Saturday, February 13, 2010

Great Expectations

I love the anticipation of opening a great bottle, and Tuesday night found me drinking a bottle I had been thinking about since August.

Back in August, me and my friend Mark were eating and drinking at Rootstock, one of my favorite spots in the City for honest, unpretentious food and booze. It has a small but compelling wine list; it's the kind of place that has Savoie blanc and Raffault by the glass. That night I spied a trophy of sorts (not a Screaming Eagle / Opus One trophy- a wine drinker's / non-hedge fund manager's trophy) in the form of a 1999 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.

Bartolo Mascarello was a lion whose words and actions influenced winemakers and wine drinkers around the world. Although I don't claim to be his biographer, I think it's fair to write that he believed there is only one way to make Barolo: the way it has always been made, without regard to fashion, technology or consumer preferences. The man died in 2005, and his production was always small scale. I wouldn't call this a once-in-a-lifetime bottle (I forked over for a bottle of the recently released 2004), but certainly no more than a handful of times will I ever taste these wines. Very few bottles reach retail shelves in the U.S., and, since no more will be made by his hand, the supply will only diminish.

Mark is a Notre Dame alumni and fan (whether it's advisable to associate with such people is a topic for another post), and on this night in August we were discussing the prospects of the Irish football team for the upcoming season. Mark, being the kind of guy he is, said that Notre Dame would definitely be invited to a BSC bowl game at the end of the season. Needless to say, I had some doubts about that, and I'm sure at this point I don't have to tell you where this post is going.

Fast forward to the blizzard that hit Chicago on Tuesday, and Mark and I, sheltered from the storm at Rootstock, are set to settle our bet by uncorking the 99 Mascarello (note that another Mascarello estate, Giuseppe, also makes darn fine wine nearby). Mark arrived first, and immediately set the bottle to air in a decanter. We eased into the night with bubbles (Mark a beer, me a splendid Godme Champagne), and ordered some food (near flawless pate, among other things).

I poured a glass and sniffed. For about 15 minutes. And there wasn't much there. It was wine all right, but the nose didn't show the magic I expected. No matter, this wine was a relative baby, and we had all night to let it show its stuff.

Sadly, the stuff never came, at least not for me on that night. It was fine to drink, of course, and it did reveal itself more as the night went on, but there was no ah-ha, no paradigm shift, no smell that pops into my brain days later (it's always the smell, by the way, that comes back to me, not the taste).

The bottle may have been too young to drink, regardless of how long we left it open (the deep sleep, some would say), or it may have needed many more hours or even days of air to hit its height. It may have been an off bottle, varied for whatever reason. Or it's possible (however doubtful) that I don't like this guy's wines- it was my first after all. Maybe a combination of the foregoing.

But none of this business about the wine really matters. We had a high time that night, Chicago silent around us, as we made friends with the few other lonely souls holed-up at this sanctuary in Humboldt Park. I'll remember that bet, the anticipation for that bottle, and the snow for a long time to come.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Crazy Whites and the Wine Lover's Favorite Meal

I wasn't the first person to discover the Jura, but it seems to this uneducated observer that its wines enjoyed obscurity until recently when the wine press seized on it like never before. Such attention has the happy result of increasing consumer demand, which means wider availability; however, the region produces precious little juice, which, for you non-economics majors, means higher prices.

So it goes.

I was overjoyed (seriously, overjoyed) recently to discover the first bottle of Domaine de Montbourgeau I've seen in Chicago at Wine Discount Center. Hailing from l'Etoile in the southern reaches of the Jura, this estate, in the hands of Nicole Deriaux, is a benchmark of the region. Made from Chardonnay (not that I ever could have guessed), Edward Behr reports that this basic bottling from 2004 fermented in tank, then spent three years in barrels and large casks.

This wine may shock the uninitiated. Often likened to sherry, certain winemaking practices in the Jura oxidize the wine, giving it sharpness, but also welcome cleanliness and precision, especially for chardonnay. I can therefore add the Jura to my list of places from which I enjoy expressions of chardonnay, bringing the grand total to two.

The oracles call the Jura verdant land of trenchermen. I don't know what that means, but it yields some crazy good whites. I'm a sucker for a hand-sealed wax cap.

If you're interested in the Jura, you must order AoE 72. And if you don't know the joys of AoE, simply subscribe. The high tariff is worth every penny.

What to eat with such a unique beverage? It may not be original, but whenever I'm in doubt about appropriate fare for a particular wine, we usually end up feasting on roast chicken. Everything from mid-weight whites to mid-weight reds show well next to a juicy, properly seasoned bird. It's an important recipe in any wine geek's repertoire.