Searching for revelation in a bottle?
Uncorked by Thor Iverson
Listening to a bunch of wine geeks talk about their greatest experiences is
pretty entertaining, if not exactly enlightening. The conversation is filled
with 1961 Latour and 1900 Margaux this, '77 Fonseca and '45 Mouton that
. . . and how many bottles of Turley
zin did Bob serve with
dinner? It's sorta like Classic Wine Radio -- all legends, all the time.
But all this talk of legends misses what's essential and real about
wine. For most of us, the real enjoyment and pleasure of wine is not the Great
Bottle, but the Perfect Bottle.
Semantic hair-splitting? No. A Great Bottle is an elusive treasure everyone
covets, like a Van Gogh painting. A Perfect Bottle is a wine served in the
right place at the right time. A wine that seems ordinary one night can turn
into something remarkable with
the right food,
in the right setting, with the
right people. After all, the most memorable dinners aren't necessarily
memorable for the quality of the food, but rather because you shared them with
a lover or a group of friends, or because they took place on the final night of
a wonderful vacation. Wine is no different: its perfection comes from the
moment, not from image or reputation.
Thus, the "perfect wine" could be a glass of fino sherry sipped while watching
the sunset from a Mediterranean balcony, or a $5 bottle of Beaujolais-Villages
quaffed with a little roasted chicken in a French bistro. Maybe it's a chilled
bottle of Verdicchio with seafood fresh off a fisherman's boat, a glass of
inexpensive Porto in front of a roaring fire, or a $12 bottle of
steaks and potatoes on the grill.
There's a reason wine writers -- and other people who taste a lot of wine --
so often confuse bigger with better. In large-scale
tastings of multiple wines,
the ones that stand out are the wines that knock us out with more
more everything. Those "best of show" wines are what we
writers take back to our columns, and what wine geeks spend lots of time
But wine is endlessly diverse and adaptable, and if we're always looking for
the big wine, the "great" wine, we're ignoring that diversity in favor of the
very wines that don't adapt. Great wines demand so much attention that they
can't share the stage with other wines, with food, or even with idle
conversation. On the other hand, smaller wines -- "lesser" wines (though the
word lesser is highly misleading) that don't have to scream for
attention -- will likely be much better accompaniment for food and
Consider Alsatian riesling.
A "great" riesling from a top producer and
vineyard will cost at least $40 and take more than 10 years to develop. When it
does, it will be an incredibly complex wine, the star of its own show, oohed
and aahed over by appreciative wine lovers. The right food would be the finest
haute cuisine -- perhaps rabbit sautéed in a riesling
and cream sauce with wild chanterelles, over lightly herbed spätzle. But
what about a riesling for tonight's grilled chicken breasts over rice pilaf? A
young riesling -- non-reserve, non-grand cru -- is the perfect choice.
It's ready to drink right now, it will enhance the food, and it won't break the
The same goes for a prosaic flank steak with some fried onions and peppers.
One classic wine match for steak is a fine, well-aged Bordeaux -- but that
would be completely inappropriate here. A wine of that breed demands a "finer"
cut of meat, like a filet mignon served with shaved black truffles. For our
everyday steak, the perfect wine is something simple yet flavorful, a wine that
will enhance the food and be enhanced in turn. A young cabernet franc-based red
wine from the
say from Saumur or Chinon, would be perfect.
Remember: wine is food. There's a time and a place for filet, and
another for burgers on the grill. Similarly, there's a time and a place for '61
Latour, and another for a '95 Jadot Beaujolais-Villages. Understanding that is
the key to truly appreciating the incredible power of wine as a simple beverage
of pleasure, to be enjoyed every day and in every situation.
1995 Marcel Martin La Sablette Vouvray Clos des Madères ($8.95).
Tangerine, peach, pear, and the unmistakable character of a fresh spring rain
splash around in this
white. A mélange of tropical fruit and underripe cherries is balanced by crisp
acidity and a surprising weight on the
Serve it with a substantial hunk of flavorful fish sprinkled with
1995 Gilbert Alquier Faugères ($10.99). An unheralded
appellation in southern France, Faugères produces tasty, uncomplicated
wines that also have the ability to age. This one is delicious now, with
chokecherry, black cherry, and minty
tannins up front. Serve it tonight with a
simple sauté of chicken and vegetables.
1995 Gini Soave Classico La Frosca ($14.99). Soave has a bad
reputation, thanks to an ocean of plonk produced in its name. Ignore the image
and take a big gulp of this refreshing quaffer. It tastes like -- and no, I'm
not making this up -- orange-lime sherbet, coconut cream pie with whipped
cream, and pineapple, with a good
acidic layer of fresh green apples
underneath. Despite the dessert-tray character, it's not a sweet wine, but it
needs delicate poached whitefish in a simple sauce to avoid being
1995 Boccadigabbia Rosso Piceno ($9.99). This Italian beauty tastes
like a $50 wine. The nose is heavily truffled, with game and burnt-pork scents
mixed with faint strawberry notes. On the palate, a huge wave of black cherry
and basil is followed by a distinctly earthy character, and then some sharp
takes over on the finish. Air it out for an hour, and it all integrates
into an astounding young wine. Serve it with sausage polenta.
Thor Iverson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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