Wednesday, November 14, 2012

You Cannot Predict Baseball

In early spring of 2006, my wife at the time (we are now divorced) got me a lovely gift for our first anniversary, a leather-bound journal. The idea was that we would both write in it, describing the wines we drank together and the circumstances in which we enjoyed them. I hadn't yet begun writing this blog - that happened in October of 2006. 

I stumbled upon this leather journal the other day while rummaging around in the closet. There are fewer than 10 entries in it, the book is mostly empty. But the wines are interesting: 2001 Clos Rougeard Les Poyeux, 2002 Breton Bourgueil Perrieres, 2004 Closel Savennieres Clos du Papillon, 2001 Lafarge Volnay, 2004 Baudry Clos Guillot, some Oregon wines. We were drinking good stuff. There is one entry in there about a wine that is different from the others, something older, something we drank on a special occasion.

I remember that I wanted to buy a special wine for our first wedding anniversary dinner. I went into Chambers Street Wines and spoke with David Lillie. After some discussion, I emerged with a bottle of 1986 Chateau Sociando Mallet. I spent something like $80 on the bottle, way more than I had ever before spent on a bottle of wine. David cautioned me to stand the bottle up 3 days or so before opening it, to open it carefully so as not to disturb the sediment, and to decant the bottle if I could. I followed David's advice and we loved the wine with our dinner. I'm not going to reproduce my part of our journal entry on this wine, but here is the first thing I wrote: "This is beautiful wine. I understand now why Bordeaux is so beloved."

Look at that last sentence. I love how exuberant I was, how eager to experience this new pleasure. I can't say that I remember the wine but I'm sure it was very good. Sociando Mallet is a respected estate making high quality wine, but it's not considered to be one of the great wines of Bordeaux. No matter, I didn't understand that then and I was falling in love with wine, details like that would not have reduced my visceral pleasure anyway.

A lot has happened since then. I have two wonderful children, but I am no longer married. I work at a different job and I live in a different place. Many of my friends are different. I have grayer hair, and depending on your eyesight and on the relative humidity of the day, 10 or 15 pounds that I should lose. I have a different set of worries and problems that I deal with on a daily basis, and also a different set of joys. It's a strange road, this life we lead, and as John Sterling, the stalwart radio voice of the New York Yankees likes to say, "You can look at all the statistics you want, and they tell you what this guy did in that situation a thousand times in the past, but they don't tell you what's going to happen right now. You cannot predict baseball."

Holiday season is approaching, the end of the year draws near, and I was thinking the other day about some of the great wines I drank this year. Gentaz Côte-Rôtie, early '80s DRC Grands-Echezeaux, late '80s and early '90s Montrachet, Coliseo, the grand old Amontillado by Valdespino, and more. And that's just the fancy stuff - there were so many more great wines that are easier to locate, and easier on the wallet.

I loved drinking many of these wines and the experiences that came with them, but it was only a few days ago when I drank the wine that made me fall in love with wine again. I was at a good friend's house and he made a lovely dinner that included a beautiful butterflied leg of lamb, pungently seasoned with ground black olives, fennel seeds, dried chili flakes, and all sorts of other goodies. With this dish he generously opened a bottle of 1985 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, a grand wine, from a very good year, and a classic pairing - lamb and Bordeaux. Exciting!

The wine was awesome, really. It took about an hour to flesh out, but it was SO good when it did. The thing that killed me about this wine was how absolutely clearly it spoke of the place it is from, and how it expressed itself with such profound finesse, and also how completely and purely delicious it was. The fruit was lush and ripe, and it was textbook dark cassis. Not sweet fruit, dry. And the minerals - all pencil lead and gravel and dried tobacco. And there was that cedar smell too that people speak of when they talk about Bordeaux. I felt while I was drinking this wine how different it is to drink Cabernet - I almost never drink it. Honestly, it felt like close to a perfect wine, and I fell in love with wine again.

Not that I had stopped loving wine, but it had been a while since something really moved me. I drank things I enjoy, tried some new things, definitely experienced pleasure. But it had been a while since I felt truly moved, and I had kind of drifted into this complacency, this place of moderately lower expectations. What a wonderful way to be shocked, to wake up and remember with full appreciation what it feels like to be moved again.

It reminds me that I value being open to this sort of pleasure, from wherever it may come. Some people can get lost as they try to stay current on the wines that they should be loving. I will never do that, lucky for me. As I get excited about Champagne or Sherry or Austrian Riesling, or whatever it is I learn about and have new experiences with, I will never be closed to something as elemental and viscerally thrilling as a plate of well-prepared lamb and a grand old bottle of claret. Stodgy? Who cares. You never know where you will find the thing that makes you fall in love again. You cannot predict baseball.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Scenes from Sherryfest

Two weeks ago, before the hurricane, there was Sherryfest. The main event, if you will, was a Grand Tasting held at Liberty Hall in the Ace Hotel. I think it's fair to say that the only human being in the room that day who was not in the least bit surprised was Peter Liem. He knew it would be a grand event, he knew that there would be way more people who wanted to be at the tasting than the space could accommodate, he knew that all of the producers would be there and pull out the great bottles, he knew that everyone would be blown away by the opportunity to speak with all of the producers and to taste all of the amazing wines.

Everyone else was at least a little bit blown away. You could see it on all of the faces - the childlike glee. It was dark in Liberty Hall and I had trouble getting good photos with my mobile phone. I want to share a few images anyway.

Felipe González -Gordon was there, of González Byass. He poured maybe 10 or 15 wines, including the rare and wonderful Palmas. He is holding a bottle of Cuatro Palmas in this photo. The Palmas had not previously been available in the US, and it is exciting to think about being able to drink those wines here.
Carmen Gutierrez of Gutierrez Colosía was there, along with her two very bright and lovely daughters. The Colosía Sherries are great in general, and I think that their Fino called El Cano (or not, depending on the importer) is a fantastic example of the style, showing a pronounced salinity that speaks of El Puerto de Santa Maria.

All of the Colosía wines showed very well on this day, and a highlight for me was tasting the three wines from the Solera Familiar. These wines are not yet available in the US, and I sincerely hope that there is an importer out there who will change this. These are stunning old wines that will thrill any Sherry lover.
Jan Petterson of Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla was there, pouring his four Antique Sherries and also his basic Fino to rapt audiences. I love these wines. They are deep and complex, and they speak so clearly. They happen to be well priced, too. David Bowler recently added these wines to his portfolio, and this I imagine will be great for everyone involved.

Lorenzo Garcia-Iglesias Soto was there representing Bodegas Tradición, the boutique Bodega that releases only four wines, all of them very old. There is a Palo Cortado, and Amontillado, an Oloroso, and a PX - there is no Fino. These are glorious wines and if you are interested in Sherry and haven't yet tried them, you really should. Lorenzo pours his Palo Cortado first, and I loved his explanation for why he does this. "This one has the most delicate aromas," he said. "It is floral and elegant. If I pour this after the more powerful Amontillado, the things that make this Palo Cortado so special will be lost."

Fernando Hidalgo of Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo was there. This is as classy a gentleman from Jerez as I have met. And the wines are superb. From the basic Hidalgo Fino to the older and more special wines, everything shows great character and finesse. The old Villapanés Oloroso is now available in the US, which is exciting. It is an elegant and deep Oloroso, and it adds to the lineup of Hidalgo Especial Sherries with the Fino La Panesa and the Palo Cortado Marques de Rodil. Now, if only we here in the US could buy El Tresillo, the great old Amontillado...

Marcelino Piquero (right) and Borja Leal represented Bodegas Sanchez Romate. I had never before tasted many of these excellent wines, as they simply do not appear on retail shelves. Romate is distributed by Southern, and Southern focuses on selling Romate's Cardenal Mendoza Brandy. I hope some one begins to focus on selling the Romate Sherries because they are quite good.
By the way, the food at the Grand Tasting was well planned and delicious. Croquetas, cheeses, and all sorts of tasty morsels. And the jamon station was much appreciated. I parked myself there for a solid 15 minutes, and no one seemed to mind too much.

Many other producers participated too, from Valdespino to El Maestro Sierra to Lustau to César Floridio. This was truly the greatest Sherry event ever on US soil, and I hope it was the first of many.