Monday, March 25, 2013

Last bottles, long feelings

Recently I've had in my hand some bottles of wine that were significant not just because they were outstanding wines made by excellent producers, but also because they were the last vintages of those wines ever produced. The legacy of a long winemaking career becomes more poignant when you are witnessing the last of the run, I think. It is in the same way that watching participants cross the finish line of a marathon is more emotional for the viewer than watching those same runners back when they were beginning the turn in mile three. You feel more history is being made at the end.

During my recent visit to California, my friend Bruce, the longtime sales powerhouse behind Kermit Lynch, opened for me a bottle of Verset Cornas 2006. That was a very generous thing for Bruce to do, and the gesture was not lost on me. Here he was pouring for me the final vintage that Verset released commercially. Bruce also knew Noel Verset, having worked with him, and there is no doubt that that kind of connection resonates around a table. I'll never forget the moment a few years ago when Bruce shared with me how old man Verset used to open up the family scrap book and point out the photographs he had taken of his very much loved, and now deceased wife. Bruce said you could see the several stains on the pages of the book where the big tears had landed, as Noel would cry each time he saw his wife again. We were at dinner at a busy restaurant when Bruce told me that story, and damn if I didn't start crying right then myself, right there at the table.

The wine was still young and agile. The notes were lifted and high toned, a soprano lilting out phrases each time I swirled the glass. The wine seemed leaner and more pure than Verset wines often are, which may be because of the lighter vintage, may be because of the excellent storage since release, and may be because Noel Verset had by that time sold some of his traditional vineyard sources. Whatever the reason, I am drawn to the thought of an old man who towards the end of his life passes along a wine which remains remarkably youthful.

My friend G., who has an extensive wine cellar in his own home, asked me recently if I would join him for lunch at Le Cirque, and I happily agreed. Le Cirque is one sort of definition of New York City society, and of course I haven't seen it much on my own, having been a restaurant employee myself for most of my life. I have some trepidation about going to eat a meal at Le Cirque, actually. There is the lingering fear that at any moment a busboy there might ask me to help him clear a table on the far side of the room. I dread the embarrassment that might ensue if I am shown up to the assembled for who I really am. Like my nightmare is that I'll automatically and unthinkingly refold the napkins of the people at other tables, as I have done thousands of times, when they get up to use the restroom. So imagine my surprise when nothing like that happened at all, and instead as we sat down G. asked me to pick the wine for our meal. Me, picking from the list at Le Cirque. It's not a situation that I am in everyday. I mean, there are a lot of wines that break the $800, $900, and $1000 mark on that list. A lot. If you start ordering a DRC here and a DRC there, well, that might get expensive. Like more than my monthly rent expensive. So what to order? It was a conundrum.

My plan was to find a bottle from the low side of the list. To stay in the inexpensive neighborhoods. Fixin. Mercurey. Something not too pricey. That's the polite thing to do when someone else is paying and they hand you the list, right? I wanted to be a good guest, after all. And I kept that thought foremost in my mind, right up until the moment that I saw the Giacosa Collina Rionda 1993 was available for purchase, at which point the austerity plan was immediately vetoed. 93 was the last vintage of Rionda that Giacosa ever released. I saw it there on the list, and then after that everything happened very quickly and maybe somehow not quickly enough. I ordered the wine within probably 4 seconds, and yet it all seemed like eons until I was drinking it. I thought maybe G. would curse me out at the table in the meantime, "You spent WHAT?? HOW MUCH?!" But I was already too far gone. I was over the wall. If I got to at least try the wine before being thrown out of the restaurant, then I was willing to take whatever punishment came next. But G. was all understanding. He asked me how I liked the wine. "I'm dying," I said. "There are heart palpitations. Maybe we should get an ambulance on standby." Because it was true, I became lost in the waves of that wine. I'll tell you something about 93s, they show their mature side. You can get inside them. 93s show you their secrets, like a low tide that has gone out and left shiny shells and many colored stones behind on the beach. And this was Rionda, so there was plenty in place there to see. Rionda from when old man Canale was in charge of the old vines. I have actually run from the bottom to the top of this vineyard, and seen from there to the Castle of Serralunga which overlooks the vines. The last Giacosa release. I'll tell you, it tasted like Giacosa to me, through a Serralunga lens. With the Roagna Rionda releases that came later, I thought they were excellent wines, but they didn't taste like Roagna. With the 1993 Giacosa Rionda, such distinctions are hard to identify. Perhaps Bruno Giacosa and Aldo Canale worked in a similar direction in their wineries.

Maybe I should direct a word of caution to future lunch hosts: don't hand me the wine list if it contains within it Barolo that I supremely lust after. Because if that happens I can't be held responsible for my own actions. Or maybe I should just explain to them that the last vintage of a superb wine is like a fine broth, in that the last sip may hold the most flavor.

1 comment:

John N Pasmore said...

Funny...."Like my nightmare is that I'll automatically and unthinkingly refold the napkins of the people at other tables, as I have thousands of times"...

great story & funny how the wine + people + place is greater than the sum - those nights just happen, thx for sharing took me there for a minute and even that was great...over that wall for a few seconds