As the weather warms and sun starts to show itself a little more frequently, we tend to cook on the grill a lot: from burgers and shrimp kabobs to pork loin and rib eyes. And while we certainly continue to drink wine through the summer, we find many more whites and rosés on the table. And a lot more beer, too.
As we move purposefully through our overly scheduled, technologically advanced lives, we probably all still think of ourselves — in our darker, more-secret moments at least — as wild at heart. The same is true of wine grapes. Vast, picturesque vineyards might be planted in well-tended rows, but precious few of those grapes owe their existence to human ingenuity.
We recently ate at San Marco, a Mario Batali restaurant at the Venetian Las Vegas. The food was good and the service wonderful but the real star was the encyclopedic wine list assembled under the direction of Joe Bastianich, Mario’s business partner and wine director of their dining empire.
Angelo Mariani was a Corsican chemist who, like many Victorian-era entrepreneurs, was fascinated by the potential physical (and economic!) effects of a peculiar New World plant called Coca. In the 1860s, he blended red Bordeaux wine with coca leaves — and a legend was born. Now, as I understand it, ingesting cocaine produces two main metabolizing compounds, neither of which has any extreme physical or psychological effect.
I'm often asked whether a particular bottle will "improve" with age. Of course, all wines change with time: Tannins resolve (or soften) while primary fruit characteristics fade, allowing subtle, complex attributes to show. Whether this evolution results in a "better" wine is largely a matter of personal taste.
Since first-time customers at the huge wine shop I worked at in New Jersey would often look overwhelmed, we’d always patiently explain how the place was organized. One time, I told a gentleman where we kept domestic wines, new world wines, dessert wines, etc.
Tom Waits, George Thorogood, Charles Bukowski, Mike Figgis, Ray Carver and even W.C. Fields have portrayed bourbon as the “binge drinker’s best friend.” But store shelves are now packed with small-batch, artisanal American whiskies — selling at prices that rival the best single malt scotches and finest cognacs.
Even among jet-setting international winemakers, New Zealand-born Ariki Hill’s business model is unusual. Rick makes tiny-production, cult Pinot Noirs — two in Australia and two in California. Not the easiest commute, but that seems to be Rick’s style. In fact, even his career path has been circuitous, hence the name of his winery: Labyrinth.
The very knowledgeable Evelyn Ignatow, certified sommelier and owner of Hyde Park Gourmet, recently invited me along as she assessed the value of an estate wine collection. Behind some creaky doors, we finally located an astonishing stash of old wine.