The other day I ordered Piper-Heidsieck Champagne Brut non-vintage by the glass for my wife and myself. The waiter brought us two glasses and set them before us. Then he opened a 187ml bottle, commonly known as a “split,” and poured the contents in my wife’s glass, and opened another for me. I had been in conversation with my wife and hadn’t noticed the screw top on the bottle until he poured the wine. But it drew my attention.
Next thought: I sure hope the Champagne tasted as good as my colleague Bruce Sanderson’s 91-point review. And indeed it was.
"You're the wine-and-food guy," my friend Chris said. He was sitting next to me at what has become an annual private event for those of us in Aspen who like to eat and drink the good stuff. "Why did you pick this wine?"
It was a Washington Chardonnay, and I'd paired it with my squid-ink fettucine in an asparagus pesto with shrimp sautéed with onion and tomato.
I had not been with Wine Spectator more than a year when editor and publisher Marvin Shanken decided that we ought to have a full-time European correspondent. He tapped James Suckling for the job. James quickly enrolled in a crash course in French before moving to Paris in 1985 to open our first European bureau.
At 25 years old, writing for Wine Spectator was James’ first real job in journalism. He was one-third of our entire full-time writing staff, which was based in San Francisco at the time. James Laube and I were the others.
Not long after that, I went to visit him in Paris.
My friend Tom organizes mountain hikes here in Aspen, often assembling a dozen or so folks at a time so we can share rides to the trailhead and enjoy the experience together. Inevitably, someone in the group who has a fascination with wine seeks me out when he learns that I write about it for a living. On the trail, there’s plenty of time to have a long conversation, especially on the way down, when we have gotten to know each other, and are no longer gasping for breath.
This past year I got hounded by someone who hated the 100-point scale. I refused to get into a heated argument in a beautiful mountain meadow along Grizzly Creek. I let him rant, commented that I thought the meadow deserved at least a 97, got a laugh, and we went on amiably enough.
Last weekend I joined Tom and his ad-hoc gang for a climb up Upper Lost Man trail. A law professor wanted to get philosophical about our preferred beverage. I had made an off-hand comment about “our favorite art forms,” mentioning the music many enjoy here courtesy of the eight-week-long Aspen Music Festival and the food and wine purveyed in some excellent restaurants.
Of all the new restaurants in Las Vegas’ City Center, which opened in December, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire intrigued me most. The renowned French chef, holder of three Michelin stars for his eponymous Paris restaurant, joined his French peers Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy and Alain Ducasse in betting on Las Vegas.
Only this time the odds are different. Robuchon, Savoy and Ducasse arrived four to seven years ago, when the high-rollers were rolling at their highest and the pickings were ripe. How hard is it today to woo customers with $50-plus entrees and $180 menus in a hotel with no casino to help defray the expenses and fatten the wine list? More to the point, now that it’s been operational for six months, how well does Gagnaire stack up with his peers, both French and American, in Las Vegas?
To find out, I made a reservation under another name and dined there with my wife last week.
What is the best way to keep an opened bottle of wine if you can’t finish it all in one sitting? A new product looks like a workable solution. At least my few experiments with it have proven successful.