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Saturday, August 12, 2006

You never get a second chance to make a first impression
Or do you? In case it hasn't been clearly stated yet, I have an unhealthy relationship w/ wine. At times my obsession borders on bipolar, wandering into the depths of a blackened liver on the inside and a quasi pretentious philosophy on the outside. Needless to say, the bottle can easily make or break my evening out, and it has done so on numerous occasions. The ceremonious popping of the cork brings a medley of anticipation to my salivating lips, as well as an apprehension of disappointment. I find myself on a proverbial teeter totter of emotion, swaying from side to side in the hopes that the fermented grape juice will rise to the heights of spectacular and allow me to dazzle on high for the remainder of the evening....
Having said that, I have a success story to share. Yesterday evening at the Capital Grille, adjacent to Grand Central Station in the midst of boisterous Midtown Manhattan's commuter section, I was the lucky beneficiary of an unheralded gem from Yamhill County Oregon. The grape in question, Pinot Noir, personifies my chaotic 'fight or flight' relationship w/ wine. At its best, it is sex in a glass, provoking mind numbing sales from hooked patrons at Christies Auction house w/ gavels slamming down to the tune of tens of thousands for a rare Burgundy bottle. At its worst, a level in which the fickle grape unfortunately tumbles to on countless occasions, pinot can resemble thin weeds sprouting from a soiled barnyard on a musty afternoon in Middle America. So I was, needless to say, a bit jumpy as the waitress poured Patricia Green's 2003 "Four Winds" rendition of Pinot Noir. The second my nostrils plunged into the oozing elixir, I was seduced as I had never been before. Imagine a suede leather couch, painted w/ crushed cherry cordial and raspberry jam, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Instantaneous notes of clove covered blueberries danced down my throat, to a song of currant leaves with a fresh breath carrying along the finish for nearly a minute. The wine's heavy and opulent presence was able to tiptoe, without wearing heavy shoes (a feat that is extremely difficult to ascertain, I might add). Yes, I was hooked at first sight. No need to decant, no need to breathe, no need to worry about what else to order. The gazpacho salad with heaping chunks of crab meat (which was delicious, by the way) was a complete afterthought as an appetizer. I could have been munching on the acid from a dead rhino and it would have been pleasing all the same. My night was made.
Of course there is a flipside to this coin. I am choosing to cite an entirely different example using the 2000 Tenuta Del Terriccio Tassinaia (a Super Tuscan blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese). First off, 2000 was somewhat of an off vintage for Tuscany. It was by no means a wash-out, but not the most inspiring. I made this selection based upon the fact that it was half the price of its 1999 sibling (a much more touted Italian vintage across the board). So my expectations are at a lower level of course, not anticipating anything better than an average quaff for a cozy dinner at home on a lazy Sunday evening. Considering my less than lofty hopes for the bottle, my attention shifted towards my fiancé’s spot on cooking. She performed a clever rendition of a pasta dish coupled w/ turkey sausage, kalamata olives, tomato puree and feta on the side (in her cunning, Turkish style as always). I neglected to perform my usual rituals as I popped the cork, making way for a hasty pour and attempting to focus my passions elsewhere. Perhaps my bias took over as I sunk my nose in the glass like a dog surveying the backyard for something interesting to munch on. The more I sniffed, the less I got. The wine seemed backward and reduced (meaning there hasn't been enough time and oxygen to unlock the wine's primary aromas), only giving slight hints of mineral infused earth through the nose. Instead of patiently decanting, I shrugged my shoulders and focused on the food. I distinctly remember pouting my way through the evening like a bratty 5 year old boy that was forced to eat mommy’s yucky veggies instead of watching the beloved Sponge Bob Square Pants show. I do have a tendency to act spoiled when it comes to my unhealthy wine obsession and I have probably allowed several otherwise enjoyable evenings to go to waste, sulking in the corner w/ disappointment from a bottle that was not up to snuff.
As for the fate of the bottle, we sloshed down a glass or two w/ our lovely meal and put the Tassinaia to rest for the evening. I was tempted to perform my typical guerilla tactic of tossing the remaining wine down the drain as if it were a funeral service, but my financially conscious (and more sensible) fiancé scolded my lethal hands away from the murderous act. The next day, a humdrum Monday evening usually reserved for malted hops, we chose to give the young Tuscan a second go around. I usually have tremendous bias when tasting a wine after 24 plus hours of being opened. Once I have tried a wine in a 'fresher state,' I am quick to notice it's flattening decline and tiresome fruit on subsequent days of tasting (palate sensitivity or me simply acting like the spoiled wine brat that I am?) Anyhow, bottoms up....
What's this I smell? Much more profound, vibrant aromas of grilled meat and rustic blackberries jumped right out of the glass. The wine's textural properties had unwound and black currant, liquid minerals and smoky oak glided across my tongue like satin sheets as it built up into a powerful, firm crescendo w/ it's plush tannin structure. I smiled in disbelief as I realized that we foolishly drank this wine far too early. Iron clad structure of that pedigree needs much more time in the bottle to truly strut its stuff.
Despite its cheaper price tag and 'off-vintage' stigma, the '00 Tassinaia is a true gem that demands patient care. A wine that was endowed w/ every element possible to make my evening, broke it instead, because I didn't give it the respect and credit it deserved. Apparently wine is unique in its ability to shine in its second chance of making a first impression.


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