Thursday, April 25, 2013

Screaming Eagle for Breakfast

There once was a time when one hungered for knowledge of the great wines. If one couldn’t taste the old classics, one could always read about them in Michael Broadbent’s book, The Great Vintage Wine Book. Or one could work for a company specializing in the sale of those great old wines. I was lucky to work for one of those companies in the beginning of my career, and the wines that I was able to try were memorable, to say the least.

Now, with social media, though, it seems we can witness a barrage of historical wines being tasted. Everywhere you turn, someone is opening up a bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc [“the ’47 showed! But I was torn – loved the ’45 (Mouton)"]. Or turn your twitter on and you find and endless barrage of young twits proclaiming their prodigious manhood while they slam a bottle of ’23 Krug, straight from the bottle. Everywhere you turn, there seems to be this need to flex and strut about their access to great wines.

But does having access to great wines make one a great wine taster? Or simply a taster of great wines?

I’ve thought a lot about this lately, as I read Antonio Galloni’s report of his tasting of every vintage produced of Castello di Ama L'Apparita (1985-2009) and had a slight ping of envy. Come to think of it I don’t recall ever having tasted the 1947 Cheval Blanc, thought to be the wine of the 20th century by many who have had it. I sold it. Never tasted it. But don’t cry for me, I haven’t missed much.

Once in Chicago for a wine auction that Michael Broadbent was putting on, I managed a seat (my paddle number was 666) and during the pre-tasting part of the event I walked up to Michael Broadbent with a sip of 1959 Mouton Rothschild in my glass. I asked him about the wine. He proceeded to give me a short class in bottle variation, the harvest of 1959, the aspect of storage and lastly a wonderful note on this particular wine we were both tasting. I walked away hopeful, thinking that someday, maybe, if I taste enough wine, I too can have the memory and more importantly the facility to note the aspects of a particular wine. Broadbent was amazing. I had a long ways to go before I caught up, if ever, to the master.

So, the idea of becoming a great wine taster stuck with me that if I were to up my game, I’d need to be around folks who were better than me.I made a note to seek out folks who were the best in their field. In those days there wasn’t a plethora of incredible sommeliers to access or the social media circus we have now. I had to do it the old fashioned way.

In its way, it worked out. It was a slow process. But I was exposed to more great wines. Actually, I’m embarrassed to talk about it most of the time, because it just seemed so natural. Like the day someone in our office brought some BBQ brisket for lunch and he decided to open a magnum of 1911 Lafite Rothschild. It was in the era when Reagan was president and 1911 was his birth year, so that was the reasoning. The ullage was low and the wine was a little tired, but with the brisket it was fine. This chap in the office then decided we should try another magnum, this time a 1961 Ch√Ęteau Petit-Village. I, for one, would have liked to have had Michael Broadbent there telling me about the difference in 1961 between the Left Bank and the Right Bank harvest conditions. But we stumbled along before having to go out in the afternoon to make sales calls, trying to fill the trucks with the likes of Piesporter and Cotes de Bergerac Moelleux.

Yes, I am a bit jealous when I see a young sommelier tasting wines that I’d love to revisit, now that my palate has some age on it. The way I look at wine now versus when I was young and full of testosterone, well, let’s just say, showboating what’s in my glass just doesn’t make me a better taster – just a better bragger.

The other day a gent comes up to me and finds out I’m into Italian wine. He proceeds to pummel me with all the great wines from Italy he has tasted and will continue to taste, as he has amassed an enviable collection of great Italian wines. I couldn’t get a word in edgeways with this braggadocio, but if I had I would have had to burst his bubble. I’m just not that interested in those Super Tuscans anymore. In fact I got rid of all I had and used the money to buy a camera.

Maybe that’s just what some guys do, like when they step up to a bar and try and impress a gal with their swagger, hoping for more, later in the evening. Well, I don’t know, but it doesn’t make me want to taste with them. Why? What can they teach me about wine in the way that someone like Michael Broadbent did in his unassuming and very natural way? I’m not here to shut them down, but great wines aren’t about the size one’s male organ.

I’m happy for folks having the access to great wines. I’m not sure what they are yelping or twittering or face booking about will help any of us (including them) become a better taster. But I am very impressed that some of these old wines are still around. Someday I hope to find a few old classics that I am yearning to try. Maybe I need to find Il Professore and get into his inner circle. That’s probably a long shot. My ancient cellar of great wine in Italy that I once used to go to is now gone – the owner died and the son sold it all off.

Was it the old great wines or the old great wine tasters? For my part, it’s always more about the people than the trophies.

written by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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Gary York said...

One of the things that I learned about SuperTuscans early on was that they were not so super. And not very Tuscan.

Brooklynguy said...

You, my friend, are an emotional genius.

Marco Marcarini said...

Thanks, maestro Bastone.

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