A reflection post.
After hitting 40 this year, I look back at my past dining experiences, and i noted a few things and would like to share with my fellow forumites that have been drinking with me for more than a decade.
Mostly my spend for wine is much higher than before. I recall my first dining experience when I hit 21, it was at Olive Garden (the waiter sat in my lap and sang me happy birthday) and the wine was a Beringer White Zin. I still recall the fruity notes, the light fizz and a pleasant sweet flavor that recall my earlier years of drinking mad dog 2020 and zima. The wine was only 20$/btl. Still more than the entree.
Skip a few years, I had been working a full time job working at 60 wall street and one of the managers came visiting from London. Up at this point, my wines were mostly whatever was the 5$ house red, wine was meant to simply facilitate dry food down the gullet. Nights out involved mostly coors light, of which i'm still quite fond of. The manager, was an old fashioned British gent. He called his red bordeaux' clarets and insisted on a cocktail at the bar before sitting down to the table. Knowing nothing about wine, but having a keen interest in drink, he asked me to look over the wine list asking if i could pick something French. Not knowing any wines, I blindly picked based on price, keeping it around 100$ being the junior guy on the team. "A wonderful 5th growth choice!" was the response I got! Alas, I don't recall the vintage but the wine was my first time trying Lynch Bages. I recall it being dirty, dusty, smelling terrible but adding pretty interesting flavors with my meal. The manager and I discussed the wine and food at length, mostly due to me being a a brash young employee going on a little too long about how the company we both worked for sucked. He prodded me with questions like "What do you taste?, Do you get that horse smell? How does it go with your food?" All of which, i had no response and struggled to speak (looking back, it seemed like an excellent way to keep me shut up and not ruin the meal talking about work!).
The next year marked my first full time bonus. It wasn't much. Not enough to pay that month's NYC rent, but more than a few nights at a bar drinking beer. I asked my best friend, who mentioned that his dad really likes wine what one should buy. To which his response was "My dad constantly goes on about Lafite!". Here we go, the web was still young, and you had to goto metacrawler to search for the things you were interested in. I learned about how en primeur works and found a retailer named Sherry Lehman. The price was steep, clearly the most expensive bottle I have ever seen, the 2002 Lafite Rothschild, and it was 125$/btl and I wouldn't see it for another 2 years. So I split the case with my friend, possibly regretting blowing my entire bonus on 6 bottles of a wine, up until that 30 minutes ago, have never heard of.
On my 25th birthday, I've been frequenting this restaurant called Harry's at Hanover alot. The bar area always had popcorn and fried chicken to nibble on and you just had to buy a few beers here and there to make it a proper night. Up to this point I haven't really touched wine at all, Pete's wicked ale, sam adams and the occasional Guinness were my drinks of choice. The 6 pack of lafite was comfortably stored at my friend's dad's cellar. World of warcraft occupied most of me and my friend's free time if we were at the bar grabbing a drink. But it was my 25th, and this same friend was taking a full time job in London so we grabbed the 5 of us and decided to goto Harry's for dinner. How else does one celebrate a nice night out if not to order a nice bottle of wine?? The list was daunting, over 40 pages long (it's under 20 now). Sticking with the 100$ range again, found a random red with some age on it. Unfortunately the btl I ordered was out, but the waiter suggested this other bottle for the same price, but from the 95' vintage! I don't recall the producer, but again this was a bottle where I was amazed how good it made the steak tasted! Wrapping up dinner, NYC used to allow Cigar smoking in the restaurants, and Harry's had the most impressive selection of Cuban's back then. This was the first time I tried a proper bottle of port. We were seated in the main room, and Harry himself came out to join us. It was a Grahams 85. The first time drinking a sweet wine but with such great length of finish and structure, I was smitten. That bottled turned into the Fonseca 85, then followed by a Grahams 83. Needless to say, I was in pretty bad condition the next day.
I started drinking alot more Port going forward. When friends ask me out to the bars, while they were drinking beer, I had my stash of port that I was swigging from. I know, classy, but we were all young sometime! Google was the browser of choice, and googling port lovers in NY turned up theportforum. Now this was a group of guys who took drinking seriously. A fellow british port lover showed me what it meant to really enjoy a proper lunch. I was happily unemployed at this time due to the financial crisis and being in the wrong industry at the wrong time, but hey, the severance pay was good. Meeting up with this fellow port lover, our typical day involved waking up at noon, finding a local bistro where we'd grab a bite, a btl of champange (the sparkling wine just wouldn't do for that brit) and a byo btl of vintage port. My portly figure, as a result of a years worth of decadence was my reward for what was a rather enjoyable experience before my fellow port buddy had to move back to London, at which point I promptly dropped 20 lbs in the following 3 months!
Well, you might be asking, where's that story where you got into drinking some proper wines? It involves a woman, or was it 3 women? I can't recall but they all have great palates =) The first, was drinking rioja, when the rest of us were still chugging beer, the other was giving me tasting notes on Lafite as I was drinking port, and finally the gal that has been sharing an 11 year food and wine journey with me.
But back to the story. It started with a birthday wine. We've been dining out, ordering the 50-70$ btls on the list. Alot of the wines were good, but certainly not memorable. They were all "high scoring" as I made the effort to go wine list hunting before going to the restaurant. I noted my join date on the forums similar to the time I started reading the wine mags and "studying" the different varieties of wine out there. An amusing experience doing "fine dining" at a relatively early age was that we were often the only young folks in the room. (also, typically before the asian invasion in the NY instagrammable dining scene, one of the few asian looking folks in the room too). Alas, nowadays, we've joined the older crowd, and I've only recently picked up a plaid jacket to better adjust to my rotund mid section.
Joining this forum was certainly the start of some grand tasting adventures. I've met fellow forumites across the country, and even in other countries! Tasted wines I've never heard of. Learned quite a bit about production/marketing/selling/tasting/pairing/etc about wines with my fellow forumites. I could post the highlights, but even that would go on for pages! As many of you have shared bottles with me, I'm sure you guys know the highlights too!
Which brings me today, after a long winded topic, I find myself, working asian hours on the east coast of the US, being in a situation where I just don't get to sit down and have a proper meal and pairing. Also being such late night when I wrap up work, I can't usually do a full 2-3 hour meal that I find myself sitting down and enjoying a nice btl after work to wind down. It seems that I much prefer sitting down with a single great btl, and enjoying it over 3-4 hours with the food as merely and after thought. A great bottle with just some bread and perhaps a side of charcuterie is really all i need to enjoy the rest of the night. Certainly as I'm trying to lose some weight to fit into this damn suit for my little sister's upcoming wedding!
Speaking of, there's just something intoxicating about sitting with a btl of Northern rhone and simply smelling it. The taste may not follow through, but with a wine like that, you can just sit there and smell it all night. There's a certain joy in recalling what old Opus One used to taste like before it go extracted. Their Overture is a nice reminder of that, and a bottle I love to drink when i'm craving Napa with finesse. The fields of strawberries that one gets when drinking a properly stored old Rioja. A wonderful red burg, when hitting on all strides offering both the lovely bouquet and the pure clean fruity finish. An aged right bank bdx that shows signs of leather, currants, and fine chinese tea. Or the glorious florally left banks from Margaux that show you what it means to run through a field of flowers only to trip and get a mouthful of dirt, perhaps with some berries that might have been left by some animal. And who forget a properly aged port, showing depth of indian spices, a tingling to remind you of the old spirits that have been aging in bottle for all those decades, sweet lingerings on your palate for almost just as long after every sip.
There are certainly other regions, but those are my current favorites, and wines that I wouldnt hestitate to skip dinner just to have a btl.
Long story short, I've enjoyed and still enjoy wine for the experiences, friendships and life sustaining calories it has given me. Still struggling in the realization that I'm 40 though, but hopefully the kids get older faster than me so I can meet some more folks to share my favorite btls with!