Monday, February 18, 2008

Magic in Every Bottle

Mike Steinberger has an interesting post on about his experience with the 1947 Cheval Blanc, seen by many as one of the greatest wines ever made.

I asked my father, an industry vet with 40 years of Bordeaux-drinking experience, if he had ever had this wine, and he recounts this story:

In 1969, my first trip to France with Dick Buck, Tom Keating and Sid Canal, Sid and I ended out trip in Bordeaux where he had set up some tours. We spent most of the day with Michael Broadbent at Mouton tasting 27 vintages of Mouton from the '29 on up. We left about 3PM starving, and drove to St Emilion. We were sitting outside at this little restaurant on the top of this knoll and tried to get something to eat. The restaurant was not yet open for dinner but the proprietor agreed to get us some cheese and meats. We asked for the wine list and there was a '47 Cheval. It was, however, $20 a bottle and we were on a very strict budget. After agonizing we decided , what the hell, at that setting we had to order it. In hind sight I doubt that there could have been a better time or place to have the first '47. The day, for a wine drinker, could not have been better and the '47 was very interesting. A big giant wine much like today's Cabs. but not seen back then. It was very controversial back then for it's difference.
It was never my favorite as I grew up with standards like the '45 Mouton but it was fascinating. We had the wine maybe a dozen times since that day. it was always extremely interesting, delicious and unique but never my favorite, except for that one day in St Emilion.

My dad's story of that first bottle confirms one wine-related truth (perhaps the only one!) It's rarely ever really about the wine. It's about the experience...the people you are with, the setting, the moment in time seen through a prism of green, bottle-shaped glass.

Wine has the power to evoke; like Proust's madeleine, to bring back the past. There is potential magic in every bottle of wine, then. Not just a Cheval Blanc, but the most ordinary of village wines, too.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Mushrooms and Feet...

I had the good fortune recently to be invited by Kathleen Ventura and Dennis Lapuyade of Bar Cesar restaurant in Oakland to taste a selection of Burgundies for potential inclusion on their wine list. I brought along a couple of Pinots from our sister brand - La Rochelle - for kicks.

The tasting was fascinating for a couple of reasons; the most obvious of which is that I don't really anything about Old World wines. I commented to one of my partners, Phil Tagami, that the Burgundies (representing a number of Domaines and the 1991 - 2003 vintages) required a whole different vocabulary than CA and OR wines do.

My notes included comments such as mushroom custard, crab bisque, mint jelly, feet.... Even more to the point, these French Pinots have a shape to them that is very different from our own wines...much more austerity when young, a wonderful bracing acid that runs completely through the wine, and an emphasis on non-fruit aromas and flavors.

I enjoyed the wines, didn't love them, not like I love Pinot from the Santa Lucia Highlands or the Umpqua Valley of Oregon. Our wines (I mean New World here) have a vibrancy and exuberance to them that is missing from Burgundy. The French wines may have been more interesting in an intellectual sense (it's more fun than you think to separate the feet from the crabs) but they were not nearly as viscerally satisfying as the younger, more opulent Cali wines.

Thanks Dennis and Kathleen for letting me learn a lot more about the other wine world and for sharing the fantastic food at Cesar (which includes, at their Berkeley location, the greatest french fry I have ever had). BTW, my favorite Burgundy of the night was the 2001 Nuits St. Georges, Clos des Corvees Pagets, Robert Arnoux.