It all started with Carmen. Our night with Anthony at Manducatis was so much fun, that I wanted to share the energy of the place with my friends. So I started inviting folks. First, Paul, then Denise and Juan Pablo and then Ronn and Hajni and finally, Damon. Amongst us we had a master sommelier (Damon), a Master Sommelier and Master of Wine (Ronn), a couple of young wine buyers (Denise and Juan Pablo) who are also a couple, Hajni, whose family makes wine in Hungary, and Paul and me. We could probably handle a wine list like Manducatis.
Walking out of the Waldorf-Astoria, I noticed a stretch limo, long enough for seven. With a little unsuccessful bargaining (he wanted $70- I offered $50 – no deal) we walked a couple of blocks to Grand Central Station to catch the #7 subway to Queens. Two stops later we piled out of the subway and ambled towards the fabled restaurant.
Once settled I asked for Anthony and two wine lists. Handing the list to Damon and Ronn, I just wanted to see the looks on their faces when they went through it. Ronn is the publisher of Restaurant Wine and Damon criss-crosses the country, working with sommeliers. These guys know their way around a wine list. On Ronn’s website his bio reads, “Master of Wine (1991) and Master Sommelier (1986) — and was the first person in the world to hold both titles. He remains the only American ever to pass the entire Master of Wine exam on the first attempt.”
Damon came to earn his credentials a little later in life. Simply said, we were in the presence of wine world royalty. I know they are just human, and they put their pants on the same way. Around me, they never act with any degree of entitlement. Here’s the crux of it to me: We have these gents like Ronn and Damon, who are eminently qualified (and certified) wine experts – nicer guys you wouldn’t want to meet. And they share their information in an inclusive way, none of that secret handshake hooey. Then we have these new media wunderkinds, maybe they’ve been blogging about wine, part-time for a couple of years – what are their qualifications, their expertise? They get a few hits, some recognition, the bright lights and they begin to believe all the stuff that’s written about them. Maybe Andy Blue was on to something. Maybe I'm just not buying into the swagger of the new media muezzins. Maybe, just bring back nice.
OK, op-ed over. On to the wines.
Ronn was favoring a Tuscan and a Piedmont red. The Tuscan was the 1999 Ricasoli Casalferro and the Piedmont red was the Oddero 97 Barbaresco. Damon was looking at the 1998 Nino Negri Sfursat Cinque Stelle and a 97 Brunello, the Friggiali. Oddly, there were no white wines listed.
Anthony seemed busy that night, so we didn’t want to bother him and just ordered from the list. That was probably a mistake, as this wine list is his baby and he probably would have wanted to steer us a little in one direction or another. It is my sense that he knows where all these wines are at in their development, and probably because of his closeness to the table and opening wine bottles all the time. His expertise most likely ranks a tad beyond any of is at the table that night.
Not to say there weren’t those of us who had thoughts and opinions about wine.
Paul, I found out, really thought he didn’t like Nebbiolo, but the Cinque Stelle won him over. I believe he even came to like the Oddero, which was showing very well. It was a 97, usually not my favorite vintage from Italy, but the wine was handled well in the cellar. It also didn't seem to suffer excess ripeness that marred many of the 97’s I have tasted. The Casalferro was my least favorite, and seemed to be a slight disappointment at the table, as it wasn’t finished. Seven people and four bottles of wine shouldn’t have been a big deal. Sangiovese and Merlot – probably not the way of the future for Italy.
The Friggiali was a wine I had no experience with. Pretty label. Maybe too ripe for me. And oaky. Frankly, it was starting to resemble an over-ripe red from Napa and we all know that is not a trajectory for Napa or Montalcino in these times. Leaner, less oakier, would have been more to my preference. But it was also under $70 on a wine list for a wine that is almost thirteen years old. So really no reason to complain. Ok to rent, but not to buy, my dad would say.
The real deal of the night was getting Damon and Ronn together and watching their vine-minds sparring with each other. And of course, the whole party was just about as agreeable and happy to be together as I have seen in a fortnight. I could go on, but we all know I over-write these posts. The notes I got from folks in the party afterward was enough of a reinforcement that this night, which I longed to put together friends to drink wonderful old wines and kick back in Queens, well that was the reward enough for a week spent working and breathing on the wine trail in Old New York.