Saturday, February 7, 2009

Value on a relative scale...a weighty Hermitage

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.

The wine list at Daniel evokes Spaulding Gray's Monster in a Box. More DRC than you could buy with all the bailout bonuses in New York, leather bound with a fighting weight of about three pounds this is one to peruse at the bar or online a few days before a romantic or otherwise strategic meal. Because with lists like these you go back and forth, get lost in Alsace, resurface for conversation after eight minutes spent in Bordeaux and then wander about the rest of the world until they lay an amuse bouche in front of you that would easily pass for a $20 app at many other much less heralded dining rooms.

I had not been in Daniel since a lunch for 50 NY sommeliers five-six years ago to launch the joint venture between Mondavi and Rosemount. Remember those wines? I don't even know if they wound up in the market as it happened shortly before the unraveling of the Mondavi empire. The wines were unremarkable but being in Daniel never is. The man himself came out to thank the attendees as they left, most of us impressed to see a high profile chef actually in the restaurant that bears his name.

Frank Bruni is not the best food critic the Times has had on the payroll but I think he is right on with his recent four star reassessment of Daniel. Three courses for $105 is expensive, but amuse-bouches, petit fours, level of service and being in the room (go on ladies take off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the carpet under the table). The place is a splurge for most of us, but it over delivers on almost every level.

I am not employed by the Times I'll let the man work and Daniel doesn't need me to tell you that the experience is sumptuous, or any other Gael Greene foodie orgasmic sputterings. But I was surprised to find wines that are pricey but...especially in a place like this, worth it. I did not expect to find much in Burgundy that I was prepared to pay for and knew that Daniel, being from Lyon would probably have a few things kicking around from the Rhone. I went back and forth between a couple of things but could not get away. I was caught and $300 was going to the Jean-Louis Chave 1998 Hermitage. The Chave family has been producing wine as they proudly list on the label since 1481. His wines are life changing, both the white Hermitage and red.

Again, relative value. To buy this wine at auction would be in that neighborhood with added on taxes and buyer's premiums and the usual worry about provenance...we're talking around $300 anyway, so for such profound syrah...

Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage 1998
Decanted, beautiful dark red no sign of age at the edge, blackberry with spearmint, sage, bacon fat, leather, earthy and rich texture with even black pepper popping in and out with both dried and lightly jammy red fruit. The finish lasts for well over a minute, was still tasting the tingle of spice in the cab twenty minutes later. The impression had not left me this morning (although I did have a half bottle of Bollinger shortly after getting up and even still my mind goes back...) Classic Hermitage, one to prowl the auctions or fine wine stores for. Like all auction/grey market buyer beware. This wine appears to be at it's peak where it should stay for another 3-6 years. It may go much longer. If I can get my hands on it I will not have that kind of will power.

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