My week was spent mourning what seems is the demise of our favorite farm cat, who didn’t return one night after dark.
In the country, cats are not only pets but utilitarian: they reduce rabbits, moles, chipmunks and groundhogs in the garden; they frequently signal that deer (and once, a bear) are in the blueberry patch or vineyard because, honestly, they hear and see better than me, so if I notice them transfixed on something up the hill, I know it is for real; and they provide humor and companionship to an existence short on people.
The smoky-colored cat we named “Gris” or “Grigio” (as in “Pinot Grigio,” which translates as “grey” to describe its juice) seems to have lasted on Earth just over a year, arriving as a feral kitten from a nearby wood lot.
A smallish feline, he had to be, pound-for-pound, among the most successful and fearless predators ever to stalk the land. It was a rare dawn that he did not harvest a mouse or mole. So skilled was Grigio that when he returned to the house, the first thing he did was lay down to rest rather than to eat.
Although he preferred humans in small doses, he always greeted me when he came in, lightly brushing my leg with his tail. My wife and I were looking forward to spending our first winter with him as a grown, socialized adult, for he had begun to sleep on our bed occasionally. He wouldn’t stand it for long, but he even let us stroke and cuddle him.
Outside, he played and wrestled, dog-like, his bite surprisingly gentle. I did figure he wasn’t long for this world because, back in July, I was chasing him around the yard and he bolted 40 yards down the hillside to the first tree, where he showed off by going about 30 feet straight up the trunk, barely breaking stride. Using skills surely honed from growing up in the wilds, he scurried way out on a limb — bouncing, bouncing. We often saw him high up in trees, chasing birds, playfully gnawing at limbs, batting at butterflies.
Somehow he’d turn around, perilously, and make his way back down.
Small Biz Buzz Best Buys White — Kris 2011 Pinot Grigio (Friuli-Venezia Giuli, Italy) is consistently silly-good, with dancing aromas and flavors of almond-paste, flowers and pears and a texture that recalls lemon meringue. It’s another big producer from Europe that manages to make artisan-like wines that comparably sized wineries in California rarely muster. Often found discounted for under $10, it remains a bargain at its usual $12.
Red — Cinco Joses 2010 Old-Vine Garnacha (Campo de Borja, Spain) could be basic supermarket plonk (a little Googling found it offered in the South at Piggly Wiggly, for heaven’s sake), but like so many great values from this surging appellation, it tastes truly dry. Its dark fruit flavors and sincerity aren’t marred by a phony grape-concentrate sweetness almost universal these days in inexpensive California reds. Great for barbeques, the 15 percent Syrah adds minty lift to a rustic, thick body. $8.