Thursday, August 4, 2011

Wine for Wine's Sake

Just for a refresher, I am currently the Asst. Sommelier and Bartender at a Michelin-Star restaurant, and every once in a while, I have a night at the restaurant that reminds me of how lucky I am to have this job, and why I love working with wine.

Periodically, a group of gentlemen rent out the private dining area of the restaurant for an evening of food and some extraordinary wine.

They each bring their own offerings, which we open, possibly decant and serve. My boss at the restaurant, who also happens to be the Master Sommelier there, is an excellent teacher, and he is always incredibly gracious in making sure I get to taste almost all of the wines that we open.

On this particular evening, the wines sampled included a 1990 Trimbach Clos St. Hune, a 1929 Chateau Bouscaut Blanc, a 1959 Chateau Ausone and 1982 Penfolds Grange.

But by far the most extraordinary offerings came at the end of the evening, with the sweet wines. First up was a 1906 Chateau D'Arche.

Let me write that vintage again: 1906. I almost can't get past the date. This wine is 105 years old.

In 1906, the San Francisco earthquake struck; Mount Vesuvius erupted; the Victrola, the first phonograph/record player was manufactured; the first officially recorded powered flight in Europe took place; SOS became an internationally recognized distress signal; the first radio broadcast occurred; the tuberculosis immunization was first developed; the first feature film was released; and gangster Bugsy Siegel, last emperor of China Pu-Yi, German war criminal Adolph Eichmann, writer Samuel Beckett, director Roberto Rossellini, entertainer Josephine Baker, screenwriter Billy Wilder, Estee Lauder, actress Louise Brooks, and director Otto Preminger were born.

This Chateau D'Arche, is a sweet dessert wine from the Sauternes appellation near Bordeaux, France. The wines are made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes, all of which have been affected by my favorite Botrytis Cinerea, or "Noble Rot".

The combination of sugar, alcohol and higher acidity makes for wines that tend to age well, and let me tell you, this wine has aged gloriously.

Over time it has darkened from its usual golden straw hue, and the nose and flavors have developed to those of raisin, prune, caramel, creme brulee, rum, port, butterscotch and toasted nuts, with a lively and bright acidity. It was heaven in a glass.

The final wine was one with an even more extraordinary history: a 1931 Massandra Collection A-Danil Tokay.

The Massandra Winery and cellar was built near Yalta in the late 19th Century under Tsar Nicholas II, to provide wines for the Tsar's summer palace, and specializes in sweet and fortified dessert wines.

The cellars took three years to build, with miners blasting deep into a mountainside to create a labyrinth of 21 tunnels, with air shafts providing consistent cooling and spring water adding the perfect humidity.

The Massandra Collection consists of samples of wine from every Massandra vintage as well as other European collectibles.

So impressed was Stalin by this collection in later years, that when he heard of Hitler's impending arrival, he ordered the entire Massandra collection moved to secret locations in the Ukraine.

This 1931 Massandra Tokay has held up beautifully. Though it didn't have the lingering acidity of the Chateau D'Arche, th flavors were still rich and complex, with a sweet. meaty, lingering prune flavor alongside caramel, dulce de leche and butter pecan.

Tasting both of these wines was really an amazing, possibly once-in-a-lifetime experience, and overall, a pretty good day at the office.

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