Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Schustertastic Vintage Wine Dinner

My dad isn't merely a wine collector. He's a wine HOARDER. He buys wine. He stores it. And instead of drinking it in its prime, or even opening the very bottle he bought for the weekend or for casual company, it sits in a cabinet in the cellar, languishing. On some shelves, there are dusty bottles of 70s vintage Bordeaux next to forgotten roses from two summers ago, now only good for vinaigrette.

My parents have moved four times in my lifetime. The last big move was from a house in Wilton, Connecticut to a duplex in New York City. Some of these wines have moved a couple of times before I was born. They have carefully packed and re-stored each bottle each time (and also bug repellent, sunscreen, frozen tupperwear containers of fish stock and I suspect, cheese). Waiting. Waiting. There will be the special occasion to drink them at some point.

Since I embarked on my boundless wine education journey a few year's back, I've learned more about many of the wines in the cellar. And one main thing, these need to be enjoyed before they've lost their mojo! So in past years, instead of waiting for that special occasion (of which indeed there have been a few) we also have to create them.

My friend Stephanie, who became a good friend back in my Astor days, has my back, After spending a few holidays and special events with my family, and drooling with me over many of my father's 1980s vintage Bordeaux, Burgundy, German, Italian and Californian in the big temperature controlled cabinet, she has also voiced concerns for their flavor welfare and proposed we start having some wine dinners. This needs to start happening now.

And so, this past Saturday, we made it happen.

I was allowed up to four additional guests, and so these were John (now an honorary Schuster, especially since he still uses a VCR), and other Astor pals Ali and Beth (sadly there was another no-show when others would have gladly taken his place).

We started with a magnum of 1993 Pol Roger champagne. Dad just "found" a case of this in a crate in the cellar when digging for something else. We drank this with assorted cheeses and spreads as guests arrived.

My mom made an astoundingly wonderful butternut squash soup, which my dad had the brilliant idea of garnishing with cut up shrimp with shallots and crispy sage.

We ate this with a pair of Zind Humbrecht wines, my dad's favorite producer in Alsace. A 1983  Gewurtztraminer and a 1986 "Brand" Riesling. The Gewurtz had mellowed enough that the aromatics were present, but well in check (instead of tasting like the inside of my Grandma Nina's purse as they tend to do) with good acidity and classic stone fruit flavors. But the Riesling. Whoa. It just kept getting better. Already a golden raisin color in the glass, it also held its acidity and fruit, not too much residual sugar (this is a dry version) but with a firm hazelnuttiness I've never before tasted from this varietal. Stephanie and Beth held on to theirs throughout the dinner and let us sip as the evening progressed. It continued to evolve and please. Both matched the soup well, especially the magical Riesling.

I helped Dad select the reds. Decisions, decisions. We got a bit distracted by some older Californian finds, but I reigned us in. The whole point of this was to drink the old world wines we knew were starting to lose edge. Focus! We settled on a 1978 Haut Brion (a gift from family friends), 1983 Palmer and a 1982 Sociando Mallet before deciding to try them against one older Californian, a 1981 Conn Creek Zinfandel. Mom made yabba dabba doo-sized short ribs, horseradish mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts to accompany our riches.

The Haut Brion was insane! I half expected it to be corked when I first opened the bottle of decanting. But after a couple of hours, the temperature had settled and the flavors began to shine. Yes there was characteristic dark cherry and earth, a little leather, but what is that finish? REALLY spicy. Peppery. Ancho chili! Crazy. We all loved it.

The Palmer (not shown) and Sociando Mallet were also beginning to evolve with some air. Both showed some decent dark fruits and mossy earth, and also matched the food. The Sociando had some mushroomy umami notes and the Palmer went more in the other direction with warm spice. I do feel each was a tad over the hill and slightly muted. Wish we had opened them a few years ago as they would have been spectacular. But that's kind of like comparing Sophia Loren in the 1950s versus the late 1960s.

I'm finding the more I have the opportunity to taste vintage Californian wines of certain local varietals, the more impressed I become. People don't tend to think of these wines as having age potential the way the other Bordeaux grapes do from either old or new world growths. But in my opinion, these are standing the test of time like their more famous cousins, maybe even more so. This zin was gorgeously smooth, fruity, spicy and silky. Probably the easiest on the palate, and surprisingly not heavy and alcoholic the way Zins have been more recently produced.

Here it is in the decanter. Ain't it purdy?

The gals and I had the fun task of choosing wine to go with our dessert (as if we needed either it or more food). After deciding Port would be too heavy despite the great choices from Osborne in the cabinet, we settled on a 1983 Prum Auslese. Beth made a delectable chocolate cheesecake and John brought Black Hound chocolate covered strawberries.

The wine was still beautifully balanced with just the right amount of residual sugar and acidity. Not a great match for the food, but hey, not too shabby to hang out and drink.

But we also stumbled upon some other "treasures" in the cabinet, which we opened mostly for a laugh. And maybe with some hope.

Can you read the label? Get this, a 1961 (!) Portuguese wine, an Astor Home selection! That's right, a private label cheapie my parents must have bought from the old Astor incarnation back in the 1960s and totally forgotten about, probably for something shinier, or maybe they went out instead and never got around to drinking it. Poor thing. Stored in some sort of "wine purgatory" the cabinet with all the big boys. I hope they weren't too mean to it. We also found a white Buzet (huh?) from 1986. Neither was any good. I've had older Portuguese wines that held up beautifully, but this just sank immediately when exposed to air. The fruit quickly slipped away and all that was left was savory weirdness and spice, like beef bouillon gone wrong. The Buzet was grassy and skunky. The kindest thing I can say about it is it tasted like a Heinecken can someone pissed in at a frat party when the line for the bathroom was too long.

Finally, it was time to clean up. Stephanie graciously washed all the glasses. Oy.

Many, many thanks to my parents for their generosity, fabulous cooking and last but not least, good humor. What a fantastic night!

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