Friday, January 23, 2009

Plane in Hudson, Skydiver Devoured by Starving Birds

Tom Gannon is the playwright in residence at Rothmann's Steakhouse in New York City. He is also the sommelier and serves as America's Host.

Last week there was a plane in the Hudson River. In the water exactly a mile and a half west of us. It was on the TV's behind the bar. My friend Mike, one of the other managers, saw it go down from his window on the west side before he walked to work. We all agreed it was amazing and got ready for what we hoped would be a busy dinner.

Almost. Thursday is typically our busiest night in the heart of the midtown financial district but the news in this area has been dominated by dominoes of falling institutions- remember when Bear Stearns collapsed and the next few weeks L'il Lehmann Bros. was being praised for leading the way in doing the right thing? Way to go braahhs. So we had a so-so Thursday. I didn't think about the plane the rest of the night.

I thought about wine. And how some of the wines I bought in the last six months with certain palates in mind could be sitting in the cellar awhile. I'm not sorry the wine is downstairs but more than a few guests I've known for years are not in the area on a regular basis since they don't have offices or companies any longer. Bottomless expense accounts have dried up and swallowed the flesh attached to the wallet.

It's also evident in the "allocated" wines that are offered. It's no secret in any market in the US that if a certain distributor has a cult/WS top 3/Parker 98+/57%Shiraz 43% Heroin blend black hearted roasted kidney stones on the nose with Gobs of blue fruit and propane propelled felched asphalt that everyone is going to want it. Always pay to play. They leverage a case or two or three bottles against getting a wine by the glass (or two or three) if you are a restaurant or prime shelf space and a 100 case drop on another SKU if you are a retail account. Whether or not you hold your nose say you hate those wines whether or not you will actually taste those wines there is a demand and that demand dictates huge profit even on a modest markup simply because they (your guests and clients) can't get it anywhere else. But other accounts are turning down their allocations. They don't want to front the money for the inventory because they don't know if it will sell anymore. Now calls come in that give you a verbal wink-wink and let you know that YOU can have as much X as you want. Those wines are out there now in ready availability and at (again, relative) bargains because like every other commodity they only went up. Until they didn't.

We will see in the Zachy's auction that began today (look for them to record another "record" even if the only buyer's name begins with Z) and the upcoming auctions how far the prices will fall. There may be some real bargains in March there may be steals in May. If you are going to prowl the auction markets I would wait for spring. But you still have to worry about provenance and buyer's premiums scream Nader investigation (they do, very high pitched, only 17-25% of wine collectors can hear them).

But amid all the doom and gloom I remind myself although we are not as busy as last year we are busy. I am still buying, selling and drinking wine. The Harlan 2004 at $1350 and both bottles of '82 Haut-Brion at $1500 (Haut-Brion '82 for $1500? What a bargain, that is a bargain for me I think I will buy some) were among a batch of bottles a group went through this past weekend. But I face the same dilemma. Is it worth it to restock high priced wines right now? Do you trust the provenance at auction and the solvency of your guests, clients and even yourself?

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