Under the guise of Memorial Day, recently at my friend Dr. L. & Y.’s, we gathered to have dinner with his folks, an unofficial pre-birthday celebration for his dad, even though the actual date is June 24th. I am a big fan of this practice, as birthday celebrations should be drawn out and rejoiced, especially milestones such as number 65.
Dr. L. prepared a steady flow of perennial favorites including N.Y. strip steaks, lamb chops, and a chicken from Quebec. As usual, the wine pairing was very important, and what a glorious chore this became when we found out his dad was eager to share a recent birthday gift in the form of a 1989 Haut-Brion. This is the time one might flaunt Parker scores, in this case a solid 100.
We started dinner with cheese and salumi, whetting our palates with a 2000 chardonnay from Movia, the cutting edge master winemaker of Slovenia. The Quebecois roasted chicken was luxurious, curiously accented by fennel seed, crushed clove and juniper berry, garlic and olive oil. Sugar snap peas were thrown in for good measure. I brought an old standby, a wine I feel can stand up to many others more than twice the price, the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé.
There is a reason why rosés and rosé champagnes are making a strong comeback. The quality has improved 150%. The other night at Fatty Crab I enjoyed a Lagrein Rosé from the Alto Adige by a good producer, Suditroler, which was so balanced and delicious it rivaled the food on my plate. The sweet champagne rosés and rosés still exist, but there are so many dry, crisp, fabulous wines being made to counter this former trend.
Having tasted several vintage champagnes over the years, my money rides on this bottle.
It is a real wine, full-bodied, not bready or sweet, dry and balanced revealing complexity and restrained fruit. My choice for a straight up proper rosé is the 1995 Lopez Heredia de Tondonia Rioja Rosado. This wine will have you swooning about rosés in your dreams.
What to do about the Haut-Brion? Decant it? For how long? What about the sediment?
In my memory I compared the experience to the time we had the 1986 Lafite. But the Lafite was in an Imperiale format, built to last, and 1989 was a different year altogether.
Upon concensus, for some reason I felt that we should decant it just before serving, so as to take the journey of evolution with the wine. Sometimes old wines disappear and change too quickly when decanted, and I certainly didn’t want that disaster. I even suggested that we chill it for five minutes, because the room temperature was humid.
As it transpired, the moment of truth was ecstatic. We poured out one glass and passed it around the table. The aromas were at first vegetal and then wildly, savage, full of smoke, earth, herbs and spices. We sniffed and swooned for several minutes. Then we tasted, sipping slowly, carefully swishing it around to get the full effect. Wild raspberries and licorice created a luxurious feel in the mouth, sexy, unctuous velvet, that distinct perfume reminding us of its terroir. It was a bit closed at first, but over the course of the next hour blossomed beautifully. We decided to decant the rest due to the sediment.
The boneless N.Y. strip steak was expertly prepared in Fredo (Dr. L.’s cast iron skillet) and a darling match for the wine. The lamb chops ensued and proved a bit fatty, a less suitable partner. Despite a solid fruit and cookie course, we went through the motions, having been quite fulfilled by that Haut-Brion.
John is a folk singer, and played two of his recordings on his latest CD release Frontiers for us. One of his songs is titled “Remember Me” and was written to commemorate war-time vets. I have several things to remember about this evening, among them great food, close friends, a clever white, a dandy of a rose, and the inimitable Haut-Brion.