Thursday, June 18, 2015

Two Fingers of Romanée-Saint-Vivant

On January 22nd, 2013 I had a belated birthday lunch with the folks. We dined at Benoit, Alain Ducasse’s midtown bistro. We started off with braised pork then moved onto caviar. For our mains, Mom and Dad shared chicken while I gorged myself with bacon-wrapped Scottish Salmon. Love my nitrates. Washed it down with a Spanish red.

We were having a spirited conversation about Joyce Carol Oates’ new book when Mom took another peek at the wine list. She was sniffing out port possibilities. Then she stumbled upon it. A mischievous grin widened on her face, and she implored me to have a special treat. No, not the scrumptious, syrup-doused Bosc pear gooped in warm chocolate (although I eventually succumbed to that too). She was referring to a libidinous libation, a two-ounce pour of trophy wine.
Who hadn’t read Florence Fabricant’s “Legendary Wines, Sold in Sips” piece in the NYT Dining Section? It sent every pocket-friendly winenut into a hyperactive state of euphoria. For a mere $45 bucks, you could taste a bit of Bordeaux’s Promised Land. How democratic?

Yes, I’ll admit my superficial side came gushing out. For shame. I thought I’d grown out of the trophy-hunter phase, but apparently not.

“Go for the Pétrus,” Mom dared.

That hedonist sentiment had been whispering in my ear sotto voce from the moment I took my seat. What better way to celebrate than to taste one of this mudball’s most lauded reds. Naturally, I wouldn’t have thought of letting my folks crack open a whole bottle, and of course, they weren’t daffy enough to indulge my Pomerolian prurience, but a two-finger pour? Why not? Except that the 1992 vintage was a big wash, and although Merlot fared better than the Cabs I had my reservations. I'm not a point man at all, but what I'd read about the '92 vintage had dripped into my subconscious. Was I going to go for the gusto and be disappointed or be forced to extrapolate what might be the stuff that made Pétrus the rock star of reds?

I was an enophile, a professional. The heavenly Pomerol was on every wineaux’s bucket list. I considered it my duty as a wine professional to drink it. But wait a second. Hold the cork. I mean, hold the coravin (thank goodness for the miracle gadget). My palate was craving a gem, but when I reflected on the fact that I’d tried all five 1st Growths and myriad 2nd , 3rd, 4th, and 5th Growths my top-heavy record of Bordeaux tasting left a gaping hole in that critical wine wonk zone, Burgundy.

If I was to truly become a wine wizard, Burgundy would have to receive greater consideration. So with this in mind, I decided to shoot the works with my first DRC, Romanée-Saint-Vivant. Benoit offered two fingers of the 1996, a very good, but not outstanding vintage. In recent years, I’d been leaning more toward Burgundy anyway. My palate had been changing, more inclined to that Burgundian style by way of Barolo and Barbaresco if you’ll pardon my cliché comparison, which is somehow useful as a cross-country analogue. Both Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo are thin-skinned varietals. They’re both infamously fickle grapes, and, even in the best circumstances, may not show their full potential. There, I said it.

The real question was whether or not I was deserving of two fingers of DRC? Was I in it for the right reason? What I’m driving at is this. Since I cut my teeth with Bordeaux, logging in so much time with their superstars, unsung heroes, etc., my experience had been shaped by Bordeaux. Was I justified in making such a leap to DRC when I hadn’t logged in enough time, brooding over the differences between Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-St. Denis, and Echézeaux? Forget about grand cru Burgundy, I hadn’t really had enough Fixin, Volnay, or Bourgogne Rouge.

I considered this, drumming my fingers for added effect. I could’ve ordered a full glass of Echézeaux, Pommard, or even Chambertin. If I was genuinely interested in making a commitment to Burgundy, this probably would have been the noblest route, but I had another agenda. I wasn’t wetting my toes, I was taking a head-first plunge into two-fingers of DRC. A little drumroll please. My first whiff of the 1996 Romanée-Saint-Vivant teased me into believing there’d be sweetness. Then it gave way to an earthier late Fall, forest floor. It had quiet brilliance like Stan Musial, the St. Louis Slugger who had actually passed away the day before. Initially, tangy chokecherry with a touch of vanilla soon blossomed into a strawberry field with notes of licorice, a hint of pipe tobacco. It tangoed me across a ballroom floor of tight-grained oak, and impeccable structure. How vibrant and bright in its Sour 17th Year. It had surprisingly good acidity for its age and supple tannin, silkier than a Hermès shawl.

Birthdays can heighten your sensibility, and sometimes add undue pressure. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity, and I wished that I could say it was life-altering, but alas it wasn’t. Maybe because there was too much expectation riding on it. Maybe it was because the grinning lady, sitting next to me had her own set of expectations weighing on me too. She was smart enough not to get under the microscope and have her a swig analyzed, and yet she wanted me to be gobsmacked with unbridled glee.

I will definitely say this though. My two fingers of Romanée-Saint-Vivant was a much more welcoming experience than my first swig of Sassicaia. That was a long time ago in a galaxy far far away (You like hyperbole, no?). Truthfully, I couldn’t tell you with any certainty what my impression of that Sassicaia was because there was so much hoopla associated with it. I was also a hopeless newbie at one of those behemoth tastings that no pro wants to be a part of unless he or she is on the clock. I had to elbow my way over to the table that was kind enough to share its Tuscan royalty for all the heathens lining up. I remember it being a stunning, ruby-colored wine and nearly chipping a tooth as the buffoon beside me raised his arm. If that wasn’t enough there was the unmistakable, unpardonable wallop of Fahrenheit cologne. So overpowering was that Christian Dior bouquet that I swear I still smell a whiff of it every time I’m at a dinner party or some other occasion where Sassicaia is poured.

Given this reflection, my two fingers of Romanée-Saint-Vivant was pretty damn unforgettable (pipe in Nat King Cole), but I wish my sommelier had had a heavier hand.

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