A Hedonist in the Cellar

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2007-11-06
  • Publisher: Vintage
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InA Hedonist in the Cellar,Jay McInerney gathers more than five years' worth of essays and continues his exploration of what's new, what's enduring, and what's surprisinggiving his palate a complete workout and the reader an indispensable, idiosyncratic guide to a world of almost infinite variety. Filled with delights oenophiles everywhere will savor, this is a collection driven not only by wine itself but also the people who make it. An entertaining, irresistible book that is essential for anyone enthralled by the myriad pleasures of wine.

Author Biography

Jay McInerney, whose wine column appears monthly in House & Garden, is the author of seven novels, the most recent of which is The Good Life. The 2006 recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award, he lives in New York City.

From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. XIII
My Favorite Whitep. 3
Friulis Favorite Son: Tocai Friulanop. 7
Thin Is In: The New Wave of California Chardonnaysp. 11
The Whites of the Andesp. 15
The Forgotten Whites of Bordeauxp. 19
No Respect: Soavep. 23
Gray Is the New White: Pinot Grisp. 27
Translating German Labelsp. 31
"All Wine Wishes It Could Be Red"
The Shedistas of Santa Barbarap. 37
The Roasted Slope of the Rhonep. 41
The House Red of the Montagues and the Capuletsp. 46
"An Extreme, Emotional Wine": Amaronep. 50
Cape Crusaders: South African Redsp. 54
The Black Wine of Cahorsp. 58
Major Barberap. 62
Go Ask Alice: The Dark Secret of Bandolp. 66
The Spicy Reds of Chilep. 70
Malbec Risingp. 74
Personality Test: Julia's Vineyardp. 78
How to Impress Your Sommelier
How to Impress Your Sommelier, Part One: German Rieslingp. 85
No More Sweet Talk, or How to Impress Your Sommelier, Part Two: Austrian Rieslingp. 89
The Semi-Obscure Treasures of Alsacep. 93
The Discreet Charms of Old-Style Riojap. 97
The Mysterious Beauty of Sagrantino di Montefalcop. 101
Lovers, Fighters, and Other Obsessives
Oedipus at Hermitage: Michel Chapoutierp. 107
Ghetto Boys: Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton Get Radicalp. 111
Jilted Lover: Auberon Waughp. 115
The Obsessive: Remirez de Ganuzap. 119
Berkeley's French Ambassador: Kermit Lynchp. 123
The Mad Scientist of Jadotp. 127
Voice in the Wilderness: Willy Frank and the Finger Lakesp. 131
Finessing the Fruit Bombsp. 135
Mountain Men: The Smith Brothers of Smith-Madronep. 139
Do the Brits Taste Differently? Michael Broadbent and Jancis Robinsonp. 143
Robert Mondavi's Bizarro Twin: The Passions and Puns of Randall Grahmp. 147
Expensive Dates
First Among Firsts? The Glories of Cheval-Blancp. 153
The Name's Bondp. 158
"A Good and Most Perticular Taste": Haut-Brionp. 162
The Maserati of Champagnep. 166
Bacchanalian Dreambook: The Wine List at La Tour d'Argentp. 170
Matches Made in Heaven
Fish Stories from Le Bernardinp. 177
What to Drink with Chocolatep. 181
Provencal Pinkp. 185
Odd Couples: What to Drink with Asian Foodp. 189
Bin Ends
Baby Jesus in Velvet Pants: Bouchard and Burgundyp. 195
Strictly Kosherp. 199
Body and Soilp. 203
New Zealand's Second Actp. 208
Bubbles and Spirits
Number Two and Bitching Louder: Armagnacp. 215
White on White: Blanc de Blancs Champagnep. 219
Monk Business: The Secrets of Chartreusep. 223
Tiny Bubbles: Artisanal Champagnesp. 227
The Wild Green Fairy: Absinthep. 231
Epilogue: What I Drank on My Forty-eighth Birthdayp. 337
Selected Bibliographyp. 241
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


Part Six: Matches Made in Heaven

What to Drink with Chocolate

Not far from the spot where Romeo secretly married Juliet, in the Valpolicella hills overlooking Verona, I discovered a more fortunate and successful match. I had just finished lunch with Stefano Cesari, the dapper proprietor of Brigaldara, in the kitchen of his fourteenth-century farmhouse, and I was trying to decide if it would be incredibly uncouth to ask who made the beautiful heather-toned tweed jacket he was wearing, when he put some dark chocolates from Perugia in front of me and opened a bottle of his 1997 Recioto della Valpolicella. One hesitates to describe any marriage as perfect, but I was deeply impressed with the compatibility of his semisweet, raisiny red and the bittersweet chocolates. Cesari later took me up to the loft of the big barn and showed me the hanging trays where Corvina and Rondinella grapes are dried for several months after harvest, which concentrates the grape sugars and ultimately results in an intense, viscous wine that, like Tawny Port, Brachetto, and a few other vinous oddities, enhances the already heady and inevitably romantic experience of eating chocolate.

The Cabernet, Merlot, or Shiraz you drank with your steak may get along well with a simple chocolate dessert, especially if the wine is young and the fruit is really ripe, but real chocoholics should check out the dried-grape wines, many of which are fortified—that is, dosed with brandy, in the manner of Port, a process that stops fermentation and leaves residual sugar. "Fortification seems helpful in terms of matching chocolate," says Robert Bohr, the wine director at Cru, in Greenwich Village, which has one of the best wine lists in the country, if not the world. Bohr likes Tawny Port with many chocolate desserts, finding Vintage Port too fruity. (McInerney does too, and advises that some of the best Tawnies come from Australia's Barossa Valley.) But most of all Bohr likes Madeira.

If you were to order the Hacienda Concepción chocolate parfait at Cru, Bohr would direct you to a vintage Madeira like the 1968 d'Oliveiras Boal. Madeira has become so unfashionable in the past century that many putative wine lovers have never tasted it, but I'm sensing the stirrings of a cult revival spearheaded by supergeeks like Bohr. The sweeter Malmsey style seems to be best suited to chocolate desserts. And by chocolate, I mean, of course, dark chocolate. Milk chocolate should be consumed only by day, if at all, and accompanied by milk.

The cough-syrupy Umbrian passito wine is made in the same fashion as Recioto from the mysterious and sappy Sagrantino grape. These powerful, sweet reds seem to have originated as sacramental wines, and they continue to inspire reverence among a small cult of hedonists, myself among them. This practice of drying grapes goes back thousands of years; there are references to drying wine grapes prior to fermentation in Homer and Hesiod. ("When Orion and Sirius come into mid-heaven," Hesiod advises in Works and Days, "cut off all the grape clusters and bring them home. Show them to the sun for ten days and ten nights.") I like to imagine that these dried-grape wines resemble those that were drunk at Plato's symposium or Caligula's bashes—although chocolate wouldn't appear in Europe until the sixteenth century, Columbus having stumbled upon a stash of cacao beans on his fourth and last voyage to the New World.

Two of the finest wines for chocolate, Maury and Banyuls, come from remote Roussillon in France's deep southeast. These so-called vins doux naturels are made (mostly) from late-picked Grenache grown on steep, terraced, wind-scoured hillsides near the Spanish border. The standard-bearing Banyuls estate is Domaine du Mas Blanc, one of the world's most famous obscure domaines. I first tasted this wine at JoJo, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's pioneering New York bistro, alongside the warm Valrhona chocolate cake, a nearly erotic experience that I try to re-create at least once a year. (And I'm a guy who doesn't usually even bother with dessert.)

Banyuls's neighboring appellation Maury also produces a chocolate-loving vin doux. The village cooperative makes the classic example; I recently had, alongside Le Bernardin's warm chocolate tart, a 1929 that was spectacular, with lots of caramel, date, coffee, and vanilla flavors, plus an oxidized Sherry note, which the French and Spanish call rancio. The finest estate in Maury is Mas Amiel (which once traded hands in a card game), producers of several cuvées of heady Maury, including one raised in the traditional manner of the region, spending a year outdoors in huge glass demijohns, exposed to
the extremes of the Roussillon climate. The demand for these labor-intensive wines, like that for most sweet wines, has been
static in the past few decades (Mas Amiel is increasingly focusing on the production of dry table wines), and prices remain modest when compared with Vintage Port or Sauternes.

America's answer to Banyuls and Recioto is late-harvest Zinfandel—a fairly rare, sweet style of Zin that is eminently delicious with chocolate, the darker and more bitter the better. This is a good general rule: chocolate with a high cocoa content and a lower milk and sugar content is the most complex, intense, and wine-friendly. As for the desserts, the more complicated they get, the harder they will be to match. Chocolate already has some five hundred flavor compounds—how many more do you need? A chocolate soufflé is a beautiful thing, but it's hard to improve upon a simple piece of Valrhona, Bernachon, or Scharffen Berger dark chocolate, unless of course you pour a Madeira or a Maury alongside it.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine by Jay McInerney
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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