01 Barbaresco Pora and the best friend of my brother who died

April 2, 2011

Every five years or so, I get an email from Professor Wilkins (above) and before email, I’d get a letter or a phone call. “I want to know how you’re doing and what’s going on in your life,” he’d say. A million happy questions would follow, with him wanting to know every detail of the vicissitudes of my life, studies, work, etc.

You see Professor Wilkins — David — was the best friend of my eldest brother, ten years my senior, Aaron Louis Parzen, who died in 1972 when he was fifteen in a car accident not long after my family moved to San Diego from Chicago, where he and Aaron both attended middle school at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. Today, David — Professor Wilkins (here’s the Wiki entry devoted to him) — is one of the leading law scholars in the country, with a chair at Harvard, and he moves and works within some of the most rarefied circles of our country (“the first lady was a student of mine,” he told me last night). A celebrity in his field, he was in San Diego last night to give a private lecture to a law firm.

I hadn’t traded messages with David for some time and although I began writing about wine more than 13 years ago, he and I never made the connection to his interest in wine until he stumbled upon my blog. As it turns out, David began collecting wine in the mid-1980s, before the crush of wine culture seethed in the U.S. in the mid-1990s. “I read [Robert Parker's] Wine Advocate when it was still a photocopied report,” he joked.

Wanting to share a special bottle with him, I reached deep into my San Diego wine locker yesterday and grabbed a bottle of 2001 Pora by Produttori del Barbaresco (above). The wine was remarkably tight for this regularly more generous cru but as it opened up and began to reveal its fruit, it sang stupendously in the glass. As much as I oppose the fetishization of old wine (and those who cry “infanticide!” when you open “young” Nebbiolo), I have to say that the wines of Produttori del Barbaresco only get better over time and this wine was still extremely youthful — like a teenager full of energy and promise and brilliance and power — however cut short by life’s vicissitudes.

My memories of Aaron are fleeting and distant. I was five when he died. I believe that I see Aaron in David the same way that David sees Aaron in me. Not that I’m as brilliant or handsome or athletic as Aaron was (and he was): we see Aaron in each other because that’s where he lives — in our memories, in our hearts, and in our dreams. When he died, I became the “middle child” and as cliché as it sounds, I have followed the path of the middle child, pursuing music and writing, while my brothers have enjoyed immensely successful careers as lawyers and now in public service. However unlikely our bond, Aaron’s memory links me to David and as it turns out, the vicissitudes of life have formed an unexpected and equally happy bond between us — through wine.

As we chatted last night over dinner and ten-year-old Nebbiolo, David told me the same stories about Aaron that he tells me every time we connect. And like every time, they brought tears to my eyes and laughter to my heart as the bitterness of the tannin and the sweetness of the fruit danced in our glasses.


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