It was a night for wine, women and song.
Secco was hosting a night in Venice wine party and since I've yet to visit the actual Venice, a proxy evening seemed like just the ticket.
I walked in and staked my territory at the bar, awaiting the arrival of my evening's companion, Roxy.
She soon arrived and we stationed ourselves at the corner of the bar with a view of everything while the music was set to the Italian cafe station on Pandora. As one woman noted, it sounded like the soundtrack to "The Big Night."
Our starting libation was a Venetian spritz of Adami Prosecco "Garbel" with Cappelletti, a slightly bitter wine equivalent of Aperol, making for a refreshing way to begin the evening, even more so when enjoyed with an aged and salty cheese.
There were no gondolas, but we were off to a fine start.
The overwhelmingly estrogen-based population of the bar was soon jarred by the arrival of a strapping, young man who had wandered into the Venetian fray.
When the evening's plan was revealed, he gamely agreed to buy into it, despite this being a first date and an"almost blind" one at that.
I advised him that a first date where there were four courses and five wines would separate the girls from the women and he took my advice and paid for two in advance.
Now I had a front row seat to a first date.
Roxy and I chatted about her favorite Riesling and Champagne (both available on the chalkboard) and about how much she misses her people in San Jose. So much so she will soon move back.
Where she reminded me, she will pay $850 more for an apartment that is 300 square feet smaller than her beautiful Miller & Rhoads condo.
I have a sentimental attachment to San Jose since my best friend from college was born and raised in San Jose, making Roxy and I practically blood sisters.
Once everyone was ensconced at tables and bar, we were served Dal Maso 2012 Gambellara Ca'Fischele, a fine and acidic wine that neared perfection when eaten with tuna tartare set into hard-boiled eggs with capers and aioli.
Just as we were swooning over this blissful match, marinated squid salad with kale, garlic and chick peas arrived, again demonstrating how perfectly the acidic wine worked with the seafood and salt.
Roxy and I raised a glass to the chef's brilliance. "I'd marry him," Roxy observed. It's tough to beat a man who can cook.
Next came crispy Fontina chips filled with seared cauliflower, parsley and lemon paired with Corte Majoli 2012 Valpolicella, a medium bodied red that showed even better with the obscenely rich next course.
Chicken liver mousse sat atop grilled polenta, accompanied by chicken fat-stewed onions and bits of fried chicken skin, an altogether decadent dish that positively sang with the wine.
As our server noted, it came with a side of Lipitor.
Roxy and I alternately made orgasmic sounds about the dish and flapped our gums about how obscene it was.
Meanwhile, the first dater next to me was telling the girl, "This has a really unusual taste. I've never had liver before. I usually go paleo during the week."
Son, there's nothing paleo about chicken liver or chicken fat. Just so you know.
And, P.S. Corny lines like, "I just want to know more about your family life" make it tough to keep my liver down.
While waiting for the next course, I took a side trip to the loo, but was stopped by Chef Mike, who was offering up samples to all who passed by.
"This'll be the best bite of the night," he assured me. The piece of Dixie doughnut with a schmear of chicken liver may have been the closest thing to heaven my mouth has tasted.
I returned to a plate of beef and potato meatballs with orange peel and fennel seed in a fennel tomato sauce and matched with Zanta 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon "Due Santi," a complex, full-bodied wine that was a worthy counterpoint to the meatballs.
Truth be told, Roxy and I were lagging by this point.
Oh, not conversationally. First marriages, dimples, body confidence, we'd covered quite a bit. But our stomachs were not bottomless.
Finally the last course arrived, a chocolate roll with roasted nuts and topped with vanilla citrus whipped cream, paired with one of the last four bottles in the state of Dal Maso's 2007 late harvest sweet wine.
For no good reason, this led to a conversation about Deleon Tequila, which Roxy had recently enjoyed with her boyfriend in San Jose and which provided me with a recommendation for something new to try, assuming the VA ABC deems it acceptable to carry.
I'll certainly find out.
Back to the dessert, I have no compunction about admitting my love for chocolate, nuts and cream and while Roxy found the Dal Maso overly sweet, I found it a lovely complement to the chocolate.
I'm not saying it topped the Dixie doughnut with chicken liver mousse, but it was damn good.
After saying farewell to Roxy, I left to pick up a girlfriend for a Virginia wine crawl. Because, you know, one wine event an evening is not enough.
Approaching Pasture, we were greeted by fire performers, breathing and showing off with fire, something I've seen at Gallery 5 enough times to stop worrying if they're going to singe the hair right off their faces or not.
Inside, it was just as circus-like, with acrobats on the floor supporting other acrobats in mid-air.
My friend looked at me, grabbed my hand and led me away from the performers.
Near the back, we found a table serving Breaux Vineyards "Marquis de Lafayette," a shining example of Cabernet Franc, a grape she and I love.
Glasses in hand, we escaped to a table away from the hordes and sat down to catch up on girl stuff, oblivious to the networking going on around us.
We let the interested parties come to us, with only a brief foray out to collect some Gabriele Rausse Nebbiolo, a wine I like so much I once worked an entire day at the Virginia Wine Expo just to score bottles of this luscious grape.
Our idyllic girl time was interrupted when Jason Tessauro mounted the table next top us and began reciting his ode to Virginia wine, with highlights like, "To be or Tannat" and "I deem any man a liar who don't dig Matthew Meyer" (Williamsburg Winery's winemaker), "Keep your loyalties looser" and the fitting closer, "Has Virginia wine arrived? You bet your ass!"
Fortunately, he then dismounted from the table. the ideal moment to escape the madness and make our way to destination #2, Rappahannock.
There we found an old friend from the former Six Burner, Tracey, and Blenheim Winery's winemaker, who was gracious enough to pour us a taste of "Painted White," a delectable blend of Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier being served with scallop ceviche.
The evening's music came courtesy of my neighborhood DJ, Marty of Steady Sounds, and I have to say it was a mix of music I'd never heard him play.
Prince. Michael Jackson, Donna Summer. Diana Ross. Madonna. Needless to say, the crowd was dancing drunkenly in no time.
I was eager to sample Chatham Vineyards steel fermented Chardonnay and wasn't disappointed to taste the salinity and minerality of the eastern-most of Virginia's wineries.
Resolved: there's a winery I intend to visit come spring.
Next thing we knew, people in tight, red polyester jumpsuits with even their faces covered had joined the crowd and were dancing everywhere. If it hadn't been for the accentuation of their junk, it would have been pretty funny.
At the Boxwood Winery table, we tried a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, poured by a taster who was dancing in place to Prince's "Kiss."
Truth be told, I was holding a glass and dancing in place to the same song.
The crowd had gotten so thick (and so loopy) around DJ Marty that we did a full circle around the back of the bar in an attempt to reach the one remaining winery up front.
On the way, a woman stopped me and said point blank, "You have such a pretty face." While I would have liked to have kissed her in gratitude, I settled for thanking her profusely but she went on. "Even your hair is perfect for your face."
It's difficult to properly thank someone for saying something so complimentary and so random, so I just hugged her and went on my way.
We finally made it to the Thibaut Jannison table for a flute of Blanc de Chardonnay, at which point I made a bee line for the freshly shucked oysters and helped myself to a ridiculous number of Olde Salts.
Only when my girlfriend suggested I try some Rapphannocks did I diverge from my single-minded, salty plan.
We found respite far in the back of the room, away from the hordes dancing to "Wanna Be Starting Something" and "Let the Music Play."
From there, we had a bird's eye view of drunken people stumbling around, eyes glazed and footing unsure.
One woman came up and said, "I know you don't like me. But you're a baller when it comes to music."
Like the woman who'd liked my face, there's not a lot I could say to that. Fortunately, by that time, it didn't matter.
Friend and I were ready to move on. To the strains of "Ain't No Stopping Us Now," we made or way through the crowd and to the car.
There, we spent the better part of an hour doing the girl talk thing that all the festivities had interrupted. It was divine.
Over the course of six hours, did I manage to get enough wine, women and song?
You bet your ass I did. My loyalties remain loose with wine and tight with everything else.