Friday, July 4, 2008
When Wine Writers Gather to Party
The Wine Media Guild held their annual dinner June 16 at I Trulli Restaurant in Manhattan and I was happily in attendance. Everyone was asked to bring a choice bottle from their cellar, and I'm sure glad they were asked! For the WMG has a goodly number of veteran members and they possess some damn fine cellars full of treasures that make your eyes glisten with greed.
I arrived late, which could have been a bad thing, but turned out to be a very good stroke of luck indeed, because it forced me to seize the one available chair left. This was next to wine writer and educator Charles B. Rubinstein, a senior member of the Guild whom I had never met before. He proved good company, AND came equipped with a 1958 bottle of Gaja Barolo. That's right: a bottle of Barolo made by Gaja's daddy.
The evening began with some milling about. There was a table of pinot noirs for the taking. WNYC radio personality Leonard Lopate was in attendance for some reason. I was told he was the guest of our esteemed president Patricia Savoie. I watched him from time to time throughout the evening; he studied the room as if he might paint it.
The main business of the evening was the induction of the first honorees of the new Wine Writers' Hall of Fame. These worthies were Burton Anderson, Hugh Johnson, Edward McCarthy, Robert M. Parker, Jr., Frank Prial, Jancis Robinson, Kevin Zraly, and, postumously, Alexis Lichine and Frank Schoonmaker. (One Guild member stood up and shocked me by saying he had known well Schoonmaker, who was publishing books in the 30s and died in 1976! I would just like to point of here that Schoonmaker was born in Spearfish, South Dakota, simply because I like the fact.)
Prial was supposed to attend, but bowed out at the last moment. That left McCarthy (Mr. "Wine for Dummies") and Zraly as the two inductees present to receive their honors in person. They were introduced by, respectively, the leonine Charles Scicolone, and Wine & Spirits' Philippe Newlin. McCarthy's comments were touching and humble. Zraly ("Windows on the World") talked very fast and excitedly; one could see how he would make for an inspiring teacher.
After that there were just food and wine. Rubinstein also brought something labeled Pietro E Elena Riserva di Nozze 1999, of which he was very proud. He explained that the Piedmont winemaker who made it bottled the wine specifically for his son's wedding and that we wouldn't find it in any store. I didn't catch the name of the winemaker. The varietal Charles wasn't sure of. It was enjoyable, light and leafy, with notes of tobacco, tart plum and charcoal.
Also at my table was a 1982 Chateau Montrose from Saint-Estephe. It had a wonderfully fragrant barnyard nose. There was great breadth to the palate. Deep dark fruit, dark cherry and currents, and beautifully soft tannins. Heavenly smooth. I thought I was drinking just fine, until somebody said: Forget the Montrose! Get a load of the 1978 Haut-Brion that John Foy brought!
As good as the Montrose was, he was right. The Haut-Brion was the best thing I had that night. It began with a fascinatingly metallic, rusty nose, with touches of mustard and sulfer. The palate was equally complex. It came off like velvet rust on the palate, the texture of a very soft cat's tongue. It tasted of violet perfume, elegant and accomplished. Hmm. All my descriptors of this wine sound kind of crazy! But that's what I got. Good wines aren't simple.
There was also a 1981 Cheval Blanc with tasted of sour cherry backed by strong, but soft tannins; a 1974 Latour which was tart, piquant, with still a lot of fruit. And someone produced a Riesling Eiswein from Nahe that isn't being made anymore due to Global Warming. So we were drinking of an extinct species, which was both exciting and depressing. It was a Preis Goldener Staatsweingut Bad Kreuznach 2000. Nice stuff.
And then there was that Jerobaum of Stag's Leap Cask 23 1994 on the front table that everyone said must be a prop and was probably empty. But then it was suddenly opened and passed around near the end of the evening. Turned out, Zraly brought it.
I was a bit like a jack-in-the-box most of the night. Once I had tasted all the wines at my table, I kept popping up and prowling the other tables for likely bottles, filling my glass and then bringing back my bounty. This proved very helpful for a couple young ladies at my table, who were pinned in by the wall and relied on my expeditions to widen their understanding of the night's offerings. I was happy to share and felt quite the hunter-gatherer.
OK. But what about that Gaja? Rubinstein theatrically waited until the end to open the bottle and when he did the supplicants gathered round. I'm glad I was sitting next to him or I wouldn't have gotten any. The color was amazing. Absolutely pure rose. The wine was beautifully light. Dusty and floral on the palate. Purring tannins. I could see from other reactions at the table that it was not to everyone's liking, but I thought it was drinking beautifully.