"Ooooh, this is making me feel good all over. Yeah, baby, rrreally good. And it's sooo big. Mmmm, and so soft. It's making my lips quiver. Owww!"
There I was, in an anonymous Memphis hotel room in the heat of a sweltering summer day. I was clutching the phone receiver with one hand while the other hand was busy... pouring wine.
Don't get any ideas. I was turned on by the occasion, but that's because it was Wine X's first-ever simultaneous telephone tasting. My partner on the other end of the line was the Indigo Girls' Emily Saliers. I'd heard Emily was a co-owner of Watershed, hands-down Atlanta's hippest wine bar/restaurant. But when I learned she actively chooses the restaurant's wines, I knew we had to hook up.
Easier said than done. Emily was in the midst of a marathon nine-month, 160-city tour for the Indigo Girls' latest release, Come on Now Social. And I was spending the entire summer criss-crossing the continent in a giant Toastermobile. (See the next issue of Wine X for a slice of life on the road.) Atlanta was on my schedule, though. So I called Watershed to see what we could do.
The restaurant, actually located in Decatur, just outside Atlanta, has an exceptionally well-chosen wine list, and the kitchen's sophisticated riffs on down-home Southern cuisine are to die for. (I'm still jonesing for some of the white bean hummus.) Over more than a few glasses of wine, Watershed's owners (sans Emily) and I became fast friends. Susan Owens, an old college friend of Emily's from Tulane, is in charge of the restaurant's retail section, and she and Emily both buy the wines. Ross Jones deals with accounting and business operations. And Leslie Zweben oversees the kitchen. It's all very cozy: four best friends; two couples (Emily and Leslie; Susan and Ross); one restaurant. But still no Emily.
But where there's a will, there's a way. So I had four California reds shipped to Emily and me: Beringer Private Reserve cabernet sauvignon, Silver Oak cabernet sauvignon, Joseph Phelps Insignia and Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages -- all from the excellent 1995 vintage. (Thank you, Darryl). On a weekend off from her tour, Emily called me from her getaway cabin she shares with Sue, Ross and Leslie. Over the phone, we sniffed, sipped, gurgled and laughed as we tasted our way through our wines.
Emily Saliers: I'm drooling over these wines. I can't wait.
Bob Blumer: Let's try the Cinq Cepages first.
BB: Can you describe where you are right now? I mean, without giving the specific latitude and longitude.
ES: I'm in a cabin in north Georgia, where we're all seated around this gorgeous poplar table. And the dogs are outside barking 'cause they can't come in.
BB: Is there a lake?
ES: A couple miles away.
ES: (undecipherable laughter) And we're in a valley surrounded by trees. Pretty bucolic.
BB: What's goin' on?
ES: We're skippin' ahead... to the Beringer.
BB: This is gonna be a short interview. Whadda'ya think?
ES: I get a lot of alcohol in the nose and a lot of cherry up front. Cherry, chewy, smoky. We've had the Beringer Reserves since '91. The '93 reserve's one of my favorites. We stocked up on the 93s 'cause they just blew our minds. All the Beringer Reserve cabernets are so balanced, deep and chewy.
BB: Do you have a private stash?
ES: Yeah, I keep most of it at a friend's house. They have a temperature-controlled room. Their stuff's all neatly packed away in wooden wine racks and ours, of course -- since I'm on the road and our lives are in limbo -- are still in the case boxes.
BB: How many bottles do you have?
ES: Around 700.
BB: Do you take wine on the road with you?
ES: No, we drink wine on the road, but it's too hard to transport. Amy [Ray] (other half of the Indigo Girls) doesn't drink but most of the other band members enjoy wine, so after a show we'll turn up the music and just sit and groove. We're not focused on the wine, so it's not really worth bringing a bunch of prize bottles. What I like is going into town on a day off and visiting a local wine shop. I pick out some of my favorites that are pretty reasonably priced, like the Grgich Hills cabernet and Mason sauvignon blanc. They're delicious. And Estancia... the Meritage. I'm really into finding wines in the $20 range that're really good.
BB: Since you tour so much, doesn't it kill you to be away from all those bottles for so much of the year?
ES: For our cellar we only pick vintages that're going to get better with age. They'll sit there for five or six years... I'll forget I even have them. It's like this little present for the future. When I'm home, we go over to Sue's place a lot... they have a pool and a place to cook out. That's when we crack our nice bottles.
BB: Should we move on to the Silver Oak next?
ES: Silver Oak is one of my favorites, too. A few months ago we drank an '84 and a '78 Alexander Valley. They were so different from each other, but each was just wonderful. I love Silver Oak wines -- the cedar and the oak. I love all that woodsy stuff. (Tastes) Yup, on the nose, burnt cedar and pepper.
BB: Way more tannin than the other two.
ES: Much more like a classic Bordeaux. You get that smoke and that cedar -- my favorite kind of flavor. That's why I like Bordeaux. You have your first sip and it's like chewing on a pencil. I love that quality in big fat reds. This is the most fun interview I've ever done in my life.