Thursday, December 21, 2006

Why wine?


I have asked myself this question for a long time, ever since my passion chose me. For make no mistake, it is the object of our desire that enslaves us, not the other way around. I sometimes think Bacchus or some other impish deity is laughing at the wine geeks as we stumble around the world looking for the next ethereal moment.

And God help you if you love Burgundy!

Burgundy is like an enticing, mocking mistress, offering her heady, sexy riches every once in a while, rejecting us with a scornful laugh the rest of the time. Good Burgundy is a slice of Heaven, like having your tongue touched by an angel, one of the most profound vinous experiences that one can have; bad Burgundy, of which there is FAR too much, is like drinking battery acid that's been left to spoil.

The same can be said, to a lesser extent, of other wine regions. God knows there's a lot of good wine being made these days, but of course that depends on one's definition of "good". By most wine geek - and make no mistake, we're geeks (who else would spend hours debating slope inclinations or know at what Brix level the grapes were picked? And don't even ask what Brix is...) - standards, the wines being made these days are simple, fruity and OK for the price, but they lack personality. Granted, that's better than what was being made just a decade ago. But we look for complexity and balance, the elixir that makes you sit up and take notice.

At least wine is an obsession you can share, and as a wine lover you want to share it. Mainly because drinking it on your own is a pretty good first step in the direction of alcoholism, but also because you want those around you to perhaps find as much enjoyment in it as you do. There is nothing like seeing the "A-ha!" moment when someone sits up and realizes that something more than fruity alcohol is taking place in their mouth.

Wine, as Benjamin Franklin once said, is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

When you taste a well-made wine, there is also something very elemental to knowing that you are drinking an agricultural product, of the earth and where it was grown. In these high-tech, speed-driven, multi-tasking days, when folks are so far removed from their sources of nourishment, it's nice to know that you need to sit back, relax and let the wine just hang out in the glass, evolving and changing as it breathes. You can not rush a good wine.

Let me reiterate that: you can not rush a good wine.

It is not something to be used to set you apart from others, but a social lubricant that makes life ever more pleasant. Too many people tend to get wrapped up in the minutiae, turning them into the worst sort of wine collector: the snob. There is nothing worse than the wine snob; they feel they're better than "civilians" because they know more about wine and the culture surrounding it, and God help you if you're a wine lover and don't have the same palate as they do.

Ignore them and have fun!

There are several simple rules to enjoying wine:

1- know what you like; it doesn't matter what the critics say, you're not tasting the wine with their palates, are you? TRUST your palate. Americans don't trust their palate and rely all too much on critics and shelf-talkers, which explains the popularity of certain industrial brands.

2- keep an open mind and an open palate, you never know what you may discover. Too many times folks get pigeon-holed into one region/style and never venture out of it. The world of wine is as diverse as the real world, and holds just as many vinous treasures. Explore, let your palate wander and you will be rewarded.

3- have fun! I have been to too many wine dinners where the people are so wrapped up in the wines that they made for very boring company. I am blessed that my tasting group in NYC enjoys talking about more than wine. Heck, most of them came to my wedding!

4- moderation, moderation and more moderation. There's nothing worse than a drunk at a wine tasting. Sloshing your Chardonnay onto your neighbor is very poor form. If you want to get drunk, go to a bar and down shots of Tequila after the tasting. This way you can blame your hangover on the shots and not cut off your budding appreciation of wine.

OK, I hope this explains why we love this thing called wine. Rant over.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A friend's 40th birthday celebration (3 ladies, me and 5 wines)

This past Saturday night Christine Huang joined us in NYC to continue the cross-continental celebration of her birthday. She was in the mood to hang out with people she's met through the wonders of the Internet and share some good bottles. So we organized a little dinner at 11 Madison Park with some fantastic wines and good friends.
Now this woman knows how to fete herself!
So myself, my lovely wife Catalina, Christine and our friend Sarah grabbed our bottles and headed over in the crisp NYC air. There is absolutely nothing more pleasant than dining with 3 beautiful women on a Saturday night.
Once again, the restaurant went out of their way to make us feel comfortable and WOW us with Chef Humm's innovative and delightful cooking. And they did this on a very, very busy Saturday night. These guys are doing great and are really impressing me!
We arrived, handed our wines to the hostesses, and sat down to relax and enjoy the ride...
Pictures are HERE.

1-Wild Langoustines
"En Gelee de Bouillabaisse" with Peekytoe Crab
2-Spanish Mackerel
Marinated with Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Seed Oil
1996 Jacques Prieur Montrachet

Oooh, if this is the first wine, the others are going to have some serious stepping up to do! This was a beautiful light gold color, with no signs of oxydation visible. It was redolent of white flowers, peaches, stones, smoke and honeyed nuts, on a heady, almost muskily sexy frame that made me want to draw lines on the table and start snorting. Serious juice, it was thick yet precise in the mouth, with a sexy mouthfeel and a tight, crisp finish that showed it was still very, very young. The finish went on so long I think I'm still tasting it on Monday morning.

3-Foie Gras
Terrine with Poularde and Black Truffles
1990 Chateau d'Yquem (one half of bottle)

And the hits keep coming!Another wow. Thick and golden yellow, it seemed to ooze into the glass. I sniffed it carefully and had to sit back in happy, nearly woozy wonder. Amazingly thick aromatics of dried peaches, honey, light caramel, dried oranges, with a hint of herbs and stones. This was so thick yet crisp in the mouth, it just filled every crevice and nook and cranny with its flavors on a phenomenally staining frame, just bursting with excitement at being let out of its bottle like an impatient genie.
Life doesn't get much better than this.

4-Alba Truffle
Risotto of Acquerello Carnaroli Rice with Parmigiano Reggiano
1964 Leroy Grands Echezeaux

This was my last bottle and I'd been dying to find the right occasion to open it. Well, Christine's birthday was the perfect time for this. At first a bit shy, it showed nothing more than pleasant soft earth with hints of very, very soft cherries. The palate was rather similar, with more earth and sois-bois than fruit. But as it sat in the glass, it began gaining weight, with some gently funky strawberries and soft, sweet cherries accented by some smoky sous-bois and earth. I was surprised at how soft it was on the palate, with a distinctly low acidity that was rather different from previous experiences. Elegant but gracefully aged.
Very nice but I'm happy I popped it now.

5-Millbrook Farms Venison
Herb Roasted with Salsify and Black Trumpet Mushrooms
1990 Chateau l'Evangile

Even though this had been decanted, it was still shy in the glass, with notes of plums and roasted chocolate poking their heads up every now and then, with some earth thrown in. I swirled and swirled, finally opening it up slightly to reveal a wonderfully ripe dark berry aspect on a silky, feminine frame that showed tons of tannins on the end. This was very tight tonight. Still, it went perfectly with the venison and was a pleasure to watch evolve.

6-Cave-Aged Gruyere
Beignets with Frisee Salad and Pancetta Vinaigrette
1990 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle

Oooh, vive la difference! Big and brawny where the Evangile had been slight and subtle, this smelled of roasted, BBQ'd filet mignon covered in a sauce of blackberries and chocolate on a plate of freshly baked earth. Wow. On the palate there was an amazing balance between the ripe fruit, the earth and the acidity despite its size, and a long and fruitily tannic finish. Absolutely fantastic, and delicious with the cheese.

7-Sheep's Milk Yogurt Cheesecake
Roasted Pineapple, Kaffir Lime and Kili Pepper Shortbread
1990 Yquem (the rest of the bottle)

Slightly more evolved now, the Yquem was still just jamming juice. Wow. I could bathe in this all night if it were socially acceptable. Amazing. 11 Madison showed again how it's been really stepping up lately, with excellent service and food of fantastic quality. I know I walked away quite happy.
Happy Birthday Christine and thanks for sharing it with us!