Two meals in the last week made me realize how the wines I celebrate with have changed dramatically in just the last few years.
One dinner was to celebrate my wife’s birthday, the other meal was to celebrate a successful day on the golf course. Both celebrations were major ones but for the sake of a happy marriage, I will state that my wife’s birthday was clearly the more important occasion.
I took her to Lever House in New York City for dinner, and as we perused the wine list, I asked her if she wanted her usual Burgundy (she’s a Burgundy nut). She nodded yes, but as I looked at the choices, I was disappointed to see many of them listed at $200 or more—and those under $200 really didn’t light my fire.
So instead we ordered bottles of 2006 Domaine St.-Préfert Châteauneuf-du-Pape White and 2000 La Poderina Brunello di Montalcino. Combined, they cost less than most of the Burgundies. The white Châteauneuf was lush, round and creamy, with lots of melon and mango flavors, and the Poderina was rich and velvety, with smoke, black tea, currant and mineral notes. Both drank really well and went well with the food—a double home run.
When I asked Nancy if she missed having a nice Burgundy, she sort of shrugged and said, “Not if the other choices are that good.”
Then there was last night’s celebration. It’s an annual thing I do with three of my buddies—a 36-hole day of golf replete with some, um, wagers. We do it every summer (and every summer we seem to wind up scheduling it on the hottest day of the year), followed by a dinner out where the victors order the wine.
This year my partner and I came out on top and avenged a bitter defeat last year on the 36th hole. Despite the sweltering heat, a quick shower after the second round had me dreaming of a steak and a great bottle of Bordeaux.
Arriving at the The Willett House after nearly 10 hours of golfing, I sat down with their solid wine list and perused the Bordeaux section. Lots of big names and good vintages, but nothing that I felt like forking out for—even with my easy winnings. Instead I chose a bottle of the 2003 Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet Sauvignon Franschhoek. “What? Who?” asked my victorious teammate.
“Trust me,” I told him. “You’ll like this.” I gave him the rundown on the winery and winemaker, and as he tasted the wine and put the glass back down on the table, he paused before saying, “Wow, that’s really good. And it’s how much?”
Just $75 on the list, and it couldn’t have been a better match with our bone-in rib eyes (though everything tastes better in victory, I’m sure).
A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about ordering anything other than a Burgundy or Bordeaux to celebrate with in a restaurant. But recently their prices have gotten way too overheated. And in the process they’re losing the allure of being something special for me. That’s because you have to be able to really connect with something for it to be special. The qualities of "rare" and "expensive" alone don’t make a wine special.
From Brunello to South African Cabernet there’s so much good stuff out there these days to choose from. Do I still have some Burgundy and Bordeaux in my cellar? Sure. But do I miss buying them as much nowadays as I did in the past? No, not if the other choices are that good ...