01 December 2005

2002 Avenue Cabernet Sauvignon

The past few weeks have been a lot of fun wine-wise, as I've been given a lot of nice bottles by friends and family. There's a great looking Pinot Noir sleeping quietly in the cupboard that I'm dying to try, but I'm saving that to share with the lovely young lady that brought it back from California with her.

Tonight I'm sipping on one of those gifts, another from Dad, the 2002 Avenue Cabernet Sauvignon. Like the Mama Mia Zinfandel I had recently, this is made by the Silo Winery, located in Napa Valley. I've probably stated this a dozen times, but I don't drink a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon. Don't get me wrong, I love the grape, but I generally can't afford the good stuff. Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir need a lot of care and attention, and can produce spectacular wines, but are almost never enjoyable at the bargain level. That's part of why I chase all of the weird grapes, as a lot of them make perfectly drinkable wines at decent prices.

I'm happy to report that this is a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon, even though I don't know the price. The aroma is amazing, but very subtle. Some wines have a powerful aroma, but if you can smell a wine without the glass even being in your hand, then there's generally something wrong. It's kind of like being in a diner early in the morning, sitting a couple of booths away from an off-duty stripper who's still wrapped in that melange of cigarette smoke, baby oil and cheap jug perfume, sending out the olfactory equivalent of a set of powerful sub-woofers.

You know that sensation when you're dancing with a classy woman during a slow song and she puts her head on your shoulder and you just get the slightest hint of some perfectly blended perfume, which she has just barely dabbed behind her ears? And you lean in a bit and breathe deeply and hope that the song never ends... A wine with a subtle aroma is a lot like that.

So here's what I get from this wine when I take the time to appreciate it: incredible chocolate aromas, with hints of cherry. Maybe some pipe tobacco. The flavor has more chocolate, but with some black pepper flavors instead of fruit. And even though it's 14.2% alcohol, you really can't smell it or taste it. Likewise, the tannins are present but not powerful. Excellent balance all around.

I don't think I've done any wine dedications thus far, but I'd like to raise my glass tonight to the memory of Elizabeth Hankins. She was my senior English teacher, though I had taken her summer creative writing course for all four years of high school. She was a published poet and taught me a great deal. By my senior year we were pretty close and I had a great time in her class, scoring a 5 on my AP English exam. She made all of us keep a weekly writing journal (an analog blog for my younger readers). I recently found my old journal, along with all of her comments in the margins. With ten years gone by since I last saw her, I decided to get in touch with her. She had retired from my high school, but one of the other English teachers I knew was kind enough to pass along her e-mail address.

I wrote her a long and thoughtful e-mail, bringing her up to date on what I've been doing since graduation, along with a lot of heartfelt thanks for everything she taught me, as well as the unique way that she dealt with students. Most people considered her a harsh woman, but if you worked hard and showed an enthusiasm for the written word, she really opened up. I got a reply a couple of weeks later, and she was delighted to hear from me. Unfortunately, she was suffering from esophageal cancer.

I wrote back offering whatever help and support I could, but didn't get a response. Two days ago, I got an e-mail from one of her relatives informing me that she had passed away. Said relative was moved by my letter and wanted to let me know what had happened. I'm glad that she's not suffering anymore, but at the same time, I'm really sorry that I didn't get to see her in person one last time. The whole unfortunate coincidence of my decision to contact her really rams home the idea that if there's someone in your past that had a great influence on you, that it's important to reach out to them and let them know before it's too late.

And with that, I have more wine to drink, and more letters to write.


WriterChick said...

Are you talking about Liz Hankins from Germantown High School? If so, I beg you to write me and tell me about her passing. I owe my literary career (such as it is) to her in many ways. You can reach me at susan@susanvaught.com .

Christie Love said...

Hi Benito: I just stumbled onto your blog and sat back in my chair as several of the wines you have reviewed came from our shop here in Healdsburg, CA.
Mama Mia Zin, Duxinaro and Avenue Cabernet are all wines made for and by
Duxinaro Wine Company.
We have two shops, The Wine Shop here in Healdsburg, CA and also by the same name in Mendocino, Ca.
We are a full service retail wine organization, meaning that we stock
all of the local Napa and Sonoma County wines as well as imports.
The Healdsburg Shop is right next door to Hotel Healdsburg, so perhaps you came in and purchased the wines while visiting?
If you need any information on these wines, call me @ 888-394-9463.
Ask for Christie Love, no joke, that is my name.

Christie Love said...

Here is my e-mail address also
Christie Love

Gator said...

I was just curious what's become of a few of my favorite high school teachers; having a "Where Are They Now" moment I guess. Your blog entry came up for Ms. Hankins in Google....

I still have my journal too - one of my favorite keepsakes from those years. Bonus: she was my homeroom teacher my senior year.

Could a "Hmmmm..." in red ink pierce so sharply from anyone else?? RIP.

Parthenia said...

While preparing the dedication of my first (self) published work of writing, I googled "Liz Hankins", my senior high school English teacher looking for her birth and death dates, because the 100-1000 people who actually read my work should know that I wouldn't be writing if it weren't for Ms. Hankins. I came across your blog. It's wonderful to see that she inspired and challenged other writers out there.

20 years later, I can still remember chunks of my journal and Ms. Hankins comments.

e1vislives said...

I just stumbled upon this blog after googling names from my past as I prepare for my 30 year GHS reunion this October.

Liz "Hank" Hankins was the greatest ally, friend, mentor and teacher to all of her APE students and GHS.

I am truly saddened to learn that she had to fight and lose to cancer.

I lift my 2002 Avenue Cab to Hank. May she rest in peace, and may we all know that she will forever live in the words created by her students as well as in her own words.

Anonymous said...

I just want to post another comment in memory of Mrs. Hankins. She was a big influence on me, and my time in her classes was some of the happiest at that school.

She really cared about the writers, the kids, and set up an environment to encourage one to become the other. She could be brutal if you pissed her off (in a senior year haze, I turned in a daily AP essay in red pen; needless to say, this was a mistake).

I learned her rules about 9 times over and audited her class just to take it again. We spent six weeks reading a Hemingway biography out loud. She was an evangelist of his style, and deeply passionate about writing and the stories her students gave her. Like the writer above, I wish I had gotten a chance to talk to her again before she died. I don't drink wine, but I will raise an imaginary glass in her honor.

Ben S

Benito said...

Glad to hear from everyone again. I never imagined that this post would end up as an informal shrine to the late great Hank, but I'm glad it's been a way for former students to learn about her final chapter.

And as I wrote that snippet above, I could hear her verbally smacking me up the head for using a trite cliché. :)

Anonymous said...

I just had someone remind me that it was teacher appreciation week, so I googled Ms. Hankins to see if it was even possible to get in touch with her. I'm glad to read that so many people felt goaded/inspired/cajoled/encouraged by her just like me. I am not a writer now, but all of the events of my life since high school have flowed from my decision to attend a certain college and study writing. She inspired that decision.

I was a great fan of Hemingway before I even entered her class, so we hit it off right away. In my time at GHS (graduated in 1997) she was the faculty advisor to the school literary magazine, and I was its co-editor that year. Between Creative Writing, AP English, and Literary Journal, I spent quite a lot of time in her classroom, torturing her and being by her tortured in equal measure. I've never had so much fun, been so intimidated, or learned so much in any class before or since.

Every time I think about the fact that I am not writing, I imagine her scolding me, or rolling her eyes and dismissing me. When I told her I wanted to teach high school, she lost her cool and told me not to waste my time.

I haven't spoken to her in 10 years, but I will miss her more now that I know I can't.

Benito said...


I graduated in 1994, so if you attended one of the Creative Writing workshops as a freshmen, I might have met you at some point.

Thanks for writing, and she was quite an amazing teacher.