It's the most incredible miracle in the Bible: Jesus turns water into wine during a wedding in Cana, a dusty and sunny place in Galilee where he performed his first "signs." And his very first sign would prove to be his best.
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Its distinction has nothing to do with the miracle itself. Save for one thing, turning water into wine could not compete with, say, the resurrection of the dead, such as the daughter of Jairus (Jesus tells her father that she's not dead, but sleeping), or the curse of death, like the unfortunate fig tree mentioned in the gospels of Mark and Matthew (Jesus was hungry, he saw a fig tree, he walked to it, found it had no fruit, and cursed it, causing it to wither immediately).
What happens is this: Jesus is chilling at the wedding with his mother when it is announced that the party has run out of wine. The party wants to go on, but it can't do so without wine. It's a real crisis, because in these olden times, you can't just make a quick run to the supermarket or even a mini-mart and grab some bottles or cases of wine. There is nothing like that in Cana, or Galilee, or the whole Roman Empire. If you run out of wine, you have to hope a prophet is around, because these are the days of miracles and wonders.
Jesus's mother knows her son is also the son of God and asks him to do his thing. He reluctantly tells the servants to fill jars with water, which they do. Then he says: "Give it to the governor of the feast." When the governor tastes it, he discovers it's not water, it's wine. But that's not what makes this miracle more impressive than raising the dead or damning the living. The thing is, the wine is good.
Jesus could have turned the water into okay wine, or at least wine that was as good as the wine served at the start of the party. But that wasn't his style. His wine was unquestionably good. How do we know? It's in the Bible. King James version: "'Every man at the beginning [of a party] doth set forth good wine, and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse [is served,' said the governor]. 'But thou hast kept the good wine until now [when everyone is well drunk].'" Can you feel that? There's no bad resurrection or good damnation, but the miracle of transforming water into wine can be thus judged.
Let's keep all of this in mind as we turn to the Porter's at the gas station on Rainier Avenue. Though it has a view of Beacon Hill's verdant section, which is capped by the monument of modern architecture, the Pacific Tower (formerly the Pacific Medical Center), the location of the mini-mart is unrelentingly unlovely. Its little car wash looks like a car trap, its huge parking lot bakes when the sun is out, and it sits next to a stoplight that always fries the brains of impatient drivers. There are dying and dead signs here and there. You enter the mini-market with the goal of getting out as soon as you can. Gas stations are such miserable places.
But once inside this Porter's, a miracle occurs (gas stations are, after all, as American as Jesus). Just beyond the checkout is a stack of open wine boxes that are crowned by a sign: "Wine Specials." Avoid these. All the wine there is bad: Oak Leaf, Sancho, the Naked Grape—cheap crap. Behind this display on the left is where you find the good stuff. One shelf is lined with Château Roc De Segur (a surprisingly rich merlot blended with cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc for $5.99), Château La Freynelle (a stiff Bordeaux for $10.99—and one that does not taste like the nimble feet of a pretty peasant is stiff), Château Haut-Roudier (a Bordeaux that does have a dash of the peasant's feet for $9.99), and Vieux Papes Blanc (a simple sauvignon blanc blended with crusty chardonnay and a bold ugni blanc for $6.99). All of these wines are more than drinkable. They are respectable.
The reason I often buy wine here is because I like to buy roasted chicken from San Fernando, the Peruvian restaurant that's across the street. I kill two birds with one stone and then jump on the 7 bus, which takes me home.
Mini-marts in gas stations are the last places to look for wine that's drinkable. More and more local convenience stores, however, offer a range of good, affordable wines. Plaza Select Foods, near the corner of Madison Street and Boren Avenue, is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Back in the day, convenience stores were all about that 40. These days, you can find all manner of Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese wines. Gas stations, for the most part, sell the same old cheap stuff (Fish Eye, Yellow Tail, Flipflop, Barefoot—the kind of wine you can drink only if you are very drunk). Not at Porter's: The same French wines are sold at the location on 45th Street and 11th Avenue Northeast, and evidently various other Shell gas stations.
In fact, the mini-market at the Shell near the intersection of 45th Street and Second Avenue Northeast is a full-blown liquor store that features a red wine whose brand will make you the talk of any party: It's Game of Thrones. It's not cheap ($21.99) and just a notch below respectable (it has a strong beginning but a weak finish). But it's Game of Thrones. It's like blood—the blood of life.
"That wine is very popular," the mini-market's attendant told me. "A guy came in the other day and bought two boxes of it." Maybe he had to rush back to a wedding.