Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Grape Expectations

A few days ago I went to Rare Cuts to load up on research material for a future project.  I spared no expense: dry aged strip, wet aged spinalis, twice baked potatoes, creamed spinach, and a medallion of foie gras for good measure. While driving home I called The Folk Singer and told her that in light of the beautiful weather, we would be cooking and dining outdoors on that particular night. Plus, top quality beef begs for top quality wine, and so I proclaimed that we would be opening a bottle of wine from the "lower levels" - code word for the area of my wine cooler reserved for bottles only to be opened on a special occasion.  It was a Thursday, and what better reason need there be to enjoy a fine meal and nice bottle of wine.

Searching through my cooler, I decided on a bottle of 2007 Caymus, one of the most popular cabernets from the Napa Valley. TFS and I have lusted over Caymus ever since a dinner with The Pope at Charlie's Steakhouse when we shared a bottle of 2001 Caymus Special Select, probably one of the best wines that I have ever tasted. We had a few occasions to sample other vintages, but not in at least a year or two. Still, the '07 was definitely a bottle that we had looked forward to drinking.

The evening started out splendidly. We loaded up the cart in our apartment with all of the essentials and rolled it down to the outdoor grill. The wine had been opened and breathing for over an hour, plus we had our handy dandy Venturi aerator at our disposal.  The beef slowly rose to room temperature before hitting a grill as hot as Dante's Inferno.  After a few minutes, the potatoes and creamed spinach were ready to go, the steaks were well rested, and the seared foie had rendered enough fat that I was using it as butter on a crusty loaf of sourdough.

But the wine sucked. At the risk of raising my ACI and of proving myself an oenophilic fraud, this wine tasted like grape juice mixed with rubbing alcohol; a definitive California cabernet fruit bomb. But perhaps my palate is not sophisiticated enough to recognize the genius of these wines; I was not impressed with Opus One the first time that I tasted it either. Still, my expectations were high, and this wine fell far below.

The theme of this story does not revolve around the wine but the disappointment. I fancy myself an amateur wine collector and have a small collection of wine that I have mentally reserved for long term cellaring. Each time I reach into the cooler to pick out a wine to bring to a dinner party, an internal debate always ensues as to whether a particular bottle is ready for opening and if this occasion is worthy of said bottle. Usually, I err on the side of holding, telling myself, "This '05 Barolo is going to be ridiculous. There is no way that I am drinking it with The Pope's grilled chicken wings."

But the fact of the matter is that I have never tried said '05 Barolo or many of the other wines in my cooler, and there is no guarantee that any of those wines will not be a certifiable flop like that bottle of Caymus. Wine, just as life, is full of surprises. When I finally open that bottle of 2001 Valduero Gran Reserva which I have been saving, there is a chance that I may experience the same disappointment (but on a much lower level) as the young doctors and lawyers and such who study for years only to realize that their professional lifelong dream is actually a nightmare.

Thankfully, such an experience helps one gain perspective. It would be difficult to appreciate the truly great wines enjoyed over one's lifetime were it not for a number of disappointing bottles along the way. TFS and I never finished that bottle of Caymus; it's still sitting in our fridge. But the lesson did prompt us to reminisce about that cool fall evening a few months back when we boarded the streetcar and rode up and down St. Charles for a few hours while soaking in the sights and sounds and sipping 2008 Justin Savant out of plastic Mardi Gras cups. An unexpected but welcome trip down memory lane.

On to the next bottle.


Fump and Manny's said...

My pallet is probably not sophisticated enough to tell the difference, and that is fine with me, if big macs tasted the same as kobe filet, i'd hit the golgen arches everyday (and twice on Sundays). i don't purchase expensive wine much, but occasionally attend events or am given a bottle of chateu mouton rothschild and the lessers like chateau montelena/stag's leap or is it Frog's leap ??/cakebread/caymus/silver oak etc. Unamiously, I can tell you that i am more excited about each bottle of magic hat #9 that i open than any of the BIG REDS, and it comes 6 to a pack!! By far the best values in wine (to my taste) are in the $15 range. i just can't seem to discerne the $100 difference between $15 and $115. There is a more notable change between $115 and $1,015 but hey there better be when I'm foregoing upwards of 200 magic hats per glass. There are occasions for red wine, and there are occasions to entertain and impress with BIG red wine, but I can't ever see fooling myself into thinking that I'm sophisticated enought to need a +$100 dollar to satisfy my Schlitzed tongue.

willifred said...

I suspect we can all relate to this misadventure....but... Like you said, it only makes the really good ones that much more enjoyable. My sin that I've been trying to correct is holding a bottle too damn long....and that is truely a sin...

Scott Zainey said...

Opus one sucks.

MaryMagdelene said...

when do you have time to work?

Which cooler did this go in?