Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Guest Sommelier

The other night my friend Peter came over for dinner. We was supposed to have flown from New Orleans to France, but he said something about a Volcano and he couldn't fly. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that one. Next time I'm late for anything, that's going to be my excuse. Anyway, I've been really busy lately with work and I didn't have time to shop for and cook anything fancy. And after I decided what to make, I found myself unable to make decisions about the wines to serve.

I felt kind of frustrated, actually, like I already knew all of the wines I have, and I wanted something excellent but different. So I decided to do what I do when I feel that way about my music (which is far more often) - I asked Peter to be the guest sommelier. When you ask a guest to pick the music, you have to listen to whatever they choose, even if it's that crappy Freddy Hubbard greatest hits disc. Same rules apply with the guest sommelier game. I told Peter what we would be eating and said that he should think about what he'd like to drink - anything. If I have it, we open it, no matter what it is.

We had this conversation just as Peter arrived, over a plate of Speck and a bowl of olives. For this I chose the wine, a fantastic bottle of Lustau Almacenista Fino del Puerto Sherry, $25, Christopher Cannan Selections, Michael Skurnik Imports. Lustau's Almacenista Sherries are solera matured by smaller growers and producers, and distributed by Lustau. This fine Fine del Puerto is matured by Jose Luis Gonzales Obregon. Old Skool Joe recently wrote about this exact wine, which he drank next to another classic Sherry, Valdespino's "Ynocente." His thoughts are, as always, worth reading. We enjoyed this Sherry immensely, with its weightless intensity and smokey walnutty depth.

Here's what we had for dinner:

--Spaghetti with ramps, cooked in a base of butter, capers, anchovies and white wine.
--Grass fed sirloin steak cooked this way, salsa verde, and raw kale salad in olive oil and a dab of fish sauce.
--Oma, a raw cow's milk washed rind cheese made by descendants of the original Von Trapp family, and aged in the Jasper Hills cellars. I'm telling you, there are some truly fantastic cheeses coming out of small farms in Vermont and New York these days, and this is one of them.

Peter thought about it for a bit, watched me put the simple pasta dish together, and much to my surprise, said that he wanted to just keep drinking the Sherry with the pasta. In my many vacillations before Peter took over as sommelier, I never considered Sherry. "There are ramps, capers, and anchovies in there," Peter said. "Those are assertive flavors. You could go with an acidic white wine, but I think Sherry will be great." And it did work out well, although we agreed later that next time we'll try a dry Riesling with that dish (and that Peter will drink Sherry with anything).

When it was steak time, Peter said that if not for the salsa verde he would want something like a 1970 Mouton. "But Cabernet is so inflexible," he said. "The assertive herbal flavors might mess with Cabernet or Merlot. What do you have from the Northern Rhône?"

When I asked why Syrah would work if a Bordeaux wouldn't, Peter said that Syrah is very similar to Cabernet in structure, but far more versatile with food. Sounds good. I don't have much in the way of Northern Rhône wine. What I have is good, but there's not a lot to choose from. Peter selected the 1999 Noël Verset Cornas, $65, Kermit Lynch Imports (although this bottle came from Crush and they bought it from a private collection). This wine was just amazing. My first time with the '99, and it seriously outclasses the delicious 2000, in my opinion. Deeply beefy with interlocking gamy and floral notes, this wine never stays still. So energetic and vibrant, such compelling depth, so wonderfully balanced (only 12.5% alcohol!), and a lovely delicate texture for such a powerful wine. What can I say - we loved the wine and it was perfect with the food. I was sorry to see it go, and again reminded of how much worse off we are that there will be no more wine from Noël Verset.

For the cheese, Peter asked if I had any white wines from the Jura. I had almost nothing to choose from, but we were both pretty psyched to drink the 2000 Houillon/Overnoy Savagnin, $31, Louis/Dressner Selections. I've had this wine before and this was not the best showing. It tasted great, although it didn't have the typical vibrancy. But the nose was in a weird place - it was exactly like an orange wine, like the Paolo Bea Arboreus Umbri Bianco I recently had. It was a leaf day - perhaps that impacted the way the wine showed. Or perhaps it was simply too young, as Peter guessed. It was very good with the cheese though, and once I was able to stop wanting my memory of 2000 Houillon Savagnin, and start appreciating what this particular bottle smelled and tasted like, I enjoyed the wine very much.

I can tell you that I would not have selected these wines with these dishes, and that is exactly what makes the guest sommelier game so much fun. You should play some time.


Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, how do you store your wines? Do you own a wine fridge, or do you just keep your bottles in a dark closet somewhere? I'm starting a collection of wines that I'd like to cellar at least for a few years before drinking, but I'm worried that the temperature variation in my apartment from season to season will affect them.

Asher said...

'99 was so good in the Northern Rhone! That Cornas sounds delicious.

And I remain so impressed that you continue to shop and cook regularly. I would have pulled out a stack of delivery menus. But I live in Manhattan. You Brooklynites are much more down to earth.

nico said...

I'm scared to play the guest sommelier with my friends, because they would probably pair a cab with sushi.
BTW, the volcano thing was not BS: all the airports from the UK to Italy have been closed for about a week.

Ben Wood said...

Sounds like fun- are you still able to buy the jasper hill at the coop?? I was trying to find some and could not the last few times I shopped. The cornas sounds amazing- will have to put away something like it.

steve L. said...

Hell, I would drink 1999 Verset with cornflakes.

Brooklynguy said...

Anon - I have a wine fridge. It's a serious investment of money and space, but in the end I prefer it to the closet method, which I used to use.

Asher - how would we eat if I didn't shop and cook?!?

Nico - you have to choose carefully who to play the game with. I still think you are lying about the volcano.

Ben - the coop has amazing local cheeses, things that are really hard to find elsewhere. that guy Yuri really knows what he's doing. Jasper Hill is usually around - upper left corner of the case.