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Friday, August 3, 2012

Veni, vidi, vino!

Occasionally, you run into an old flame. You chat for a bit, look in her eyes and remember what was. You remember the good times, the pleasant discussion. You remember her perfume, the way she tasted and her legs.

You do your best to put the not so great times out of mind. The tartness, the sharp, the bitter. Of course, it can't be helped; there were times when she was just plain overbearing and overpowering. Times she kissed you and your tongue shriveled. Other times, though, there would be the big build-up and she'd just sit there, faded. What happened? How did she go from being so wonderful, to so, so, so meh?

You had some great times together. Invariably, though, you'd have times when you just wanted to spit her out...

Of course, I'm talking about wine!

In another lifetime, I was a wine consultant and sommelier. I considered seriously enrolling in an enology course, but at the end of the day, the wine muse and I cooled our relationship. Not so long ago, I was chatting with a friend about how he'd get together with some fellow sippers and they'd break open some swell bottles and chat. I used to do that, too. Wine is made for conviviality and camaraderie. But frankly, it can veer to easily into the real pretension and in this case, this buddy of mine was moving close to the edge. I begged off from future involvement.

It isn't unheard of for me to have a glass now and again, but more often these days, I'll go for a beer or two. This is a drink that can be every bit as demanding and rewarding as wine and I believe it provides a better return on your investment. When I see the drips and drabs that populate the bottom of a glass priced at ten bucks, I choke. It's ridiculous to pay the price of a bottle for one stinking glass of what is more often than not, at best, okay.

All of this said, though, the fermented fruit of the grape is never far from my heart. Through good times and bad, she provided solace and compliments and complements, mostly to food, but sometimes just as the right enhancement to a moment. Sometimes a solitary moment of reflection, sometimes in moments of council, sometimes in moments intimate and sweet. So I can't be too brutish or brusque with her.

Sometimes, she comes back in through the front door. Her mouth draws a crooked, wry smile and her eyes dance. "C'mon," she says, "we had some good times." She draws closer and whispers. "The good times were very good."

Recently, she showed up here at Graziella's. She's all over the map. Wearing labels from the sixties to the nineties. She's a little rough in spots, in others simply amazing. She's wearing French and Italian. Right now, there's about a dozen in the rack for her to show me.

The first few turns of the show follow.

First, the good.

I had earlier vintages of Pierre Andre's Clos Vougeot (yes, the "de" is dropped) throughout the eighties and nineties and they didn't disappoint. They didn't wow, either, but by and large, much of what I sampled was really good. Honestly, I had no expectations for this particular bottle. Graziella told me that these wines belonged to her father and had come with her from Italy. Sure, they've bounced around, but I'm less concerned with that than how they've been stored and I tend to not get too excited just because a bottle is old. In fact, I get ready to eat disappointment. In this case, I was very pleasantly surprised.

Man, the Pinot came through with flying colors and while I expected a flat has-been, I got a spry babe with some good years left to her. The problem I have with wines like this is that you really want to gulp them down. I did that once with a Chassagne-Montrachet. I didn't care; that sucker was so good, I'd have downed the whole glass in one gulp. But I exercised a modicum of restraint in that instance. I drank it in three big sips. In this instance, I exercised more than a modicum. Of course, the good thing is that there were only two of us sipping...

The sad.

Seriously, I had no expectations here. The seventies weren't kind to a lot of Bordeaux. Sure, I've had some stellar bottles here and there, but given that it wasn't a decade I'm crazy about where wine is concerned in France and given what Graziella had said about the travels and travails of the inventory, I maintained a cautious optimism. I figured if what poured out was good, then fine (and there are two more bottles, after all); if not, then no biggie.
It wasn't the worst example of a flat, faded red I've had. Couldn't really cook with it, though, so with little ceremony, I dedicated the decanted to the distribution to the sewer system of Belmont.
The freakin' awesome.
I don't think I've ever met a Saint-Estèphe I didn't like and most I've loved. This Cos Labory was a true pleasure; a mix of dense plum favors, hints of chocolate and just a velvety smooth mouthful o' wine. Now what's funny (odd, not ha-ha) is that this chateau's wines are meant to be drunk young. I don't consider 22 young (in wine); but maybe this is testimony to some fine wine-making across the board.

This was quaffed along with some wonderful potatoes au gratin, sautéed greens and crackers and Gorgonzola. Outside in the open air on a deck on a summer's dusk. Truly free of suckitude.

Back to tragedy but you couldn't say it was unexpected.

A sixty-four Montrose on a good day would be a stretch. In my experience, across decades, this year proved execrable and in this bottle was no exception. It wasn't the worst faded fermented fruit juice I've sipped and poured down the drain, but it's up there or down there with the worst. I don't think movement or storage had that much to do with it. I let the sediment settle, decanted accordingly, let it sit for a looooong time and was well aware that my taste buds were going to be a wee disappointed. No matter. It had to be done.
Just to be clear, we're not consuming these at a rate of four bottles a night. For one thing, it's only been a fifty percent save. The losses are expected and I'm no longer of the mind that you need to suck down every dram as it sits before you.
But here's some additional food for thought. I tend to agree with Anthony Burgess's antagonist in "Tremor of Intent" that the idolization of wine is sometimes crass, if not vulgar. That said, winemaking is an art and the results can be stunning and worthy of rhapsody. But these moments are few and far between. That Cassagne-Montrachet was one example, and maybe a '52 Barolo I had 18 years ago was another, but you get the idea. For the most part, though, it's best not to take it too seriously. I've worked with some masterful chefs and while many put their all into what they do, more than a couple have said, "hey, at the end of the day, it's just food."
That belies the experience of the moment, though. A well-made dinner paired with a quality wine is a stage set for a performance or better yet, the instruments and the charts by which the music will be played that can bring something out of people who might otherwise miss the wonder of the moment. Not to wax elegiac - and I'm not, really - but meals are sacraments and communions. This doesn't mean that they're all supposed to be exquisite and expensive; it infers, rather, that we pay attention. First, we pay attention to the meal at hand and recognize at the very least, the labor that went into its preparation and execution. Second, we acknowledge the sense of community that is sharing the meal with spirited converse and perhaps something of a deeper or meaningful nature. Thirdly, we rest and digest; let us absorb the food, the wine, the conversation. Fourth, we can now part company happily and satisfied. Each meal should be reflected on and I think, understood in this context of something sacred/sacramental.
Even if it's just a PB&J sandwich and a glass of milk, it bears reflecting upon what brought this all to us. It's not just the utilitarian nature of food or the idea that at the end of the day, it's "just" food. It's never "just" food. It is sustenance and it's very vivid proof that we don't exist without the substances provided and the connected nature of all events that sustain our becoming in this realm.
One of the beautiful aspects of caring about what we consume, and I don't mean this from a gourmet/gourmand perspective but from a daily encounter with what we consume, is that we become more mindful and less likely to take for granted what it is that we buy at the market. Most certainly, we also become more aware of variations in quality; but rather than these becoming benchmarks for euphoria or disappointment, we come to understand that our enworlded existence is sustained via a complex and wonderful web of interconnections or as Thich Nhat Hanh would say, "interbeing."
I suspect there are plenty of surprises on the way. Because these wines were handed to Graziella from her father, I feel somehow - not bound, exactly - but I guess as a point of friendship to pay respect to that gift. The upshot is that I'll post more as we open eac bottle over the coming weeks. It's entirely possible we might just to have to organize some kind of wine and food party. I'm thinking fundraising or maybe just fun-raising.

1 comment:

  1. oh.. you filled the wine with colors of tastes in this post .
    Enjoyed reading it :)