Special occasions


A day is 24 hours, a week is seven days, but you know how they can seem longer. That’s how last week seemed, longer than it should have been. One of those weeks. Car trouble, tooth trouble, computer trouble; lots of stories and deadlines at the newspaper.

So it was a relief to be home Friday afternoon. I made a couple of bone-cold, bone-dry martinis (with twists), and we sat out on the back screened porch, finishing the New York Times, sipping those utterly transparent, heady concoctions and snacking on some two_01.jpg Copper River sockeye salmon I had smoked over hickory wood Thursday night. I’ll confess that when we tried the salmon Thursday at dinner, I thought it was too smoky, but Friday afternoon, nibbled on a sesame flat-bread cracker, it seemed just right. Everything was very pleasant, with the dogs gamboling about, and the cats snoozing in the sun, and birds batting each other off the bird feeder, competitive little buggers.

We did that for about an hour, and LL said, “Well, that’s it, let’s go watch a movie.”

Two for the Road (1967), with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney had arrived from Netflix, so I cranked up the DVD player and we all gathered round to watch. It’s a pretty good movie. Hepburn is radiant and funny (and very well-dressed in cool and outrageous late ’60s haute couture), though weighed down with eyeliner and fake eyelashes, and I could do without one more peppy-sobby Henry Mancini score. Albert Finney is actually truculent and arrogant, but his character is supposed to be rather asshole-ish, but somehow lovable as far as Hepburn is concerned. The screenplay, by British writer Frederick Raphael, is sparkling and snappy and witty.

About two-thirds the way through the movie, LL said, “You know what I would like? I’d like some toast with olive oil and a glass of red wine.”

So we stopped the movie and we all trooped into the kitchen — the dogs muttering darkly, “So what the hell’s going on?” — and made caymusspecialselection.jpg some toast and drizzled it with olive oil. I went to look through the platoons of red wines standing at out beck, and saw a bottle of Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 — still holding the price at $136, bless their hearts — and I thought, “Oh, well, jeeze, why not? It’s been a long week. We deserve it.”

So I opened the bottle and poured us each a glassful and we went back and watched the rest of the movie and ate our toast with olive oil and drank our Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, which was fabulous, like drinking the whole history and geography and geology of the Napa Valley yet also wonderfully, monumentally flavorful.

And everything was pretty damned perfect.

Oh, the pressure!

The special present. The special flowers. The special dinner. bonnydoon_hearthasitsriesling.jpg
Special, special, special. Get it right, Bub. Or Bubbette.

Perhaps I might ease a bit of the pressure by recommending some wines to accompany that special, intense, romantic candle-lit dinner, wines that have, as it were, Valentine’s written all over them.

First, Bonny Doon’s The Heart Has Its Rieslings 2005, designated an “American Riesling” whose grapes hail from Eastern Washington, though the winery is in Santa Cruz, California. This offers a beguiling bouquet of rubber eraser and bubble gum — classic characteristics of the grape, I promise — lychee, peach and pear; it displays gratifying balance between sweetness of slightly over-ripe and spicy stone fruits with the bracing nature of lime and grapefruit and a stong limestone element. Charming and rated Very Good. Suitable as an aperitif or with spicy (but not fiery) Southeast Asian cuisine. About $14-$18.

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Then, from Alsace, there’s Hugel’s Cuvee Les Amours Pinot Blanc 2004, a lovely wine, soft yet crisp, delivering tasty pear and melon scents and flavors touched with almond and almond blossom, and permeated by heaps of limestone and chalk for a dry and slightly austere finish. Try with fresh oysters or mussels or grilled trout. Very Good+. About $15.

We don’t see many rose wines from Bordeaux, but the style is allowed in the general Bordeaux appellation. The Oriel rose_01.jpg “Femme Fatale” 2004, made from 100 percent merlot grapes, is a dark melon-cherry color. It bursts with scents of fresh and macerated strawberries, raspberries and currants, to which, in the mouth, are added touches of spiced tea and orange rind. The wine sports a seductive satiny texture and a surprisingly substantial structure; it’s thoroughly dry and reveals on the finish touches of dried herbs and stones. I wouldn’t typically recommend a rose wine that’s more than two years old, but this will bring a great deal of pleasure through the end of summer 2007. Quite attractive and rated Very Good+. Try with roasted chicken, pate with crusty bread, an omelet whipped up at the last minute. About $20.

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Of course we could not omit a wine with such an obviously Valentine-themed name as Saint-Amour. The area is the northernmost of the Cru Beaujolais wines, of which there are ten allowed to put the name of the village or commune on the label. The Saint-Amour 2005, from the ubiquitous Georges Duboeuf, is a striking deep ruby-purple color; it offers lovely scents and flavors of strawberries and blackberries with undertones of spiced stone fruits. It’s quite dry and brut98.jpg minerally and is packed with a surprising amount of chewy tannins. Try with roasted chicken or veal. Very Good+. About $10-$14.

I could recommend dozens of champagnes with which to woo and wow, but I think what’s called for on this romantic occasion is something not obvious or heavy, something that doesn’t shout “Blockbuster!” but plies its winsome way more subtly. This would be Pol Roger’s Brut Vintage 1998, made from 60 percent pinot noir grapes and 40 percent chardonnay and a marvel of delectable elegance and balletic fervor. The color is an entrancing mild gold with silver overtones; the bubbles surge upward in the glass in a constant fountain. This champagne offers seamless integration of citrus and limestone, toasted hazelnuts and baking spice, a crisp, lively nature with a texture that approaches lushness, all this devolving to a finish of notable austerity. Excellent. About $83. Surely he or she is worth it.

Well, o.k., that’s pretty steep. Here’s a less expensive alternative, the Schramsberg Blanc de Noir 2003, a pinot noir (85 percent) and chardonnay (15 percent) blend and a glamorous California blond of a sparkling wine, elegant and spare, crisp and satiny, generously spicy and citrusy but with a formidable strain of limestone on the finish. Excellent and about $35.

Five days before Thanksgiving, my daughter got married, each occasion — the wedding reception and the annual feast — a welcome excuse for choosing wine to serve to family and friends, the difference being that we had 12 at Thanksgiving and 200 at the wedding.

Here are the wines I picked for the reception. My daughter wanted all French (there was sort of a French theme), and that’s what she got.

*Macon-Lugny “Les Charmes” Chardonnay 2004, Maconnais. About $10-$12. One of the world’s most dependable and tasty chardonnays. charm_01.jpg

*Les Tuileries 2005, Bordeaux blanc, a crisp and floral blend of 80% sauvignon blanc and 20% semillon. About $12.

*Chateau de Pennautier 2004, Cabardes, a robust blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, grenache, merlot, syrah and cot, or malbec. About $10-$12.

*Le Pin Parasol Reserve Shiraz 2002, Vins de Pays d’Oc. About $10-$12. This syrah from the south of France, goofily called “shiraz” to entice consumers familiar with the inexpensive shiraz wines of Australia, was a softer and spicier counterpoint to the forthright flavors and rusticity of the Pennautier.

*Bailly-Lapierre Cremant de Bourgogne Chardonnay 2004. About $15-$19. A terrific sparkling wine with surprising character for the price; it belongs on every restaurant wine list.

Since Thanksgiving is a thoroughly American holiday and banquet, I always serve a variety of American wines, trying to appeal to a range of tastes. I wish that I could include wines from New York and Virginia and Michigan and so on, but outside of New York and Virginia and Michigan and so on, such wines are hard to come by. Anyway, here was our wine roster for Thanksgiving:

*Heller Estate Chenin Blanc 2005, Carmel Valley. About $22-$25. The best chenin blanc made in California. heller_01.jpg

*Trefethen Dry Riesling 2005, Napa Valley. About $16-$19. This scintillating and authentic riesling surprised me by being the hit of the dinner; people kept asking for more. riesling.jpg

*Ridge Vineyards “Three Valley” 2004, Sonoma County. A blend of zinfandel (68%), carignane (11). syrah (10), petite sirah (7) and grenache (4) that boldly faced up to the Thanksgiving feast’s multitude of flavors, spices and textures. And it was great the next day with left-overs.

*Domaine Serene “Yamhill Cuvee” Pinot Noir 2004, Willamette Valley, Oregon. About $28-$33. A pretty damned perfect pinot noir (and Domaine Serene’s least expensive pinot), one bottle fine with dinner, the next wonderful with left-overs a few days later. Go figure.serene2_01.jpg

*Beringer Nightingale 1997, Napa Valley. I had been saving this blend of 70% semillon and 30% sauvignon blanc since it was released. Its unctuous combination of roasted peaches and apricots, muscat-like floral elements and a sort of liquid bananas Foster quality were terrific with the pumpkin and pecan pies.

That measured out as a week and more of great eating and wine-drinking. And my birthday, Christmas and New Year Years are coming right up! One has to plan ahead for these things!

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