27 September 2007
Let me back up...
I've made a lot of terrific friends through wine. All over the world, in fact. Almost to a fault, they have been kind, generous, hospitable, and generally wonderful to be around. And I say that even though I've seen most of them at their potential worst (that is, with a hefty load of alcohol in 'em). Lord knows they've seen me that way. It's not always pretty.
In fact, one of the things I miss most about the breakup of the old wine forum paradigm is the loss of a central meeting place for the world's wine geeks to connect. Some of my best experiences ever have been via meetings facilitated by the online wine universe, and I cherish and nurture those relationships even more now that the virtual vinosphere has splintered into hundreds of different, special-interest and single-language sub-fora.
One form of these social interactions is called the "offline," wherein online wine folk congregate, usually over dinner, at a venue that allows (or even encourages) BYO. People bring bottles -- usually far too many -- they open them, they taste, they drink, they spit, they eat, and they chat. And it's a hell of a lot of fun. (Of course, there are other forms of interaction as well. There's the dinner, which isn't unlike any other dinner except for the fact that it usually involves more food and wine than any reasonable human being should consume in a single sitting. And there's the structured (or semi-structured) tasting, in which the bottles are brought with a purpose, often a thematic one.
So how do offlines go wrong? By including the "wrong" people. Despite the deluge of wine, what makes these events fun is the crowd itself. Why sit at a table with people you don't like, whether over wine or a profound debate on Kant and aesthetics? It's pretty simple, and the general rule of inviting people you'd like to drink wine with and letting Bacchus take his course has, for many years, fed the engine of the offline without incident. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, fun. How could it not be?
And yet, to read this, you'd think that not only everyone was wrong at offlines, you'd think that the entire institution was broken for a lack of constitutions and bylaws. Except that...damned few of these whiners and anal-retentive snobs actually get it. It's not about the wine. (A formal tasting; that's about the wine. If you want to have one of those, go right ahead. But don't call it something it's not.) It's about the people, the camaraderie, the fun. It's not about the size of your bottle or the girth of your wallet. It's not about sucking every last bit of enjoyment from what is, after all, the ultimate social beverage. And it's certainly not about living your wine life like some pointy-headed dictator, whining and bitching and crying when everything doesn't turn out to your organoleptic and economic advantage.
Why would anyone drink with these people?
22 September 2007
21 September 2007
Years ago, I had a favorite restaurant in Boston. I don't know if it was the best restaurant in Boston (that honor has, for a long time now, belonged to No. 9 Park), but it was most certainly my favorite. I not only went every chance I could get, I sent all and sundry there whenever I received a request for advice. (Which, in those days, happened quite often.) And I'd take as many guests there as I could, every one of whom was exceedingly impressed.
The restaurant was one of a (then) very rare breed of authentically Italian outposts in the overtly Italianate (but even then gentrifying) North End of Boston...one that didn't just rest on the easy profits of overly-familiar red sauce, pasta, veal scallopini and the like. The chef had a point of view, and also a hook: he eschewed butter and cream as foundations for his cuisine, which lightened it sufficiently for him to work an authentically Italian, yet also fundamentally modern and experimental, magic with his food.
But while the food was excellent, it wasn't what kept me coming back.
The wine list, too, represented a particular mindset (it was also constructed by the chef). Missing were the mainstream but ever-so-boring Chiantis and pinot grigios of most of its neighbors. In their place were obscure bottlings from DOCs even the reasonably wine-savvy had never even heard of, much less tasted...wines often made from grapes virtually lost to history save for the fanatic traditionalism of a few growers.
But it wasn't the wine list that kept me coming back, either.
On nights when it wasn't too busy -- in other words, not on weekends -- the chef would gleefully participate in what is my absolute favorite kind of dining: the surprise tasting menu. Diners would tell him what they didn't eat (or, in some cases, enter a special request for something...rabbit, for instance), and he'd construct a series of dishes and matching wines that were regularly astounding in their perfection. Not "great" cuisine with all the cultural baggage that implies, but food and wine perfectly-executed with both art and passion.
I used to love those meals. I used to live for those meals.
But, as tends to happen, one day the restaurant closed. Insiders and recipients of insider gossip (I was one of the latter) saw it coming for a while, due to factors pretty much unrelated to food or customers. And so I made sure to go back one more time, to pay a sort of homage to a chef who'd fed me so well for so long.
One of the biggest quirks on an already very quirky wine list was that the most expensive wine on it was not an old Chianti Classico Riserva, not some rare Amarone, and not some cultish Gaja. It was from Piedmont, but it was no prestige Barolo or Barbaresco. Instead, it was the Coppo Mondaccione, made from the increasingly obscure but wonderful freisa, and often considered the most "serious" among all the grapey and boisterous expressions of the grape.
So on my last visit, as the restaurant's consistent brilliance drew to a close, the chef gave me a gift. Whether it was a thank you for the scores of diners I sent there, or for my own patronage, or from a sense of wine and food camaraderie, or as a gesture of friendship, or maybe just because he didn't want to carry the inventory to closure, I was presented with a pristine bottle of Coppo 1995 "Mondaccione." I put it in the cellar, and waited. Because it needed time, and because I hoped that maybe I could drink it with the chef who gave it to me.
Years passed. The chef moved on, and eventually re-entered my dining life in another role. But I forgot about the wine. One night, many years later, we managed to have the chef over for dinner, and while getting the dime tour of the cellar, he identified the wine as the one he'd gifted so many years ago. I moved it to a different rack, thinking that I'd open it for him the next time we got together.
But then, other friends -- excellent, close, wine geek friends -- decided to leave Boston for the Southwest. And so, we hosted a little blowout dinner for them, and the Mondaccione got opened.
Inevitably, it was corked.
When people ask me why I'm so passionately anti-cork, this is the sort of thing I tell them. Because this wasn't just a (reasonably pricey) wine, twelve years old and theoretically definitive in its idiom. That, though at some cost, could be replaced. This was a wine that meant something to me. It had aged...at Coppo, at the importer's and wholesaler's warehouses, in the restaurant's cellar, and finally in mine...for a long time. And it was full of memories. And from the moment of bottling, it was ruined by a faulty piece of tree bark that cost the winery a few cents, at which price the scandalously indifferent cork producer managed to make some sort of profit.
This morning, as I poured it down the drain, the memories smelled of moldy cardboard, and the meaning was choked off in a wringing tourniquet of fungal nastiness.
Damn you, cork. Damn you.
From the over-touristed heights of Montserrat to the mountain-shrouded strip mall that is Andorra, we chase (and are chased by) the rain, all the way into the Pyrenées. Thankfully, there's a carnivorous reward at the end of it all. Although, given subsequent events, I wonder about the value of the reward.
Anyway, read on...
19 September 2007
18 September 2007
The old method of posting tasting notes in four places (two versions on the parent site, one here, and another on one of the zillions of wine fora out there) is, ultimately, unsustainable. Or it's too much work. Or I'm just lazy. (This isn't a poll, by the way.) In any case, why post notes hither and yon, carefully constructing categorized archives that grow decreasingly useful as they're populated, when Blogger has the lovely meta-tagging feature you'll find at the bottom right?
I appear to have mastered the rhetorical question.
Anyway, the big change is this: there's now a little brother to this blog. oenoLogic has given birth. Or cloned. Or asexually budded. (I'm a little unclear on the whole blog procreation thing.) It's called oenoLog...and you're not wrong in thinking that that's a spectacularly un-clever name. What it is, however, is utilitarian, and that's a pretty good description of the new blog. See, it's going to be tasting notes. Nothing but tasting notes. So if that's your thing, that's your place. If you find endless, non-contextual tasting notes about as exciting as cement, however, best to go elsewhere. I'm not going to judge. Well, maybe in private...
So, regular tasting notes are going to disappear from this blog, and also from the parent site. (Or, more accurately: they're going to stop accumulating additional content. Though if anyone can tell me how to move old notes from one blog to another without retyping or copy/pasting everything, I'd be eternally grateful.)
So what's going to appear in their place? Well, on the non-bloggy site, the long-form travelogues and articles (for print and otherwise) will remain, as will dining commentary and a guide to regional coverage there and elsewhere. Pretty much everything else will go into stasis; it'll still be there, free for the Googling, but the links to it will slowly disappear.
And how about here? Well -- and I know this is a radical plan -- I'm going to turn it into an actual blog. You know, with commentary and links and unnecessarily personal musings. OK, not so much of the latter. Mostly short-form stuff, though my oft-cursed loquacity will occasionally triumph. (For example, consider how long this simple announcement has taken to get to the point.) And there will be teases to the travelogues and longer-form stuff on the grandaddy site (notice how it keeps changing identity? oenoLogic has its own definition of "family values"), too.
What it all means: tasting notes may still appear here, but only if they're contained within a different framework than a stand-alone note. Otherwise, whether it's a shopping list or the latest outrageous campaign of hate against some downtrodden supermarket wine, oenoLog is the place to be.
Got all that? Good. Now, could someone please explain it to me? I'm hopelessly confused.