I am a February baby, and trying to figure out how to celebrate the big 40 can be a challenge. I decided on several small celebrations, rather than a blow out gala or trip to a foreign land. First up was a lunch with close foodie friends, gentlemen who I have known for over ten years, eaten delicacies at home, restaurants, and through many travels. We have formed our own homage to a gastronomic club like those in San Sebastian, called the Grand Crew. There are women in this club too, but for this leg of the event, due to the limitations of time and wine quantity, the guest list was four herbs and a bottle.
It is often a task to figure out when to drink expensive wine that you’ve been cellaring, and we often try too hard to wait to open wine, when a simple occasion with friends and loved ones will do . Not so much for a 40th birthday, the sky is the limit. I learned from my good friend Jay, whom I have shared many a birthday bottle with, a gift from his father, who had enough foresight to buy several bottles of his son’s birth year to present as a gift when he reached the tender age of twenty one, allowing for maximum aging and enjoyment. My father only drinks Dominican rum, and so I have sought out some wines from 1970 myself. Luckily for me, 1970 was good for Bordeaux, Barolo, Barbaresco, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero.
The crown of my collection is a 1970 Vega Sicilia Unico, considered one of the greatest wines ever crafted in Spain and the world, and I planned the whole meal around it. Every year I ask my grandparents and mother to make several delicacies I have enjoyed my whole life, without which there would be much less joy. The menu was simple and complimentary to what I though the Vega Sicilia would taste like. Pork liver pate from Dickson’s Farmstand, lamb kibbe and mechie, Middle Eastern-Haitian staples, celebratory food in the Marcelin household, a real family project and production for preparation and execution.
Kibbe is composed of ground lamb and bulgur wheat, with spices and herbs shaped into torpedoes or patties, and can be eaten raw or deep fried. I cannot live without them. Mechie is stuffed cabbage, grape leaves, and eggplant, filled with a rice and beef mixture, often spiced with scotch bonnet peppers.
Now that the menu was set, other wines had to be considered. El Capitan brought a white, and wanted to bring a Champagne. In my absolute anticipation of the Unico, I could not think clearly, and only asked for he white, a grave error, especially for a Champagne whore such as myself! But we survived, being consoled by a tremendous Chablis from Dauvissat, a 1999 premier cru, “La Forest”, brimming with exuberance, almost too delicious for its own good, not allowing for time to appreciate, bestow compliments and evolve in the glass. The middle wine was a gift from Maria Jose of Lopez de Heredia, who I visited this past summer in La Rioja, and generously sent me home with two ‘64’s, both Bosconia and Tondonia. This would be the wine to lead up to the Unico, as I was careful not to drink them side by side begging for comparison, as both are outstanding wines in their own right.
I played Haitian music throughout the meal, and that accompanied with our friendship and the amazing food, caused dancing in the seat, especially after we sipped the ’64 LDH, a gorgeous, floral, feminine beauty, standing up to the spiciness of the kibbe, and enhancing our appreciation of it. We were drinking the Bosconia, which Maria Jose swears is more masculine in style than the Tondonia, and that the bottling choice was a mistake they never chose to correct. I can’t wait to try the Tondonia to corroborate her story. I know she is the winemaker, but all Bosconias I have tasted in the past seem feminine to me, and all Tondonias, more masculine.
The kibbe was the best I had ever tasted. I went to Dickson’s Farmstand for all the meat, which added a brightness to each bite, the lamb bringing the dish to the next level. The mechie was delicate, steaming and nuanced were the flavors, built from slow simmering.
Then we opened the Vega Sicilia Unico, which was an indescribable wine. It was elusive, powerful yet finessed, not young or old, ageless. I have actually been thinking about how to describe this wine for several days now, and have come no closer to understanding its seduction. It is easily the greatest wine of my memory, a real masterpiece. Its flavor profile is just delicious, and talking about this wine in an academic way is to dishonor the spirit of this wine, which promotes a feeling of being very special just by drinking it.
We had some wine left in the glass for the Vacherin Mont d’Or, easily my favorite cheese in the world, consumed in minutes, raw milk unctuous creaminess sopped up with a filone from Grand Daisy, followed by chocolate covered almonds from Jacques Torres.
The jubilee was at a zenith when I opted for the Cohibas and Havana Club, even Dr. L. and Jay could not refuse, an absolutely perfect pairing, sending us into a dizzying frenzy of euphoria, blunting our palate so as not to drink more vintage wine, thankfully what a defense.
Somehow I made it to Pata Negra later that evening, high on life and happy to see friends and new clients at my place of business. I was surprised to receive another gift from Maria Jose, delivered to my door during the day, all handled secretly by the lovely Chris, the charming mademoiselle who you will find working the room at Pata Negra when I am not around. I remember having a conversation about drinking birth year wines very casually, and she offered to send me a 1970 LDH. I didn’t think on it until the bottle was in my hand, a Tondonia. She is most gracious for the gift, and I felt blessed to have such fine friends and family all who have showered me with gifts throughout my life. I am truly grateful.
At 40 I have learned something important from that Unico, that age is just a number, that we should strive to be like a great wine, elegant, powerful, indescribable, delicious and timeless.