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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Hedonism in the North Fork
We trekked down to the east end this past Saturday to mark two celebratory occasions. One of which is my fiancé’s much maligned birthday, with an age landmark that will remain unmentioned, and the other is our decision to get married at Macari Vineyards. Wine country in Long Island is beautifully secluded from the polluted sky-line that towers nearby New York City and offers a bucolic air that seems perfectly distinct. You can't help but be seduced by pastoral pumpkin patches, the Monterey county-esque herb farms and a serene coastal influence. Between the two forks, the other being the flamboyantly affluent Hamptons, the northern tip gets my vote for most 'plate-worthy.' This trip happened to be a cameo appearance for myself and my bride to be. Amidst many of the delectable finds that the North Fork had to offer, the Frisky Oyster restaurant seemed to have an air all it's own. Despite how remote this budding wine growing region is the essence of meat-packing district minions and hipster west villagers of Manhattan seem to have migrated their way into the flavor of the restaurant. The conservatively quaint village of Greenport has a newfound gem in the Oyster, disguised as an adventurously eclectic modern American dining hole. One of my favorite features of the evening, in addition to the flamboyantly fashioned fare on the menu, was that of their waved corkage fee. The celebratory occasion offered a golden opportunity to allow my newly purchased '97 Joseph Phelps Insignia to breathe the oxygen it had been so deprived of for nearly a decade. The lovely appetizers were marked by uniquely blended baked fig, prosciutto, and wild arugula. Towering entrees were punctuated w/ finesse, as the lamb was cooked to perfection, and the salmon delicately glazed w/ a kiss of sweetness. Unfortunately, they were completely overshadowed by the peaking master of Napa meritage blends (I could write a lovely restaurant review, but it's time for a bit of a wine rant).
This towering tree of multi-layered mocha infused concentration in a bottle demanded more attention than a rottenly spoiled child w/ a sweet tooth at the Ben & Jerry's headquarters. Even w/ the bottle age, the Insignia's opulence and mass really need a solid hour to decant in order to show a sense of subtle elegance. With such robustly ripe and gripping tannin, slapped by an abundance of fruit, the Insignia stood alone instead of as a complementary fare to a wonderfully laid out dinner.
Insignia seems to be among the several gaudy California 'trophies' that will squanch weenie wines of subtlety in blind tastings. It all makes sense though, because Insignia is phenomenally one of the most impressive wines on an annual basis from sheer size, depth, power and numerous layers that build into a crescendo of an echoing finish (not to mention such a large production, which continues to baffle me how Phelps can crank out such consistent classics). No one will deny that. The question I pose is of practicality and, more accurately, complementary features. Bordeaux has long held the patent on cabernet family and merlot dominated blends. There are a plethora of obvious reasons that lie w/in their centuries of viticultural trial and error (and yes, terroir). Today's most profound issue is that of wine's purpose, is it created to be a massive trophy w/ a 3 point score, or is it intended to complement cuisine beautifully as a perfect component to an evening? Personally, I am generally more in line w/ the former (considering I am such a psychotic enophile, I generally have a wine in mind and chose the meal to complement the bottle, instead of the conventional opposite). Having said that, the French seem to have a point when it comes to their style of claret, lighter is better. Drinking wine w/ every meal would most likely put a Californian on the ground by early afternoon, but the modest alcohol version of Bordeaux seems to be a more suitable companion. In order to find an appropriate food accompaniment, wine generally should have an essential balance, typified by moderate alcohol content, ripe fruit, defined tannin and a quintessential freshness that most over-ripe Cal-trophies lack. When harvesting late, as the sugars rise the pH levels typically rise w/ them. The only saving grace that prevents Californian juggernauts from being flabby is their pronounced ripe tannins, yelling for attention and scaring away subtlety.
The lower echelon Bordeaux wines that may not merit an entirely impressive score in a blind tasting, may in fact be a better companion for your braised lamb shank on a Saturday evening. Palate cleansing acidity and quieter senses of nuance allow you to focus on the meal as a collective, instead of our evening, characterized by my awestruck gaze at the beautiful bottle and forgotten food (that tends to happen to me quite often, and no, it doesn't make me weird). Two quotes that evening seem to have said it all:
Myself: "This reminds me of the concentration that the 1990 Leoville Las Cases had, w/ the volume jacked up about 100 more decibels."
My Fiancé: "I don't want to waste this wine on food."
If I had to choose between my Insignia '97 and a beautifully balanced, subtle and supple cru Bourgeois of maturity, I'd still take the Insignia 9 times out of 10 w/ dinner. Although logic would dictate that a mature selection would be a lovely Sociando Mallet w/ some bottle age, I don't think I've quite hit that level of maturity yet. I may in fact take my impressive show wines to the grave and keep food as an after thought, hence this blog post being about wine and not my dinner.


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