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Wine And Food Wednesday
The Perfect Bottle of Wine

100-Point Wine? The Perfect Bottle of Wine? Elixir of the Gods? So wonderful, it brought tears to my eyes as I tasted it? Caused me to praise Bacchus for allowing me to occupy the same space as “The Perfect Bottle of Wine”? Not in my portfolio, thanks. Wine is wine, and the fact that some wines thrill me or you more than others is what CGCW is all about, but it is not what life is all about.

Yet, just last night, I encountered one of those bottles that makes wine appreciation such a rewarding enterprise. I can’t say the wine was perfect. My dear wife told me so, although she later recanted when our meal arrived and the dish smoothed out the little bit of bite in the finish and brought out the remaining fruit, richness and all the layering and complexity that had developed in the bottle.

The wine in question was 1975 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon served aged in magnum. Connoisseurs’ Guide rated this wine at back in the day, and accordingly, I purchased several bottles. But only one magnum. I think there are couple of bottles left—not sure because I don’t keep a running inventory of my cellar (a mistake to which I reluctantly admit), but there were eight of us at dinner last night for a friend’s round number birthday and, there, in the middle of the magnum section, of which there are only about ten wines so it was not hard to find, sat the Martha’s 1975.

Now, normally, I take a backup bottle to any event like this. The late Louis M. Martini told us in the first interview we ever did for CGCW in response to an inquiry about older wines, “There are not great older wines, just great corks”. But, as we were in a hurry leaving the house—things being a bit hectic these days what with the new website and its idiosyncrasies and my new book about to hit the book stores— I had no such backup plan and went with fingers crossed. Well, the first signs were not good. I keep my wines stored on their sides, and as older wines need decanting, I simply bring them to the restaurant with the bottle held in the same relative position. Sediment of that age does not wander around the bottle all that easily so a short ride in the car with the wine entrusted to the trustworthy Mrs. Olken is not likely to cause problems.

I handed the bottle to the staff with what I thought were clear instructions—keep it on its side with the the label lying to the left and then decant it off the sediment just before serving. No great airing needed at that age. The wine would get all the air it need in the decanting and the pouring into glasses process. Our group settled in the lounge for quick cocktail (yes, Virginia, a cocktail and not my usual bottle of bubbles). Eventually, the sommelier sidled up with my bottle in hand, still on its side, but with the label to the right. Somehow, in the process of passing it from one staff member to another, they turned it over. OK, a few unkind eyebrows were raised, but we agreed to set the bottle upright for the hour until we got to it with dinner, and to everyone’s relief, it has not been shaken up beyond repair.

The proof, however, is never in the handling, or even the cork which turned out to be pristine with hardly any color beyond the first half inch. This indeed was a great cork. No the proof is in the tasting, and with the first nosing, it was clear that the wine had survived. But, it was, as my dear wife so politely

pointed out, still a bit tannic in the finish. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that jug wine would have tasted tannic after her Martini and my Rye Manhattan.

The punch line to this story did not arrive until the dinner was on the table. We were eating at The House of Prime Rib in San Francisco. And as the name might imply, there is only one item on the menu. Yes, you can get five different possibilities from decadently thick to several thin slices to a couple of sizes in between and also the bottom end cut, which is the most tasty of all but is also going to be fairly well done. Prime Rib is one of those cuts of meat, like filet mignon, that has the most wonderful texture to go along with its innate richness. And, to me, that combination of flavor, texture and richness calls for an aged, supple, deeply flavorful wine with enough underlying tannin and acid to cut the richness in the finish of the food. To say that we had a 100-point combination would be too much. I don’t say those things. I will simply say that a well-kept magnum of Heitz 1975 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet makes a most delightful accompaniment to a well-prepared, medium-rare slice of prime rib.


It must be all this talk of cocktails that has made the following into our Wine News of The Day.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer offers the following news not to missed:

“Alaska just keeps on giving. First, there was Sarah Palin. Now, there's this.

Smoked salmon-flavored vodka will be sold in Washington liquor stores soon, courtesy of Palmer-based Alaska Distillery. "We know how it sounds, but the moment you try it, you'll never want another bloody Mary without it," said distillery founder Toby Foster.

The vodka is said to have a "smoky" taste. (I'm guessing that reads better than "fishy" on a label.) It's made by removing the skins of smoked salmon and grinding up the meat. Washington is the first state besides Alaska to sell the vodka, but these states have placed orders: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, and Tennessee.

So, how did the guys at Alaska Distillery get the idea to flavor vodka with salmon?

"I think there was some madness and some drunkenness involved, honestly," Foster told the Associated Press earlier this year”.

Our comment: Yes, probably some madness and then some drunkenness and not necessarily in that order.


100-pt pairings
by Steven Mirassou
Posted on:9/15/2010 7:54:52 AM
Charlie:First, congratulations on the blog. Your writing has always been required there's a bunch more, yay for us!Second, the 100-pt wine story resonates today. I hadn't seen a friend for a while, and he recounted an experience that we had with a bottle of wine that my father had given to me about 15 years ago. It was the end of a staff Christmas party and I was looking through a box of wine that comprised my complete wine collection at the time. I came across a bottle of Angelica that my grandfather had given to my dad, and then on to me. Though there was no vintage, my dad thought the wine was from the 30s.Anyway, no critic will ever give a bottle of wine made from Mission grapes a 100, but that night, right before Christmas, sharing this bit of family history with a group of friends was about as close to a 100-pt experience as I've had.
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:9/15/2010 7:50:05 PM
Dammit Charlie, been thinking about that smoked salmon vodka all day...put me right off food. Can I just be the first to say, ahem..."STOP IT". Bubble Gum vodka, fish vodka, chocolate vodka...gross. If you don't care for the taste of alcohol then just smoke pot already. Sheesh.

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