Thursday, July 30, 2009

Me & Julia

I became a Julia Child fan in the 1980s while living in Beantown--ground zero for Julia worship. I hanged out with other foodies equally obsessed with Julia. I perused her books and tuned in to her WGBH TV shows regularly. I even lived in the same town she did (Cambridge), often shopped at her favorite food store (Savenor's), and was a regular at the Somerville Wine and Cheese Cask, just a few blocks from her house.

My friends and I wouldn't dare use a kitchen gadget or appliance that didn't meet Julia's approval. No pressure-cookers or microwave ovens. The garlic press had to be Zyliss. But we took immediately to Cuisinart because Julia ok'd that from the get-go.

Some of my friends actually bumped into her while she was on her errands around town. Alas, I never had such luck.

When I moved to the West Coast in the 1990s Julia's heyday was over--Emeril and the Food Network dominated the cooking airwaves, while the Iron Chef series took cuisine to the edge. There were new culinary heroes, too, like Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges, and Charlie Trotter. Haute-cuisine was everywhere.

A year before I opened my wine store, I was back in Boston on business for my employer. The only part of business travel I looked forward to was checking out interesting restaurants while in town. On my way to the hotel at the end of day, I passed by the newly opened Café Louis in the plush men's department store, Louis of Boston. George Germon of Al Forno, Providence's best restaurant, was the consulting chef, so I just have to make a reservation for dinner that night.

Strolling back to the restaurant I stopped by a bookstore in the Pru to pick up Jasper White's newly published Lobster at Home. I find it useful to have a book to browse when dining alone.

The restaurant was nearly empty when I got there--slow weeknight or grand opening pains it seemed. I was seated at one of the tables by the wall that shared a long bench with three separate tables.

After I ordered, the dull quiet in the restaurant ceased when a group of five elderly, boisterous women marched in and got seated next to me. Good thing I had my book handy, and fortunately the woman sitting next to me on the bench seemed the most subdued, she kept mostly silent while her friends chatted loudly, emphatically inserting French words as they spoke in Boston-accented voices--ssuperr! tres tres bien! Kinda odd because the restaurant was Italian.

I twiddled my fork and hunched over my book in an effort to ignore them. Finally, the woman sitting next to me also joined the conversation. I immediately noticed her voice was high-pitched, chirpy, and warbly--strangely familiar. I glanced at her shoulder unable to see her face, unless I impolitely stared up, as she towered over me. She must have seen the cover of the book I was reading because she turned to me and asked, 'Is that Jasper's new book?' At that point, without even looking at her, it hit me. I know this person. It was Julia--sitting, freakin' elbow-to-elbow with me on the bench! And now she's striking up a conversation with me!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Birthday Wines

Drinking birth year wines is a favorite tradition among wine lovers. Those fortunate enough to be born in years like 1945, 1959, 1961, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1982, and so forth, are flush with great wines to toast their beginnings.

Others may not be so blessed, particularly those born in 1954, 1957, 1958, 1962, 1973, etc. because these happen to be dreary vintages for the long-lived wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Port, Champagne, Barolo, and Napa Cabernets.

In actuality, though, wine has an almost mischievous bent to surprise and, even more so, an ability to elude wine critics and scores. I have written about many of those wines borne under poor vintages which proved to be triumphant and more resilient than can be imagined.

A 1954 Chateau Latour, 1979 Sassicaia, 1967 Chateau Haut-Brion, 1982 Henri Jayer Echezeaux, 1983 DRC Grands-Echezeaux, 1986 Leroy Meursault, and 1994 Chateau de Beaucastel, just to name a tiny sample, have all bucked the prevailing vintage charts and turned out to be great, memorable wines. Why? Well, I have my thoughts but that's another subject entirely.

My good friend, Steve, celebrated his birthday yesterday and so we opened a bunch of great wines to accompany the haute-cuisine of our favorite food joint, Unicorn Pan-Asian Restaurant in San Francisco.

There was little, if any, rhyme to the flow of wines we uncorked. First off was the 1957 R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco. A spectacular white to start any dinner. Though hailing from the north, this was almost Andalucian in character, with amontillado-like nutty-dryness and suffused with dried apricots and minerals.

In tandem with the white Rioja was another '57, no, not a Chevy, but the 1957 Domaine de Mont-Redon Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge. This was made with eighty percent Grenache, and when tasted back in 1989 by Rhone writer, John Livingstone-Learmonth, was described as "well advanced, with a precarious richness still apparent among a host of coffeee and toasted aromas." Well, twenty more years forward my own experience of this wine was stellar. Licorice, red fruit scents. Juicy, fresh red plums with undertones of cedar, pepper, and dark chocolate. Brilliant concentration and structure. Long, gentle finish.

After the venerable Chateauneuf, a white Burgundy followed, the 1995 Maison Leroy Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot. A flawless white Burgundy bearing fresh pear, citrus oil, and mineral flavors. Golden straw-colored. Batard-like depth but with the lighter body of a premier cru.

Any of the preceding wines could easily be the highlight of the evening, but a pair of DRCs can not be denied. The 1997 DRC Echezeaux was subdued on approach, its bouquet of sweet spice, violets, and rose petals steadily soaring. Soft-textured, fleshy, and well-concentrated; as I focused on it, the more it grew on me. I found its understated character, perfect balance, and charming elegance very beautiful.

Our birthday boy treated us to a timeless wine, the 1976 DRC Romanee-Saint-Vivant "Marey-Monge". This was made during the period DRC was still farming the RSV parcel for the heirs of the Marey-Monge family, who at one time owned the RSV in its entirety (DRC subsequently acquired the plot in 1988). Like many of the vintage's reds, 1976 DRCs have good concentration but hard tannins that never seem to come around. But on this night, this '76 RSV was so seductive and regal. Rose petals, cherry liqueur nose. Intense ripe, sweet red fruits, round, expansive, seductive, and haunting. It was like opening a chest full of great memories. Very long, youthful, and still full of promise.

Post Script:
I really like to end the post with this '76 DRC RSV, but we did drink a few other wines afterwards. A 1991 Valduero Gran Reserva "12 Anos" Ribera del Duero showed a yummy sweet, vanilla American oak toast scents and dense black fruit concentration. The 2004 Chateau de Fargues Sauternes from the Lur Saluces family (longtime owners of Yquem) has a very lovely botrytised, butterscotch nose. It was elegantly sweet with spicy caramel notes and a graceful, long exit. Finally, the 1993 Chateau Pajzos Tokaji 5 Puttonyos had a waxy, honeycomb scent immediately followed by bright red apple flavors. It was very concentrated, intense, powerful, and long. A mere infant at this point.