An INCREDIBLE flight with the Philip Marlowe of wine

It was about 8 o’clock in the evening, end of May, with the Manhattan moon rising above midtown and a look of hard wet rain in the distance of New Jersey. I was wearing my pinstripe blue suit, with a light checkered shirt and an orange square tie. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed sommelier ought to be. I was about to pour an 1971 Produttori del Barbaresco.

Words cannot begin to describe the sensations Tracie P and I experienced a few weeks ago in New York, when our dear friend Mary Anne treated us to dinner at Alto in midtown Manhattan, where Levi Dalton — the Philip Marlowe of the New York wine scene — had created a special flight just for us.

There a lot of talented wine professionals in New York but none is sharper than Levi, and man, he’s at the top of his game right now, really and truly in the zone. And I’m sure that anyone who knows Levi will concur: the dude’s dry wit and deftness at wordplay are matched only by the acuity of his palate. Raymond Chandler couldn’t have written a more perfect Philip Marlowe of wine.

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a wine key and a serviette.

Like a mind-reader, Levi couldn’t have thrilled us more than by opening the flight with this Saignée de Sorbée by Vouette et Sorbée. Incredible freshness, sumptuous aroma, sexy but not overly generous fruit flavor.

Next came the 2005 Arbois Pupillon by Overnoy. I’d only ever tasted this wine in Québec, where it seems to be easier to find. To me, wines like this are the “unbearable lightness of being.” They are so light in body yet so rich in mouthfeel, delicately fragrant on the nose yet muscular in the palate. Perhaps only in Barbaresco do I find that same counter-intuitive, ineffable sensory experience. The same equine metaphors apply.

The whole restaurant turned around to see what the fuss was about when Tracie P and I gasped in delight at the appearance of this wine. 1974 not the greatest vintage for this wine but showing admirably. Little did we know what was about to come…

Dreams do come true. Awesome vintage (older than Tracie P!), beautifully cellared bottle. One of the great wine experiences of my lifetime (up there with 1989 Barbaresco Santo Stefano by Bruno Giacosa).

Angiolino Maule’s wines were a discovery for me on this recent trip to New York. Later in the trip, I tasted his declassified Soave. Fantastic wines. Great acidity even in this recioto di Soave. A true connoisseur’s wine.

And not to be outdone in the brandy department… The above photo needs no caption.

“How do you like your brandy?” asked General Sternwood. “In a glass,” said Marlowe.

From Levi Dalton to Romano Levi… what a night! What an amazing flight of wines.

Thanks again, Mary Anne for treating me and Tracie P to such an unforgettable evening in celebration of our wedding. And thanks, Levi, for being such a great friend (however from afar) and for creating such a special flight of wines just for us. I’ll never forget it.

12 Responses to An INCREDIBLE flight with the Philip Marlowe of wine

  1. Scott Luetgenau says:

    Incredible. I’m sorry I missed him before departing Convivio. Will definitely make it a point to stop by Alto on my next trip to the city for the Pastor tasting later this month. Do they have a bar suited to a more casual dining experience?

  2. I noticed both the 1971 and 1974 are the basic (normale) Barbaresco. So in terms of ageability, the basic one will age the same as the single vineyard ones? Also, makes me wonder how long the 2004 and 2005 will last… Also, would have loved to get your tasting notes on the two wines, particularly the changes you observe due to the age…

  3. [...] An INCREDIBLE flight with the Philip Marlowe of wine « Do Bianchi [...]

  4. tracie p says:

    gary–the 74 was earthy and salty, while the 71 was much more elegant…huge difference.

    2B–MUCH older ;)

    levi–wowsa! thanks for such a memorable night!

    maryanne–that was a fantastic wedding present, thanks for taking us out on the town…say hi to nancy :)

  5. Do Bianchi says:

    @Scott the funny thing is that I met Levi that same day that met you at that tasting in lower Manhattan. One of those happy cosmic coincidences… You’d really dig his style and his palate I’m sure. There is a bar at Alto… be sure to let Levi know you’re coming…

    @Gary the classic Barbaresco ages beautifully, just like the crus. Honestly, the blended classic Barbaresco is my personal preference. 74 was a good but not great vintage. The wine was past its prime but nonetheless gorgeous, with — as per Tracie P — vibrant earth and minerality. The 71 was entirely stunning, with that unique Barbaresco balance of fruit and earth, and agreed with Tracie P, more elegant… no doubt testament to the great vintage that was 1971.

    @Tracie P that evening seems like a dream, no? I’ll never forget the moment that Levi brought out the 1974 and looking in your eyes and seeing the same delight reflected in mine… I could only share such a moment with you, my love! :-)

  6. Lars Makie says:

    Sounds like a wonderful time. Count me in the pro-Levi camp. Got a chance to swing by Alto last time I was in NYC and meet him. I can confirm that there is a bar there and it is a great place to sit and have some drinks (and eat, though I didn’t). Everyone there was very nice; the bartender, one of the other sommeliers, the whole lot. Top notch place. And if you think Levi knows his wines, ask him about French New Wave films.

  7. Wow! I keep thinking that I must get myself to Alto next time in NYC. Sound the horns! Roust the legions!

  8. Do Bianchi says:

    @Scott, Lars, and King Krak (love the new handle, btw) LEVI IS THE MAN!

    @Lars I SO NEED to discuss novelle vague with him!

  9. Levi Dalton says:

    I don’t know so much about P. Marlowe as he looks more The Thin Man to me.

    Parzen folks: Thank you so much for stopping by to say hello on your trip to NYC. It was very nice to spend an evening speaking with you!

  10. Do Bianchi says:

    @Levi wow, thanks again man… that was one incredible flight of wine… I’ll never forget when you brought out the Barbaresco… what a thrill, what a treat… great to see you…

  11. [...] meant to drink right away), these wines can be cellared for 10-20 and even 30 years. Remember the 1971 that Tracie P and I drank in New York in [...]

  12. [...] Manhattan evening, top New York sommelier (and I mean, king of the hill, top of the heap) Levi Dalton (center, standing, my personal Philip Marlowe of wine) did a true mitzvah: knowing what a wonderful [...]

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