When in New York City, I often organize wine dinners at Tocqueville. A fixture in Union Square, Tocqueville remains one of New York's most acclaimed restaurants, along with its Michelin-starred sister, 15 East, just a few doors down. I can't say enought about the hospitality here, led by master Sommelier Roger Dagorn, who assists me with all of our wine pairings and often helps to create a tasting menu around the special wines we are opening. My last visit was a night of wine legends with friends and colleagues. Here are some of the highlights.
I was blown away by the 1990 Comte de Vogüe Musigny, which may have been the biggest powerhouse red Burgundy I have ever tasted. Explosive doesn't do this justice, yet the wine also possessed an elegance that is difficult to describe. Musigny is often described as an iron fist in a velvet glove, and that is on target with this bottle. Comte de Vogüe produces some of the most iconic wines in Burgundy, with history tracing back to 1450. Today the estate is led by its 20th generation. The Musigny vineyard, planted on iron and limestone soils, within the village of Chambolle-Musigny, is among the finest Pinot Noir sites in the world, and it showed here. Tocqueville's duck sausage with foie gras was ethereal, presenting the perfect complement to both the power and grace of this wine. Roger hit a home run with this pairing!
The most fun we had at the table was comparing 1989 La Mission Haut-Brion with Pétrus from the same year. Both wines received strong praise and 100 point ratings from RP, and both wines threw me for a loop. I was expecting power and fruit from La Mission, and didn't really get much of either. Instead, it was Pétrus that took over from the start, showing more fruit and body than La Mission, the latter coming acorss as surprisingly under-ripe. As for the Pétrus, who says Merlot is all about finesse? At 100% Merlot, this proves otherwise.
The menu at the right shows us starting with a bottle of Ramonet C-M from 2010, but we made a last minute swap in favor of Domaine Leflaive Batard-Montrachet 2010. As much as I enjoy Ramonet, we traded up here. This is a masterpiece that I would like to revisit in five years. It has so much going on, but the aromas and nuances aren't really developed yet. Still, it comes across as so elegant and long even today. The dish, sea urchin and angel hair carbonara, was another home run. Roger chose the fish for its briny texture, and that really helped to bring out different textures in the wine.
This was a pretty special evening, and all I could do the next morning was stay put at the Andaz Fifth Avenue, which I often call home while in New York. The lobby lounge serves coffee and is a great place to get some work done. I wasn't up for much more than that after a long night at Tocqueville.
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As I look back on an amazing first 5 months and a great 2009, I have a real sense of excitement for 2010. City Wine Merchant is still a new business, and there are so many things I'd like to do in the new year! It is our goal to make wine fun for our customers, and to continue to impact the way our customers buy and enjoy wine. I promise that will continue, and we will do our part to bring exciting wines to you at great prices. It has been incredible to meet so many great people over the past few months, and I look forward to seeing all of you in 2010!
Here are a few other suggestions for the new year to help us all continue our wine journey and hopefully discover something new in 2010:
1. Drink Local! Discover or continue to enjoy the fantastic wines produced in the Niagara Escarpment (USA). I will be the first to admit that local wines were barely on my radar screen when I opened CWM. Sure, I've had a great Finger Lakes Riesling here and there, but little did I know that a wine renaissance was happening right in our backyard. The Niagara Escarpment is home to numerous innovative winemakers, producing top quality wines (red and white) at great prices. Don't believe us? Take home Arrowhead Spring's full lineup of Red Meritage, Chardonnay, Semi-Dry Riesling, Port-style dessert wine, and Icewine -- and I challenge you to find a weak-link in the group!
2. Discover Oregon and Washington. These two states are producing some of the most exciting wines in the country, plain and simple. If you haven't fully explored Oregon's Pinot Noir and Washington's Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends, then you are truly missing out on something historic. These wines are some of the best in the world, and they may change the way you think about these varietals. While some of you may ultimately prefer generally bigger and more-modern-styled wines from California, you may just find that Washington Cabernet and Oregon Pinot Noir are more to your liking. Some of our favorite producers from Oregon are Patricia Green, Penner-Ash, Bergstrom, Panther Creek, and A to Z. From Washington, try something from L'Ecole 41, Pepperbridge, Charles Smith, and Januik.
3. Drink wine with food. We at City Wine Merchant believe that wine is meant to compliment a great meal (and vice-versa). While wine continues to enjoy unprecedented growth in the United States, it has been our experience that many people still overlook the benefit of pairing wine with food. That's a shame. There is a saying that "drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life's most civilized pleasures." Make it a point to experience that in 2010 by putting a little thought into how you can heighten your enjoyment of wine by pairing it with food. You just may find that it also heightens your enjoyment of food! Organize or attend wine dinner, or perhaps try picking a wine first and then try to find a good recipe to match it with! A suggestion or two? Try seafood with Vermentino from Sardinia, Italy or Lamb with Malbec from Cahors, France.
4. Put that bottle away. While it is impossible to drink aged-wine every day or every week, there is something magical about a wine that has the benefit of time in a bottle. Flavors and aromas come together and layers are revealed. In a world where high alcohol content and big fruit-bombs are a-plenty, we often enjoy wines that hit us over the head like a hammer with flavor. But we also, more often than not, drink wines too young. When reading about wines, pay attention to suggested drinking windows, and put a bottle or two down in the cellar to see how it changes and evolves over a couple years or more. Don't have the patience for that? Good wine shops always stock past-vintages of wines that are cellar-worthy. Instead of buying that highly-rated 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, ask your wine merchant for something with a little age on it (2003-2006 were all excellent vintages - try Beaurenard CDP 2004 or Ferrand's 2006 CDP). You may find a better experience and a better value. Some of our other suggestions for great values and wines that are becoming ready to drink: 2004 Bordeaux and Burgundy, and 2001 and 2003 vintages from Tuscany and Piedmont, Italy.
5. Open that bottle! Didn't I just say that we should put more bottles away to enjoy them down the road? Yes, but even more important is to not forget that wine is meant to be enjoyed and shared. Don't let great bottles sit for years or decades because you can't seem to find the right occasion to open them. Have a 1986 Lafite still sitting around? Invite a few great friends over, put some steaks on the grill and pop that cork! Sometimes organizing a fun night around a special wine is the perfect reason to open that bottle. Better yet, encourage everyone to do the same, and have everyone say a few words about why that wine is special to them. This is exactly what Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher of the Wall Street Journal had in mind when they started touting an "Open That Bottle Night" on the last Saturday in February every year. I have been celebrating OTBN for a few years, and some of the most memorable wines I've ever had were opened on this night. Why the arbitrary date? That's the point. The wine you open doesn't have to be the most expensive or the highest rated. Rather, pick that bottle that was special enough, for whatever reason, to make you hold onto while trying to find that perfect night to finally pop the cork. Now you've found that night!
I'm usually not lost for some words of my own, but after having a day to reflect on Tabree's Fall Wine Dinner, I think that Mike Depue said it all at the dinner's conclusion: It was all about harmony. Michael Broadbent said, "drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life's most civilized pleasures." Good wine with good food elevates both, and every time I have great wine and food pairings like this night, I am reminded how we often forget that wine is for so much more than drinking. I was also reminded on this night how we live in a world of so many over-the-top wines and over-the-top food dishes with crazy proportions. This night was a complete escape from that, focusing rather on simplicity and balance.
The evening began with beautiful passed hors d'oeuvres, along with a crisp, mineral-laden Cailbourdin Pouilly-Fume 'Les Cris' 2007. The wine was focused and raw, with only a subtle note of citrus present. It struck me that this was how Sauvignon Blanc should taste.
Tabree's Oyster Gratin and Calvados set the stage for one of the evening's true highlights - Henri Billiot Brut Reserve Champagne. This was grower Champagne at its finest. From 80% Pinot Noir (100% Grand Cru) and it showed. I thought this tasted more like Pinot Noir than any Champagne I've ever had. It was full-bodied with fresh-out-of-the-oven blueberry pie notes, and the pairing was a perfect blending of flavors and textures. Extremely limited production, from a tiny 5 hectare parcel.
Skate Wing Schnitzle, haricot vert, and beurre rouge allowed us to showcase a young but refined 2005 Burgundy. Rossignol-Trapet Gevrey-Chambertin 2005 was a classic representative of its appellation, unfolding in the glass to reveal a light, elegant wine of mineral, red fruit, and soft baking spice. Both the wine and Tabree's dark, rich sauce were a couple of my personal favorites from the evening.
For the main entree, Braised Beef, wild mushroom, pearl onion, and demi-glace paired with Les Baux de Provence 'Mas de Gourgonnier' 2007. While the rest of the evening showcased refined and elegant pairings, this veered toward rustic while still maintaining great balance and restraint. This was the best wine value of the night, proving that you can get interesting, quality French wine for under $15. This is such a cool wine (in a cool bottle), and it throws herbs, fruit and spice at you in waves. After this course, there was little doubt that this was an authentic French food and wine experience.
For a final pairing, Apple Tart Tatin paired with Chateau Tuileries Sauternes 2005. The dessert was delicious. Again, simple but elegant. And this time the food and wine had exactly the same theme - rich but light at the same time. The Sauternes was classic, with layers of honey and citrus. Sauternes can often be very heavy and viscous, but this was almost airy in the mouth. It was a another great value, as this one sells in a 750ml bottle for a fraction of the price of many half-bottle Icewines.
Thanks to Tabree for a job well done, and thanks to everyone who turned out for this great experience.