I have a friend, who I’ll call Seth, who started collecting wine in the 1970s. One day he stared at his collection and lucky for me, said that his wines needed to be drunk. So, I planned a dinner party around his wines. The night of this party (perhaps not uncoincidently) marked my liberation from breastfeeding and forced abstinence, and his wife’s third day at her new job, dating it to 1993. To add to the festivities, my husband generously purchased new, huge Reidel glasses. It’s true; they magnify the aromas of the wines. In retrospect, I’m dumbfounded at what we drank.
For this dinner party, I kept the food fairly simple so that the wines would shine. I served crudités, mushroom risotto, rib roast and chocolate cake. Meanwhile, Seth brought Louis Jadot Corton-Charlemagne, 1984, Chateau. Haut-Brion, 1966, Ch. Lafite-Rothschile 1970, and Ch. d’Yquem Sur Saluces, 1955. I particularly remember the sensation of these wines in my mouth. So refined, so deep, so balanced, these wines had an elegant mouthfeel and lingered exquisitely for a long time. A secret door had been opened. I saved the wine labels, a souvenir of a most memorable night.
Again, lucky for me, we were nowhere near going through Seth’s full wine collection so we met again on New Year’s Eve. My menu became more ambitious. I made corn pancakes with caviar, onion soup, roasted veal, salad, and grand marnier soufflé. Seth brought
Criots Bâtard-Montrachet, Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou, 1966, Ch. Branaire (Duluc-Ducru,) St. Julien-Médoc 1966, and Alsace Riesling Sélection de Grains Nobles Clos St. Landelin, 1989. This time, I was exposed to the fragility and ceremony associated with fine wine. Seth sent his wine to my apartment in advance of the dinner party to settle, and came early that evening to decant. I remember that he was concerned about the corks being in good enough shape, and giving them enough time to open up and breathe. Decanting would get rid of any potential broken cork, sediment at the bottom of the bottle, and mellow its tannins. Yes, these wines were alive!
In the meantime, I was getting hooked. Having devoured so much fine wine encouraged me to develop even more elaborate events to go with such memorable tastings. Our third gathering was a pre-Yuletide party. I hired three very talented jazz musicians from LaGuardia High School (where my older daughter eventually went to high school), including the talented pianist Judd Nielsen, plus a bass and saxophone player. The guest list was larger, and I spent several days both planning the menu and preparing for this dinner party. I made a detailed shopping list of ingredients to buy, planned which serving dishes to use for each course, and made a schedule of what to do when during the prior days and hours leading up the party. I’m still proud of the menu I concocted which included carrot cumin canapés, smoked salmon on toast with ginger lime cilantro butter, and Westphalia ham and celeriac rémoulade canapés all from a Martha Stewart cookbook, which we served with Deutz Champagne. I made shrimp bisque, which we served with white Burgundy. I served prime ribs of beef, sautéed mushrooms, and Potatoes Anna from a French Laundry cookbook, then a cheese course of Tête de Moine, Pavé d’Affinois. Unfortunately, I can’t find any trace of the labels from that evening, but I remember that we drank a Quintarelli Amarone della Valpolicella, a Côte Rotie and Criots Bâtard-Montrachet, Penfolds Grange. We had heard of Penfolds Grange, but had never tried aged, investment-grade wine from Australia. It was as divine as the French and Italian wines that Seth brought that evening. I also made poached pears. Whew! I don’t know how I stood up from my chair at the end of the meal, but somehow I got up and danced until the middle of the night.
Here’s the truth, I was seduced by all this good wine and decided I needed to learn more about it. Within a few months, I started taking wine classes at the French Culinary Institute, the beginning of my formalized wine education. And voilà, here I am with a wine label to call my own!