Last night, at The Four Seasons Restaurant for the Wine Media Guild’s annual Hall of Fame dinner, an interesting thing happened: The notebooks, in general, stayed in the guests’ pockets.
This is exactly the opposite of what you’d expect: A roomful of wine writers, PR and marketing experts, representatives of various producers, and other professionals with their hands in the wine business should have been reduced to a thoughtful--if enthusiastic--murmur, the scrape of pens against paper as pronounced as the tinkle of forks-tines on plates.
Instead, the dominant sound was--and I really can’t come up with a better way to describe it--a sort of white noise of joy: The passing of bottles from one table to the next, a constant thrum of contented humming (as in: “Mmm, that’s drinking great...”), all of it punctuated by the regular popping of corks.
This is the part of the wine business that most people don’t see, but that I wish the wine-drinking public were far more aware of.
The perception, it seems, is that when wine writers gather, they will always--or almost always--assess wines in ways that border on the dispassionate. And while that’s wholly necessary much of the time (it’s what tastings are for, after all), it is certainly not how wine professionals consume wine ourselves.
Herein lies the difference between tasting and drinking. And last night, despite all the great wines littering the tables--come to think of it, because of all the great wines littering the tables--there was far more drinking and enjoying going on than there was highly analytical assessment.
So: After missing the Champagne-and-hors d’oeuvres hour and walking into dinner half an hour late--traffic coming into the city was inexplicably brutal--the glasses of Morey Chevalier-Montrachet 2000 that were offered to us needed to be enjoyed, not picked apart. It was like a variation of that line that Al Pacino’s character utters during the airplane scene toward the beginning of Scent of a Woman: “...It’s like that first swallow of wine after crossing the desert.”
And what a wine to swallow: Still vibrant with ripe stone fruit, deep minerality, almond skin, a flutter of flowers in the background, and all of it strung up high by a sense of what can only be described as some sort of inner energy--a characteristic that, for me, is as telling of a great white Burgundy as any other.
One sip, and the entire commute vanished: Exactly what great wine should do.
There was three-decades-old California Zinfandel, all concentration, spice, and macerated plums. Nine-year-old Pomerol, still young and vibrant but with its dead-giveaway clay and mushroom notes starting to shine through. Petite Sirah from 1986 that, despite all the amazing complexity and layering that two-and-a-half decades of cellaring had given it, remained fresh like a wine a decade younger. The Catena and the O. Fournier Alfa Crux that, with their perfect balance between fruit, earth, and exuberance embodied all that is to be loved about the wines of Argentina. The 1974 Spanna that tasted like the early-morning air during truffle season in Piedmont. A gorgeous 2004 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino "Poggio alle Mura" with years of promise ahead of it. A side-by-side of 1994 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon and 1994 Cos d’Estournel. 1997 Huet Vouvray. And, as we were leaving, a mystery pour that turned out to be 1949 white Port--a rare treat, to be sure. And more. And more.
This is why I think most of us got into this line of work in the first place: Because we love wine. And last night’s combination of longtime colleagues, new friends, great bottles of wine, and excellent food was a powerful reminder of how seriously delicious and life-affirming this juice can be.
Sometimes, the best way to appreciate great wines is to drink them. A statement of the obvious, perhaps, but one that we all could be reminded of from time to time.