By The Glass
Epiphanies with gigondas and grand cru
I HAVE plenty of things to be thankful for this year: all those who helped me pass the master sommelier exam, my wife, family and friends. I am also thankful for the opportunity to reach wine drinkers like you on a monthly basis and to be able to try some of the greatest wines in the world.
We are in an era in which consumers are able to find wines that suit their palates at almost every price -- whether it's one with a furry, bouncing animal from Australia on the label or a pay-an-arm-and-two-legs grand cru that only three other people in the world actually own -- from so many places around the globe.
So in this mood, I'd like to tell you about a couple of wine pairings that I am thankful for because they changed my palate and the way that I look at wine.
One of the best pairings I ever had, about eight years ago, was a perfectly done pepper steak with a bottle of 1998 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas from Michel Faraud ($18). The wine was made of grenache, which I hadn't much of at the time. It was spicy, savory with a rosemary, thymelike scent and fresh plum and berry notes.
It also had a stoniness and sweet-smelling earthiness I was unaccustomed to. That herbal character gave the wine a story, a description not only of the grapes, but also of the vineyard and the soil it came from. Gigondas is in the southern Rhone. Now that I've visited the area and seen the vineyard, strewn with stones, lavender, wild scrub and herb gardens, I realize that the wine was a veritable snapshot of the appellation.
The wine matched the steak seamlessly in body and spice, as if the two were meant to be together. The pairing was greater than the sum of its parts. This wine showed me that a wine doesn't have to be big and showy to be delicious, interesting and engaging. It also doesn't have to be expensive to be impressive.
THE OTHER pairing still burned in my mind was a perfectly done roasted duck with a bottle of 1959 Domaine Leroy Chambertin Grand Cru ($3,000 if you can find it; current vintages go for around $600). A good friend shared the wine with a bunch of other friends.
This red burgundy made of pinot noir was like nothing else I'd ever had. It had beautiful sandalwood spice, violets, sweet cherry, cardamom tea notes and one of the silkiest textures I've ever enjoyed in a wine.
It showed me why people spend a ton of money on aged wines. I often wondered how people could drop thousands on a bottle, but this showed me the grandeur, complexity and pedigree of the great, classic wines of the world. It taught me about patience, that if you're willing to wait for the great ones, they repay you with unbelievable pleasure. It also showed me that these great bottles are still wine, after all, meant to be shared and enjoyed with food, not put behind glass in a museum. These bottles are time capsules that can tell marvelous tales of the vintage and vineyard in which they were born.
So, thank you to the people who shared those wines with me and suggested the awesome pairings. And I thank you, the reader, for indulging my nostalgia. Not everyone will be able to try such wines, but we all certainly have moments to be thankful for -- not just with wine. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier and wine educator with Southern Wine & Spirits.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org