If I were to ever get a tattoo, it would probably be some kind of ornate scale, or maybe a duel between Apollo and Dionysus. Something that depicted the struggle between two opposite pulls - complete and utter excess and rational logic. Part of the reason for my phasic mood swings with wine centers around the fact that I want to drink every type of varietal all the time. Not because my body craves alcohol necessarily, but because my mind craves education and I'm in the business of teaching and learning about booze. When I'm unable to make the time necessary to enjoy these pleasures properly, it frustrates me - to the point that I might write a whole article trying to convince myself I don't need it anyway. You have to understand, I'm the kind of guy where on my day off I might end up doing nothing because there's literally too much I want to do.
As part of our ongoing education, K&L co-owner and Bordeaux buyer Clyde Beffa and store expert Jeff Garneau have organized a series of dinners dedicated to sitting down and understanding older Bordeaux vintages. Last night was another eye-popping line up on paper: an opening flight of Domaine de Chevalier Blancs from 96 and 99, followed by three flights of reds from 1970, 1966, and 1983 respectively. As we walked over from the store to our neighboring restaurant John Bentley's, the air was crisp and Fall was definitely showing itself. It was the type of night where the warm, glowing interior of the dining room looked extremely cozy through the outside windows, beckoning us to come inside and enjoy a glass of champagne (which we did). Mood is very important to drinking because what ever bottle you select to enjoy will taste better on the right occasion. With the dining room set and the appetizers being around, the atmosphere was perfect for enjoying some special red wines.
When I recently complained about my inability to enjoy my collection of red wine, what I was really complaining about was a lack of time, place, and company. I don't have the time to make nice meals at home anymore (ah...the days of teaching when school got out at 2:45) and my friends usually want to drink white wine and cocktails. However, there is simply something about mature red wines, like the great Bordeaux bottles we had last night, that adds a certain magic to the evening. I can't really put my finger on it, but it's simply not the same enjoyment that great whisky offers. Swirling the glass, taking small sips in between bites of grilled quail, lamb chop, and New York striploin, talking about the flavors with my co-workers, and gazing through the low-lit chamber, I became utterly aware of why we love coming together to do this.
Not only was the milleau appropriate, both the wines and food were amazing. The 1970 vintage wines were still amazing fresh with plenty of fruit and acidity. I about had an epiphany with the 1970 Branaire Ducru - the aromas were incredibly enticing, shifting effortlessly between soft red fruit, baking spices, and subtle leathery notes. I could have just nosed that wine all night and been completely satisfied. It was easily one of the best red wines I have ever experienced. The 1970 Beychevelle, Clerc Milon, and Haut Batailley were all spot on as well - plenty of life left in them even at 41 years of age. The longevity of these great Bordeaux wines is fascinating. At 45 years of age, the 1966 Leoville Barton was heavenly - beautifully concentrated red berries in complete balance with the tannin and acidity levels. The 1966 Lynch Bages was full of cocoa powder and dark fruits, which are tasting notes I often read about, but rarely experience with older bottles. Getting to do so was like some sort of validation.
Just like interior design or party planning, there is a skill to crafting the perfect wine meal and this one truly delivered. It takes time, effort, and company to make it happen, however. A room full of people who all love good wine and good food comes first. The wine and the food comes next, followed by the time to enjoy it properly. Moments like last night are what inspire us to pack bottles into temperature-controlled lockers, empty our bank accounts to secure precious futures, and research which vintages are currently drinking best. It's a lot of commitment, but the payoff is huge. What I learned last night is that having a collection of great red wine is not necessarily about diving into it as often as possible and getting proper use out of it. It's more about cultivating a garden.
I tend to throw things away that I'm not using or sell them off on Craigslist because I'm always in a forward-thinking mode. While this works great for keeping my apartment clean, my wardrobe current, and my hoarding fears dormant, it's not the best way to look at one's wine collection. I might not drink anything out of my stash for months, but that doesn't mean I won't ever enjoy them. When the proper time comes and another K&L dinner rolls around, I might want to dig deep into the kitty and add some enjoyment to another wonderful evening. Patience, it will come.