Saturday, August 21, 2010

When you’re bored with Bordeaux, you’re bored with life.

(My apology to Dr. Johnson for mangling his famous encomium to London.)

“Bordeaux Loses Prestige Among Younger Wine Lovers,” went the headline in The New York Times of May 19, 2010.

The article, by the Times’s chief wine writer, Eric Asimov, said that Paul Grieco, at his oenophilic Manhattan restaurant Hearth and two serious wine bars, offers fifty wines by the glass and not one of them is a Bordeaux.

Asimov also quoted a thirty-year-old California importer saying, “I don’t know many people who like or drink Bordeaux….You’re never sure who is making the wine. I think for me and people my age, we’re going back to grower-producers—people who are there the whole way—and Bordeaux seems the opposite of that.” (The guy seemed to be quite proud of being a moron.)

“Good Bordeaux might start at $35 to $50 retail, and $85 to $100 in a restaurant, and soar from there,” wrote Asimov himself.

Which happpens to be total bullshit.

The great growths of Bordeaux do cost a lot of money, but there are dozens of small producers making splendid wines for very reasonable prices. I just looked at the web site of K&L Wines in San Francisco, and at the moment they have precisely fifty Bordeaux under fifteen dollars a bottle, and knowing K&L as I do I’ll betcha there’s not one of them that’s less than pretty good.

Some restaurateurs and sommeliers will tell you they avoid Bordeaux because they can’t afford to devote so much cellar space to wine that takes so long to mature. For most of the petits châteaux, in fact that need not be a concern: Nearly all of them are ready to drink as soon as they’re shipped. The predominant varietal in many of these lesser-known Bordeaux is merlot, but they taste nothing like the flabby, chocolatey, high-alcohol California cough syrups that have given merlot such a bad name. Even the little Bordeaux taste like Bordeaux, with soft, dusty tannins, enough cabernet for backbone, deep aromas of blackcurrant and loam, and low enough alcohol levels to bring all their complexity into balance.

(Okay, I know there are good merlots produced in California, but find me one for less than fifteen bucks.)

All this brings me to Daniel Johnnes.

Daniel has been one of my heroes for a long time—since 1985 or so, when Drew Nieporent opened a restaurant called Montrachet in a rather bleak neighborhood that had come to be known as TriBeCa (for Triangle Below Canal), and Daniel was a waiter there. The food was fantastic, the chef the then unknown David Bouley. As the name implies, Montrachet specialized in Burgundies, and they had very, very good ones, most of which, like their namesake, were very, very expensive. But knowing how much I loved red Burgundy that was true to the old tradition—pale, light on the tongue, at once delicate and intense—sometimes Daniel would find a bottle that embodied all that and also wasn’t murder on the wallet, and he would hold it aside for me.

Daniel’s story through the next twenty-five years is a rocket ride: sommelier at soon-celebrated Montrachet; wine director of Drew Nieporent’s growing collection of restaurants; Robert Parker calling him “our nation’s finest (and nicest) sommelier”; his own Burgundy importing company; magazine articles, TV appearances, a published book; making his own wines in Oregon (the Willamette Valley) and Burgundy itself (Gevrey-Chambertin); wine director for Daniel Boulud, the best chef in the United States, and Boulud’s international restaurant group; award after award.

Daniel Johnnes also puts on an annual series of dinners and tastings modeled on the venerable Paulée de Meursault, spread out across three days and nights, with a substantial piece of the proceeds going to charity. The Paulées of New York and San Francisco bring together many of the great growers of Burgundy and their wines, and for American lovers of Burgundy they are pretty much the ultimate party.

So: Mr. Burgundy. But a man who knows wine better than, well, better than just about anybody. Imagine my delight, then, when, last week, from Daniel Boulud I got an invitation to a wine-tasting dinner featuring “The ‘Other’ Bordeaux”:
While Bordeaux is known for the prestige and accompanying high prices of the classified growths, the region offers many small, quality-driven, family-owned properties along the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Daniel Johnnes, our Wine Director, has been traveling and tasting there to seek out lesser-known, value-driven Bordeaux to feature in Daniel Boulud’s restaurants.

To celebrate their arrival, Daniel will co-host a dinner with four châteaux owners, here to share their wines and their stories. Many of them are practicing sustainable viticulture and limiting yields to emphasize quality. Removed from the glamorous world of the classified growths, these wine makers are inspired to connect with you, the wine-loving public.

DATE: Monday, September 13, 2010

TIME: 7:00 PM

LOCATION: db Bistro Moderne, 55 W. 44th St between 5th and 6th Avenues

PRICE: $135/person, all-inclusive, 4 course dinner, 11 wines

In addition to wines from our four special guests we’ll also pour selections from seven other small châteaux, 11 wines in all, paired with a late-summer four-course dinner by db Bistro Moderne’s Chef Laurent Kalkotour.

Château Beauséjour
Patricia and Pierre Bernault

Château Jean Faux
Pascal Collotte

Château La Croix Lartigue
Stephane Derenoncourt

Château Robin
Jérôme Caillé

Château De Clotte, Côtes de Castillon
Château La Coudraie, Bordeaux
Château Saint-Dominique, Puisseguin Saint-Emilion
Château De la Huste, Fronsac
Château Saint Julian, Bordeaux Supérieur
Roc de Manoir, Côtes de Castillon
Château Mondésir-Gazin, Premières Côte de Blaye
Take that, Eric Asimov and all the rest of y’all wine-by-the-glass slurpers of blackberry-jam zinfandel, vanillafied chardonnay, ink-black overextracted pinot noir, and mud-flat merlot!

The price is quite a bargain, too. I do wish I could go.

Tonight, pals Dorothy Kalins and Roger Sherman are in from New York, and we’re going to the almost-sublime Hong Kong restaurant the Mayflower, way out in the fog and chill of outer Geary. We will bring our own Alsatian riesling—there's a whole other wine story—and we shall raise a glass to Daniel Johnnes.

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