Sunday, March 25, 2012

Just Drink It Already! (Another Wine Dinner)

There was quite the panic a couple of weeks ago when my dad's big refrigerated wine storage unit basically had a spontaneous stroke and was pronounced dead. Some hundreds of wines used to their cool, dry environment suddenly found themselves homeless, in the middle of a freak early spring warm spell. Luckily the basement managed to stay cool despite the outside temps, and Dad found a more stylistic and versatile home for them soon enough. A good excuse to reorganize, at least. I helped with some of the loading up, shocked to discover how much there was still left to drink! "Found" bottles included several 2000 Cotes de Nuits, 2002 Lynch Bages, some 2005 one-offs of CDP, more Burgundy and Bordeaux, not to mention some older Brunellos and Barolo. Also a bunch from Cally. Even some random stuff from Oregon!

"Hey, Dad. These aren't going to drink themselves. A lot of this is in its prime now. What are you waiting for?"

I ask this to the man who looks upon most food (and medicine) expiration dates as mere packaging decoration.

(Note: this is a stock photo. But it's not far off).

Last night was the perfect example of why one shouldn't let these beauties go for too long, and enjoy them while they still have some exuberance. While the wines weren't totally dead, let's just say if you took them out to dinner they'd probably complain about the temperature of the soup. Most of them should have been opened and enjoyed at least ten years ago, maybe more.

Over a selection of treats from Sahadis as hors d'oeuvres, we first opened one of the bottles of Nino Franco 2008 Proseccos that was just lying in wait downstairs. It was OK. Probably best in, hellooooo? 2010? The better bottle was Iron Horse 2010 Rosé, a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Very juicy and lively. LIVELY. Operative word here.

Next, over delicious crabcakes, we opened a white Bordeaux, Ch. Montlau 1982. I think one of the main reasons this was ever purchased was the name of the negociant on the label, "A. Schuster de Ballwill, a Moulin Gironde." French Schusters of the Gironde? Why was this never investigated?

Anyway, unlike last time, when the "found" Bordeaux blanc was surprisingly sherry-like and enjoyable, this one, to me, just tasted musty. No fruit left at all. After a couple of sips, I went back to what was left of my sparkling rosé.

Over a satisfying roast beef, scalloped potatoes and string beans almondine, we decanted 1975 Gruaud-Larose and 1982 Ridge Howell Mountain Zin. I got a whiff of perfumed fruit right away after uncorking the G-Larose. And for a little while I think this was putting up an impressive fight to stay vibrant. But after about an hour, the light just went out and it got all soy-saucy, as Stephanie pointed out.

More up to the challenge was the Ridge Zin. Dad asked an interesting question, "Would you be able to tell this was a Zinfandel if tasting blind?" Well, I would have guessed what it wasn't, anyway. It was missing the black fruit and earth of a Cab, the plushness of Merlot, the juicy cherry and dark tannins of Pinot. The closest thing it could be was Grenache. But it really wasn't any of those things, nor did it taste much like classic Zinfandel either. There was still some warm spice left and sweet-tart berries. But this too started to fall short really fast. I had a little of each wine in the glasses after a while, and maybe this was palate fatigue, but I also felt the Ridge went the way of soy sauce after a bit.

Dessert was homemade zabaglione over strawberries. John brought more cookies from Black Hound and our newbie guests, Rebecca and Mitch, brought assorted mini cupcakes from Baked by Melissa as well as berry rugulach. To accompany this study in decadence, we opened a 1994 Graham's vintage Port, which magically matched almost everything on the table. This was concentrated and very sweet, but still had plenty of acidity left for balance. I especially liked it with the creaminess of the zabaglione and the cinnamon of my cupcake bite. Looks like this was snatched up at a great price back in the day too.

Even though some of the wine was slightly disappointing, we all had a blast sipping them and chatting, with classic jazz vinyl playing in the background. Hopefully I've talked my parents into cracking some open for themselves more often. This is what it's been waiting for, after all.

Monday, March 5, 2012

In Like a Lion. A Really Full and Drunk Lion.

I think my dad is finally getting it that we have to step up this family wine drinking thing and get to work on those bottles he's hoarded kept all these years. There are so many that have been raring to go, but keep getting edged out in favor of newer and shinier arrivals. At a recent dinner we drank a Chateau Duhart-Milon 2005, and it rocked. Totally in its prime. This is how you do it. So all those wines from the 70s and 80s? Come on, let's get at them before it's too late. My dad's a Jew. Doesn't he want his money's worth?

Last Saturday was the first of two "wine dinners" between six of us at Casa Schuster this month. Over a delectable array of hors d'oeuvres brought by our friend Beth (who somehow managed to deliciously alchemize gougeres in cracker form, among other treats), we drank the Iron Horse FairyTale Celebration Cuvee 2006, a wine-club only release that was originally produced as a private label for Disney and Castellroig Brut Cava. Both were excellent, especially the Cava which was crisp, tart and biscuity in a way that could rival good non-vintage Champagnes.

On to dinner. Shrimp scampi (sans pasta) with Chateau Carbonnieux Blanc 1988. This was the first time I'd tasted an older, white Bordeaux. I loved how it had oxidized, reminiscent of the funkier white Riojas from Lopez Heredia. It still had some citrus, but it had caramelized a bit, and there was none of that white Bordeaux grassiness left. This was replaced by nutty and mushroom flavors. I know this isn't how this wine is meant to be consumed and it was definitely too old, but I liked it anyway.

Next course was Osso Bucco with mushroom risotto, served in cartoonishly large portions. We started with a 1978 F.Lli Dogliani Barolo from the La Morra commune. The second we opened it I could smell flowers and ripe fruit emanating from the bottle. Once decanted it really opened up. Still had tons of fruit and structure with an earthy balance. Wish some of the leatheriness I love about these wines had been there, but it sure didn't, as the Italians say, a succhiare.

We also drank a 1981 Gruard Larose Saint-Julien. We've been drinking some 1980s from Margaux and I personally think they tasted a bit over the hill and was worried this would be more of the same. But we were all pleasantly surprised at how rich and flavorful this still was. Stephanie was the first to point out the "curry" flavors that came through (cardamom and ginger for sure) and I also think some hibiscus. It's like the Rolling Stones. Yeah, they're up there, but they still put on a show. Bravo, Saint-Julien. Curious to try more from that region now.

We'd already had enough, but since it was out, we also opened a 1989 J. Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone. Not as spectacular as the others, but then again they were pretty tough acts to follow. The Grenache in this blend gave it some dark fruit and cocoa with some coffee and earth, but wish more of the Syrah spiciness and gaminess was still there.  Still, not bad. Nope, wasn't mad at it.

As full as we all were, dessert is often the main attraction at these meals. Why? Because aged sweet wines usually kick major ass! This Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey 1988 was no exception. Dad made a creme caramel, which was an amazing pairing. The dessert and the wine were harmonizing so well, it was as though they'd secretly planned to be consumed together all along. Burnt caramel, cashews and apricots in the wine really stood handled the dessert. The acidic grip kept each of them from feeling overly sweet. It also went very well with the chocolate cookies from Black Hound that John brought over.

Of course by the end we were feeling pretty bluch and wiped out (sadly, no Amaro on hand). Walking downstairs was a tough enough commute for my parents, so imagine schlepping back to Brooklyn. Especially on an early March Saturday that is apparently the first of three St. Patrick's nights in the city. Ugh. After all that top notch partaking, I was particularly irritated at all the amateur drinkers stealing my cabs in Murray Hill! Well, the walk to the F train helped it all go down a bit, I suppose. Fitness karma.

I can't believe we're doing this again in three weeks! (Sorry, liver. You've been warned).