Someone once said that wine is a marker of history. One bottle, with its particular year, its name, even the design of its label, will pour out of it hundreds of stories chronicling the events of the time during which it was made. For serious wine lovers and collectors, wines can signify important moments in their lives: a cabernet shared on an anniversary, a champagne popped to welcome a newborn. Wine can create new memories instead of just marking them as well. Good wine, especially augmented by good food, can bring complete strangers together to create a memorable night.
There’s an online forum, or community if you will, of wine lovers and collectors called Wine Berserkers – people that go berserk over wine. The Boyfriend, with wine being one of his biggest pleasures in life, is of course a member. Occasionally when there’s enough of a contingency gathered in a particular city, a bunch of “Berserkers” will gather at a designated restaurant, break bread together, and of course, pop a lot of corks.
So a small group of DC-area wine enthusiasts agreed to meet at Charlie Palmer Steak on a Friday night and each bring along 2 (or more) bottles of some of their best. I tagged along as sort of a plus one with The Bf, who I’m not surprised could not turn down an opportunity to drink some really, really good wines.
Is it wrong to admit that I initially was more excited about the food? I’ve eaten at CPS before and their cuisine is always impeccable. We each participated in a three-course tasting menu that had at least 3 options for each course. I started off with Tuna Tartare, which had a small dollop of avocado sitting in a light pool of ponzu sauce, served with crispy flatbread. I liked the creaminess of the tuna and avocado mixing with the crunch of the flatbread. That put dinner off to a good start.
I followed with Roasted Wellington Farm’s chicken, which kind of seemed like their “upgraded” version of fried chicken, with a thin but crispy skin and hearty, juicy meat. It was served with fava beans, morel mushrooms, braised Swiss chard and gnocchi. Everything sat on a light broth that soaked the chard but added a punch of flavor to the doughy gnocchi. I couldn’t help but dip each bite of chicken in the sauce to give it more flavor; it was salty, but the kind of saltiness that I expect with a fried chicken-type of dish.
Dessert was decadent, its flavors on the total opposite of the taste spectrum with every piece of it being rich and sweet. I choose their Chocolate Hazelnut Pyramid: a light chocolate mousse structured like a pyramid with a wafer-like foundation supported by filo tuiles. A server poured warm, glossy, ganache on top of the pyramid, making it a gorgeous and delicious presentation. Despite being stuffed to the brim from the tartare and the chicken, I pushed my way through the dessert and didn’t leave a lick.
As delicious as everything was, the stars of the dinner were not the food. We were all gathered to taste a whole rundown of wines, starting off with a little champagne, then moving on to whites, reds and ending with dessert wines. The majority of the lineup consisted of 1990s California Cabernets, bookended by French burgundies and dessert wines. I wish I could tell you the names of each bottle we tried but 1) there were so many and 2) I didn’t bother to take notes. But I know what I enjoyed and that I can remember: Dominus. I think it was the 1995 that I liked the most (there was also a 1997). Dominus, if I remember correctly, makes Bordeux-style wines in Napa. And though they’re not on the highest price range of wines, they’re not cheap either. So apparently I have slightly expensive taste? But that’s part of the fun of wine tasting – the discovery of oneself and ones tastes, whether that be in a particular Cab or Chardonnay. The crowd favorite of the night, which everyone called the “Wine of the Night” or WOTN, was a 1990 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. I’m not even going to attempt to describe it as beautifully as the Berserkers did on the forum, so check out their notes.
It was fun to watch the seasoned pros: older men and women who have done tastings in foreign countries, who write about wine on the side and read about it regularly, who have collected bottles for years and years. They would ingest each glass with their eyes, noses, and then their mouths and subsequently describe what they tasted with such poetry, using words you’d normally use to describe a person or a work of art. Having written poems and stories and journals for fun all my life, and having studied English in college, I loved seeing and hearing all of this. Someone would mention a name of a winery or a certain year or a specific varietal and somehow everyone else would just know what the heck that person was talking about. There’s a stigma, sort of a long-running joke, about oenophiles and how they sound stuffy and pretentious as soon as they start talking about wine. And for a small handful of them, yes, it’s true. But with this group of people, including The Boyfriend, it was all simply, sheer excitement. They truly love wine and every aspect of it, from its history to its creation process. That passion is something anyone can appreciate, whether it’s about wine or art or baked goods. It’s a passion, that, all pun intended, should never be bottled in.