Dropstone” Chardonnay 2018, Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon. So delicious, I wish I had saved it for a more stylish occasion, but this Burgundian imposter was a perfect reward for weeks of plaster and saw dust, paint and tung oil fumes, spackle, caulk and wood filler (and the erratic schedule of handyman No. 3). Creamy baked yellow apple, some wood-spice caramel and hazelnut tones, and a rich, textured mouthfeel and full-bodied but extremely nuanced.
The moral of the story: whatever can go wrong in a house, will. And most things that can go wrong happen in the basement. Make sure you have a decent wine cellar to get you through.