Yesterday John and I went over to Gerard’s for lunch; he busted out a brilliant array of tapas and we brought some good wine. I can’t think of a nicer way to spend a cold Tuesday afternoon than eating and drinking like this.
The food included black sea bass in Romesco sauce, shrimp, scallops, and clams with onions and saffron, turkey albondigas in tomato sauce, caramelized onions and mushrooms on polenta, brussels sprouts, beet salad, and toast to mop it all up. All superbly made, and a compelling reminder that small plates are the best way to eat: lots of combinations and contrasts, and no plate fatigue. And no food coma afterwards, which is especially important after lunch.
John’s bottle was a 1985 White Barn Chardonnay. We had drunk another one together in November, and it tasted–I shit you not–exactly like there was a grilled chicken leg in the bottle. Not a little hint, but a big, greasy drumstick sitting in the bottle like a pear in a bottle of eau-de-vie. And yet we drank it; the chicken wine was oddly compelling: partly for the novelty, sure, but it did work in a weird way. And how often do you get a chance to drink an ’85 Cali Chard? This time around, it was not chickeny. It started out kind of thin and over the hill. Not cooked, just sort of lackluster. So we set it aside and got down to business: a 1999 Castello dei Rampolla Vigna d’Alceo that we had talked about drinking Saturday night but which we decided to save.
The Vigna d’Alceo is a blend of 85% Cabernet with the rest Petit Verdot. I bought these quite a while ago, and this is the second one we’ve opened. The first we tried about six years ago, and it was way too young; it was only by the last glass that it had opened up like a Ferrari at 7000 rpm. This time around, it had reached the beginning of maturity, with subtly intertwining layers of fruit and earth that never veered for a millisecond into tawdry Californian turf or ponderous Bordeauxness; like the cars and the clothes, the best Italian wines are effortless, seamless, and profound experiences of pure pleasure. And Italian reds tend to go with just about everything; even with this lighter fare, the wine was right there burnishing the food to an even higher shine instead of clobbering it with massive fruit and alcohol.
After the red was gone, we returned to the white to see what was going on, if anything. I wrote about Michael Burke’s unique style of winemaking here, and it was very much in evidence with the Chard. There are not so many wines that would show well after a Super-Tuscan of the Alceo’s refinement, and yet it stayed interesting, showing new facets of flavor within its admittedly narrow profile. Gerard gave me the bass skeleton to take home, and I’m going to make a fumet with it tonight. He also gave me a big hunk of shrimp butter, which is the dark orange of colby cheese and smells like pure genius. We made plans for an epic dinner in the not-too-distant, so stay tuned. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a magnificent wine for a gift or an indulgence, you could do worse than to drop two bills on a ’99 Alceo. Some more recent vintages can be had for half that, so you can save money and have it on hand for a special occasion for years to come; this bottle would easily drink this well for another decade or more.
Apologies for the crap phone pics.