by Sherman Smith
part 1 of 2
Unseen, Mr. Nibs rode in on a flurry of spiraling snow flakes as Rick pushed open the door to the bottle shop and greeted Angus the proprietor. “Brother, its cold outside. I know there are winters where we get little or no snow, but tonight Old Man Winter is making up for lost time.”
Angus eyed the white squall outside and worried that the storm might prevent the rest of the wine club members from attending the wine-tasting.
Mr. Nibs took a perch on the edge of the wine bar to take in the shop’s ambiance. At the moment he could not be seen or heard and that was the way he wanted it. Years of experience had taught him that most humans were a little slow on the uptake when it came to understanding that they were about to be befriended by a Clurichaun. If, and when, they proved worthy, he would introduce himself.
His eyes tracked the shelves of bottles that filled the room. Disappointed, he pursed his lips beneath his flamboyant red beard and thought: These wines will never do. They’re too young and at best drinkable only by the unappreciative.
His curious emerald-green eyes twinkled as they drifted towards a wide stairwell that led down into a limestone cellar. He sensed the wine stored below, approved, and rubbed his small chubby hands briskly together. Yes, there they are. With a practiced twinkle in his eyes he blew a waft of sprite’s breath out into the storm. The squall slowed to a flurry then quickly to a light dusting as the sky brightened into a calmer winter’s eve. No need to worry Angus, your pals will be here shortly.
Rick ambled down into the cellar where Randy waited at a white linen clothed table.
Charles, the next to arrive, dusted snow off his hat and asked, “Did you get them?”
Angus held up a tray that contained five bottles, each carefully selected by a club member:
2004 Peter Michael Point Rouge, Chardonnay
1993 Screaming Eagle ‘First Flight’, Cabernet
2000 Sine Qua Von ‘Heels Over Head’, Syrah
1997 Duckhorn Private Reserve, Merlot
1989 Château Beatcastel, Châteauneuf du Pape Hommage à Jacques
“Please lock the door before you come down,” Angus asked as he went into the cellar and set the bottles on the table. Everyone soon took their seats and eyed their selections with relish.
“How about the Peter Michael Chardonnay?” Randy suggested.
“Perhaps we should start with one of the big guns and leave the Chardonnay until last. The Sine Qua Von is huge,” Charles suggested.
“Let’s start with this.” Rick held up the Duckhorn Merlot.
“We have these world-class wines and you chose the Duckhorn,” Angus quipped.
Rick fondled the bottle. “It’s hard to beat perfection.”
Thirsty, Nibs decided that there was no time like the present to make an entrance. Surprise lads, you’ve got company. “May I suggest the ‘Eagle’ gentlemen?”
Startled at Nibs’ sudden appearance Angus nearly dropped the Sine Qua Von. Nibs was unusually small in stature, four-foot five would be wishful thinking. Mid-seventies perhaps. His eyes, set deep into a ruddy face, were an intense green that peered through a set of thick spectacles perched upon a large blue-veined drinker’s nose.
His head was an explosion of red hair with a well groomed flaming red lion’s beard. He was dapper in a full-dress black waistcoat; white cotton gabardine over high-waisted, black dress trousers; stiff-bosom white shirt; a narrow, bright red cummerbund; wing collar; finished with a matching moss-green butterfly bow tie.
“I’m sorry but the shop is closed.” Angus pasted on his best customer smile. “We will open tomorrow morning at ten o’clock.”
“Closed. Oh, I’m perfectly aware of that.” With an unusually quick stride the odd little man waltzed past Angus and hopped up onto one of the chairs. “Which is why I’ve come.” His accent hinted of Irish with a French undertone. He eyed the bottles on the table and blew out a long exaggerated breath. The first bottle fogged for a brief moment followed by the rest. “There you are me beauties.” The dwarfish intruder smiled. “Perfect.”
Randy ignored Nibs as he pulled the cork from the ‘Screaming Eagle’ Cabernet, and poured a small amount into a glass and sniffed. “Corked,” he announced with grave disappointment.
“You have got to be kidding?” Angus took the glass from Randy. “It tastes as bad as an unwanted Monday. Corked,” he agreed as he took a sip of water to clear his palate.
“Can you return it?” Rick asked.
“Not a chance.” Angus reached again for the bottle, sniffed, shook his head in disgust.
“I wouldn’t be too hasty,” Nibs said with a mischievous smile as he touched the bottle, “try it again. I think it just needed a moment to catch its breath.”
Angus was about to escort their annoying visitor to the door when Randy picked up the bottle, sniffed, then poured some into a glass. He worked the priceless vintage vigorously back and forth in his mouth tasting for its complexity and depth. “This is without question one of the most exquisite wines I have ever tasted.” He beamed as he swirled what remained in the glass with loving passion.
Angus poured a glass for each. After twirling and swirling, they smelled the bouquet and a small taste was taken, each taster slurping in some air then rolling it across the forepalate. With a smacking of lips and eyes rolling in their heads, each agreed that this ‘Screaming Eagle,’ once undrinkable, now screamed with brilliance.
What the hell is going on here? Angus thought. He held the wine up to the light. It was corked. Now, sweet Jesus, it’s good. He looked over the top of his glass at the strange little man whose eyes twinkled behind his strawberry-rosé beard. The longer he stared at the beard the more it seemed to fluctuate in color. “Our guest called it right, the least we can do is pour him a taste. I’m Angus,” he said as he extended his hand in welcome.
“My friends call me Nibs.” Too far away to shake hands with Angus, he didn’t try. Instead he raised a small filled glass layered in what looked like gold around the rim with a golden ‘N’ embossed on one side. With a curious nod he downed the wine in a single gulp. “Magnificent!” He grinned through his claret red beard. “I’m familiar with these other vintages and they are all exquisite wines.”
He looked deliberately at Rick and clicked his lip. “Tisk, tisk. I’m sorry to say the Duckhorn has never lived up to its potential. A matter of taste I suppose. Well, to each his own.” He raised his glass; full again. “Unlike this ‘Eagle’, which has truly shown how high it can fly.”
The phone rang. Angus left to answer it.
“Charles, it’s for you,” Angus called down from the upstairs bar. When Charles came up Angus held up his cell phone to show that he had called the upstairs line. “I wanted to get your take on this guy,” he whispered. You and I both know the ‘Screaming Eagle’ was corked. Then this red-haired dwarf appears out of nowhere and says it’s good. Suddenly it’s the gods’ elixir. Charles, he gulps the wine like water and the bottle never seems to empty. What the hell is going on here? Are we in the Twilight Zone?”
“This Mr. Nibs, or whoever he is, is spooky. What I want to know is where his glass came from? His pocket? For Chrissake it was full when it appeared in his hand. Angus, you didn’t fill it. The second glass... now that freaked me. If he were dressed in green, and wore a weird pointed hat, I’d be willing to believe that he was some kind of Leprechaun.”
Nibs smiled as he listened in on their conversation from the cellar.
“You don’t think?” Angus was surprised at his own question.
“Hell, no, Leprechauns are nothing more than an Irish myth.”
“Wait a moment,” Angus said, “I’ve got an idea.” He reached beneath the bar and pulled out a partially filled bottle. “Corked; about as bad as it gets. Let’s see what he does with it.”
“Randy,” Angus bellowed, “I found the Côtes du Rhône you wanted.”
“Me? That sounds like something in Charles’s footprint, not mine,” Randy called back.
As he took his seat, Charles noted that Nib’s glass was full again. “Randy” he said, “I remember you asked about it.” His voice implied that Randy should get in the game.
Angus poured Randy a small glass, then sat the bottle down on the table in front of Nibs.
“OK.” Randy agreed to humor his friends. He swirled the wine several times around the glass and brought it to his nose. “Whew, I don’t think so! It has the bouquet of old boots, barnyard, and muck you don’t want to know about.”
Nibs looked at the label, then gently blew out a long breath as if to kiss it. “Nonsense. Angus would never knowingly serve anyone bad wine.” He eyed Randy suspiciously then smiled across the table at Charles. “Perhaps a good French wine is more to your liking?”
Angus poured a small glass.
Charles took it hesitantly.
Angus prodded with his eyes for him to taste it as he poured a small taste for himself.
Charles brought the glass to his nose. To his surprise, the bouquet now spoke of an excellent wine. The wine proved to be stellar. The look of surprise on his face caused Angus to taste the same. Afterwards, he abruptly dropped into his chair as he brought his hands up to massage his temples where a tension headache was building.
The wine club members looked at each other bewildered. Nibs continued to drink, the tip of his blue-veined nose now as red as his lion’s mane.
There was a knock on the front door. “What now?”
Rick could see the front door from where he sat. “It’s Paul.”
“Good, the storm must have let up,” said Angus.
Rick rose. “I’ll let him in. I’ve got to use the can anyway.”
Charles and Angus both sat back aghast at what they had just witnessed.
Nibs inhaled another full glass of wine. “Gentlemen,” he said, “’Tis time to take me leave before your academic arrives. Academics, I can smell them a mile away and have mistrusted them since Nachmanides. You would think that men with minds that keen would have a bit more imagination. I have debated my being with these so-called learned men for years and refuse to discuss it further.”
He raised his glass. “Lads, thank you for your hospitality. I’ll leave me glass for safe keeping and will be most appreciative if you would pour me a wee drop or two, especially when you open a bottle that is... how did you say it? Oh yes; stellar. I always take care of me friends,” he said with a wink, “and promise that you will never suffer bad wine or be troubled by a thief as long as we continue to toast each other’s friendship.”
“Sorry I’m late.” At the sound of Paul’s voice Nibs disappeared. For a brief moment Randy thought he saw a wisp of smoke that marked where Nibs had been. A small cut crystal glass, slightly blue with age, sat empty at the edge of the table. Hocus-pocus and poof; Mr. Nibs had simply vanished.
“Paul, call me crazy,” Randy said with an incredulous laugh. “Perhaps we have all lost it but you are not going to believe what just happened.” The story told, he finished with a flash of his hands: “And then he just disappeared. Gone in a puff a smoke.”
“Angus suggested that he was some kind of Leprechaun,” added Charles.
“No,” Rick said as he returned. “There’s no such thing.”
Angus poured a full glass of ‘Screaming Eagle’ for Paul.
Rick opened his bottle of Duckhorn.
“I doubt he was a Leprechaun,” said Paul, “but he might be a Clurichaun.”
“A Clurichaun is a wine-loving house fairy,” Paul answered. “You should feel lucky to have this delightful fellow single you out. If you allow him to partake of your best wines and treat him as an honored guest he may stay on indefinitely. If so, he’ll keep your wines from spoiling and they will improve with age for as long as he’s here. At least that is how the legend is told.”
“You believe that crap?” Rick asked.
“If there weren’t some truth to these legends they wouldn’t have lasted so long.”
“What the hell!” Rick looked horrified as he spat out the taste of the Duckhorn Merlot he had just taken.”
“Corked?” Randy asked.
Angus took Rick’s glass and tasted. “No,” he said with a smirk, “mead.”
“Mead.” Out of curiosity he poured the wine into Nibs’s empty crystal glass. The glass shimmered as he first raised it to the light, then to his nose. Sure enough, the mead had turned back into Merlot. He poured a small amount into his own glass and tasted. “Merlot.”
He handed the glass to Rick who after one sniff pushed it away. “No thanks. I wouldn’t drink that crap in a million years. Whatever it is it is not Merlot.”
Randy took the glass, raised it to his nose, then tasted. “That is Duckhorn Merlot, no question.”
“Whatever you say, guys. Have all you want. I don’t know how you pulled it off but that is no more a Merlot than Nibs — whatever his name — is some kind of fairy.”
Angus smiled at Nibs’ empty glass.
A week passed and each day Angus poured a little wine into Nib’s glass, and each day it disappeared. He never saw it happen but was not surprised. He couldn’t quite put it in words, but the bottle shop seemed different, the light, smell, small sounds were different. He couldn’t get over an unsettling sense that he was being watched. Nibs? Real or imaginary? He was becoming a believer.
The other members of the wine group weren’t quite ready to go that far.
* * *
Copyright © 2011 by Sherman Smith