What They Drank for Christmas

Above: Dan Crane (aka Jean-Luc Retard) found this 1976 Heitz Cellars at his mom and step-dad’s place in Napa. The label reads “Alcohol 13% by Volume.” Today, most Napa Cabernets weigh in at a minimum 14.5% (current vintages of Heitz report 14.4% and 14.5% — I checked around at a few grocery stores and pharmacies).

I know I said I’d be taking a break from the blog and I promise that I will. But I couldn’t resist posting today: so many of friends wrote me to tell me the wines they drank for Christmas eve.

Top entry had to be Uli Wiesendanger (Verena aka Céline Dijon’s father) who opened a 1970 and 1979 Château La Lagune (3rd growth) at their home in the 6th.

“The cork of the 1970 Château de la Lagune broke,” writes Uli this morning, “and I had to decant the bottle. The 1979 came out beautifully. Both wines had a certain sharpness (slight acidity?) and were very light (elegant?). Not tired at all.”

Above: Trader Joe’s 2006 “Reserva” Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile in Winnetka, CA.

Greg Wawro (aka Professeur Harry Covert) writes in from Winnetka, California where he drank a Trader Joe’s 2006 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserva.” He didn’t send any tasting notes: a picture, they say, tells a thousand words. I don’t know how you can call a wine from the 06 vintage a reserva but I’m sure he and his family had a nice holiday (I imagine Greg was pining for a 1967 Barolo that we opened recently together).

Greg adds: “Fortunately, I was able to find a 2003 Produttori del Barbaresco at the local BevMo (the last one they had!)” (click to read his subsequent comment).

Above: Me? I drank a 1997 Billecart-Salmon with friends in the Cognac Room at Astor Court (in the St. Regis Hotel). Billecart-Salmon is more famous for its rosé Champagne and it’s hard to find their blanc de blancs. It drank beautifully and even the natural-wine fanatics among us were impressed with this seemingly dosage-free Champagne (i.e., a Champagne to which no or very little sugar was added for the second fermentation). Astor Court has an amazing Champagne list, including a vertical of R[ecently] D[isgorged] Bollinger and the ultra-hard-to-find Selosse (at $500 a bottle, the latter was a little too steep for my tastes).

Above: Then came 2005 Domaine de la Pépière Granite de Clisson Muscadet in magnum with oysters at my favorite steakhouse, Keen’s.

War Is Over if You Want It

Photo credit: Heather Bowden, La Jolla Local, December 2008.

Thankfully, I’m getting out of town for a while. I can’t reveal where I’m heading but my destination may look like the holiday card I received from a high school classmate Heather Bowden, a graphic designer and photographer.

Thanks to everyone for reading and clicking the blog this year. The 2007 vintage was a tough one for me: special thanks to my family and friends who have stood by me and lent me their support and love. I couldn’t have done it without “a little help from my friends [and family].”

I’ll be taking a little break for the next week or so but check back after the New Year for tales of my travels (and a big surprise that will be announced in early ’08).

If you want it, War is over now…


So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
Ans so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let’s stop all the fight
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
And what have we done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
Ans so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear
War is over over
If you want it
War is over

— John Lennon, Yoko Ono

Neil Young in Washington Hts. and German Beer Downtown

Wednesday night, my old friend and once partner in musical crime, Foosh, brought me along as his guest to Neil Young in concert at the ol’ United Palace Theatre in Washington Hts. in the upper extremities of Manhattan.

Above: the United Palace Theatre is an old gem and they don’t mind when patrons rock out.

Definitely one of the top-five concert experiences in my life, the show consisted of an intimate acoustic set where he played a bunch of his old guitars and a mind-blowing, rocked-out electric set including a fantastic twenty-minute guitar solo. The guitar tones were truly amazing, like the notes of an old Nebbiolo, earthy and rich but fresh and surprising — with live acidity and fruit — at the same time.

It was great to see a legendary performer like Neil Young play a small venue like that, with easy-going security, cheap beer, and a raucous crowd of got-my-drink-on fans. It reminded me of when I went to concerts as a kid in the late seventies and early eighties, when rock n’ roll shows were just that: rock n’ roll. Dancing in the aisle by stoned-out-of-their-minds people was allowed.

Above: I enjoyed a Jever at Loreley before Foosh and I headed up to Washington Hts. to see Neil Young in concert.

Some years ago now, Foosh opened the now classic Lower East Side haunt Loreley, a German beer garden and restaurant inspired by his hometown of Cologne, Germany. The all-German beer selection there is great, the bartenders really know how to draft beer properly (with a proper head, see above), and the spaetzle and schnitzel are awesome. The place is always jam-packed on Friday and Saturday nights but you can sometimes find a place to sit on weeknights — if you’re lucky. The first time my band played our now show-stopping version of “99 Luftballons,” it was for the opening of Loreley way back in 2003.

Above: a video of Nous Non Plus playing “99 Luftballons” at the great Lower East Side rock club Sin-é before it was closed to make way for gentrification (read the stockbrokerization) of lower Manhattan.

A Night on the Town with Charles Scicolone

Above: Charles Scicolone, Italian wine maven* extraordinaire (right), with Stefano Campatelli, president of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino at I Trulli. Charles was the keynote speaker at this year’s Benvenuto Brunello vintage tasting, where I had the chance to taste bottlings going back to 1979. Charles had tasted them all before, of course!

Week before last, I was the guest of my good friend and Italian wine maven Charles Scicolone at a collector’s dinner at Gramercy Tavern. Charles is often to invited out by top wine connoisseurs: he is without a doubt one of the city’s most adored wine personalities and one of the country’s leading experts on Italian wine. The bottomline? He’s a lot of fun to be around and people want to know what he thinks of their wine.

Above: the dinner opened with a 1976 Château d’Yquem and foie gras. Not too shabby… “Sweet without being sweet, dry without being dry,” Charles remarked.

I first met Charles back in 1998 when I was writing about wine for The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana. At the time he was the wine director of I Trulli in Manhattan and most nights you would find him talking to guests about wine in the restaurant’s wine bar. My office was only a few blocks away and I soon found myself glued to my seat at the bar nearly every night after work, tasting through flights of Italian wines and trying to glean every tidbit of knowledge I could from his glib insights.

Above: the star of the night was this beautiful magnum of 1985 Échezeaux by Remoissenet Père e Fils.

Beyond Charles’ encyclopedic knowledge of Italian wine and his humorous and highly informative anecdotes, what intrigues me the most is his palate and his “memory” of Italian wines and vintages. Charles began collecting fine Italian wine in the 1970s when there were only a handful of Italian collectors in the U.S. He was part of an informal group of early Italian wine connoisseurs, an illustrious clique that included Lou Iacucci, who was among the first to import fine Italian wines to North America, and Shelley Wasserman, author of the landmark Italy’s Noble Red Wines, one of the first significant monographs on Italian wine published in this country (originally released in 1985; see Frank Prial’s review of the paperback edition).

A steadfast defender of traditional-style Italian wine and an outspoken critic of barrique aging and concentration, Charles has tasted wines and historic vintages of Italian wines that I can only dream of. More significantly, he has had the opportunity to revisit many of those bottlings on repeated occasions.

He began to taste and experience Italian wine long before barriqued, extracted, highly alcoholic, fruit-forward wine became the prevalent style in Italy. Where homogeneity now reigns, Charles remembers a glorious mosaic — from the Aglianico of Campania to the Petit Rouge of the Val d’Aosta (two of his favorites). Simply put, Charles has insights into Italian wines that few of us will ever have because he began drinking and enjoying Italian wines before the veil of modernization was draped over Italy.

È sempre un piacere
, as you like to say, Charles, it’s always a pleasure to taste wine with you.

Check out Peter Hellman’s profile of Charles in The New York Sun.

In recent weeks, Charles has been contributing to IADP. Check out his articles.

* maven, from the “Yiddish meyvn (plural mevinim) expert, connoisseur,” from the “Hebrew mēbîn person with understanding, teacher, participle of hēbîn understand, attend to, teach” (OED, online edition).

NYC’s best-kept secret? Le bar at Le Bernardin

On Saturday night, I found myself famished with a wine biz colleague in the heart of holiday-crush Midtown. Where to eat? Where to find a table among the throngs of shoppers? It just so happens I was with the one person I know who has enough chutzpah to suggest we descend upon the bar at Le Bernardin — despite the fact that we were both underdressed, both in jeans, no ties, me in a casual tweed jacket. I had never been, and, lo, and behold, we arrived to find two empty seats at the bar. Who would have thunk it? They do indeed serve dinner at the bar. It must be NYC’s best kept secret. If you ever find yourself suffering from a spur-of-the-moment yen to eat at Le Bernadin…

Le bar at Le Bernardin. The Armagnac collection is impressive.

Raw tuna served over a thin, long crostino topped with just a thin layer of foie gras. Decadent…

Peruvian-style marinated conch topped with dried corn.

Chef Eric Ripert is not afraid to have a little fun with his dishes, like the “Surf and Turf,” white tuna and kobe beef, the former pan-seared, the latter seared Korean barbecue style with fresh kimchi.

Le Bernardin’s sommelier Aldo Sohm was named the “Best Sommelier in America” by the American Association of Sommeliers (and that’s just one of the “bests” he’s won during his international career… check out this profile in The Washington Post). He’s one of the nicest and funniest persons I’ve met in the business and he’s not afraid to take risks with his pairings. With the dessert amuse-bouche (an eggshell filled with chocolate custard), he paired Trappiste (Belgian) beer “to bring out the flavors of the chocolate.” It was also a great palate cleanser. Earlier in the evening, Aldo tasted me blind on a wine I perceived correctly to be Tocai Friulano. But not from Friuli: it was from Channing Daughters (Long Island). A surprise indeed. Maybe they can make good wine out there after all (in all fairness, my friend Jay, who lives part of the year on the Island, had mentioned that the Channing Tocai wasn’t half bad. While it didn’t blow me away, it had the wonderful grassy notes characteristic of the variety).

No, those are not goat eyeballs. The plums were accompanied by a gelatin made of black sesame. I’m not a dessert guy but I couldn’t resist the texture.

Perché New York? (and a dispatch from Ziliani)

Perché New York?, a collection of essays on what makes New York a unique and interesting place to live (Piacenza, Edizioni Scrittura, 2007, €14), including contributions by an architect, an artist, a Lacanian psychoanalyst, a photographer, and yours truly.

Hot off the presses: I just received my copy of Perché New York? (Why New York?), a collection of essays to which I contributed “Why New York? A gastronome’s point of view.”

In my piece, I recount the heady years of the late 1990s when Italian cuisine, Italian regional cuisine, and — most significantly — Italian wine took the city by storm (I was then writing for The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana). I don’t want to reveal the ending but my somewhat salacious account reveals some of the less savory elements of the NYC restaurant world and includes a show-down between one of NYC’s most famous and notorious restaurateurs and one of my favorite wine directors… and it ain’t so pretty… The book won’t be available in the U.S. (and it’s in Italian) but you can probably order by emailing the publisher at edizioniscritture@libero.it.

In other news:

I couldn’t resist translating the below passage from a post by top Italian wine blogger (and friend) Franco Ziliani, his notes from a blind tasting of 48 bottlings of Barbaresco from the 2004 vintage. The good news is that 2004 appears to have been a great vintage and the even better news (see below) is that many producers are abandoning their modern approach to winemaking in favor of a more natural and traditional style. The tasting was hosted by The World of Wine Fine in London on December 13 and was attended by some of Britain’s top wine writers and reviewers. One of the surprises — Franco concedes — was that he liked the Gaja. “That’s the rule of blind tastings,” wrote Franco. If you like it (even when you have famously written how much you didn’t like previous vintages), you must say as much. Check out Franco’s notes on the 04 Gaja Barbaresco (notes are in English).

The following translation is drawn from Franco’s notes on the tasting. I love Franco’s writing style and his acerbic wit.

In the flawless 2004 vintage — perfect for the ideal, gradual, slow aging of Nebbiolo –- greatness has returned to show itself again without hesitation or trepidation.

Except for a few indomitable Taliban and Japanese rhinoceros warriors from the jungle who still haven’t heard that “the war” has ended (I call it a “war,” this childhood page in this history of Langhe Nebbiolo), the overwhelming majority of producers has accepted the notion that the era of muscular, hyper-concentrated Barbarescos redolent with wood is over (despite guidebooks editors who continue witlessly to keep it alive using artificial respiration).

For the magical 2004 vintage (and just wait for Barolo next year!!!), these winemakers have chosen the golden path of balance, pleasure, and moderation by simply accommodating what the vine has given them: splendid grapes, with a natural balance of fruit, acidity, and tannin (and let me tell you, mister, these are some fine tannins!). Only fools or wine mujahideen would think of ruining this balance with excessive concentration, concentrators (oh yes!), and the shameless, base use of new wood…

Lunching at the UN for a Good Cause

Above: in Italian the United Nations Secretariat building is called the palazzo di vetro or the glass palace. Italy is the sixth-largest contributor to the United Nations ordinary budget and a key player in the fight against hunger.

Thursday, December 13, 2007–It struck me as ironic: the same day that The New York Times published Ian Fisher’s article “In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment,” I attended a luncheon at the United Nations honoring an Italian winemaker for his charitable contribution to the fight against world hunger.

That’s not to say that I don’t agree with Fisher. In fact, his eloquent however hard-to-swallow assessment is right on the money: I correspond daily with Italian friends and colleagues and their missives often convey a general sense of unease and uncertainty. While the malessere or malaise described by Fisher doesn’t cloud all brightness in the Italian sky, neither does it seem to contain a silver lining.

Like fellow blogger and italophile Terry Hughes, I’ve been known to gripe about Italy’s backwardness with respect to continental and insular Europe (check out this recent dispatch). But I’m sure that Terry would agree: Italians are among the most charitable people in the world and they generally and genuinely care about world issues (especially world hunger) despite the general cynicism and skepticism that have historically pervaded Italian life.*

Above: winemaker Marco Fantinel and tennis star Monica Seles, Iimsam’s Goodwill Ambassador and Spokesperson for its Global Sports for Peace and Development Programme Initiative.

At last Thursday’s luncheon, I was the guest of Friulian winemaker Marco Fantinel. He and I met many years ago when I was writing for The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana and when I received the invite, I gladly accepted.

Marco was named a Goodwill Ambassador by Iimsam, the Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition, a Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.

Spirulina is a type of easy-to-grow and easy-to-sustain nutrient-rich algae that is used in developing countries to help combat hunger and in particular, child hunger.

Marco travels throughout Italy raising awareness and funds for Iimsam and he has created a special label called “Celebrate Life,” a Friulian Merlot Grave, for which he will donate $1.00 to the organization for every bottle sold.

I hadn’t been to the UN since my days as an interpreter for Italy’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations back in 2003-04, when Italy was the president of the European Union. It was fun to poke around the Secretariat building and remember the days when I used to scurry about in a phalanx of diplomats (I was foreign minister Franco Frattini’s personal interpreter).

Complimenti, Marco, for taking time out to make a difference and to affect change in a world where we are increasingly faced by our inability to make the world a better place for all of us to live.

* The sense of one’s inability to affect change often expresses itself in Italy’s post-war concept of qualunquismo, perhaps best captured in Leonardo Sciascia’s short novel A ciascuno il suo (To His Own), 1966. I don’t know of any succinct translation of qualunquismo. The online version of the Oxford Paravia dictionary offers “indifferent and skeptical behavior towards politics” but this putative translation doesn’t capture the term’s nuances. From the Italian qualunque, meaning “whichever” or “whatever,” the literal translation is “whicheverism.” It denotes self-interest combined with egoism and has its roots in the Renaissance concept of the particolare, Florentine statesman and historian Francesco Guicciardini’s notion of self-interest as the guiding principle of human nature with respect to governance and political unity.

“The Best Champagne Tasting”

Wednesday of this week, I had the good fortune to be invited to the Wine Media Guild of New York “Prestige Cuvée Champagnes” tasting, presented by Ed McCarthy, one of North America’s leading bubbly experts.

Some of New York’s top wine writers came out for this dégustation of twenty-three Champagnes, nearly all of them “prestige cuvées.”* Everyone agreed — and sports and wine writer Paul Zimmerman loudly pronounced — that this event was “probably the best Champagne tasting” any of us had ever attended.

Above: they-don’t-make-em-like-that-anymore Ed McCarthy.

Highlights (for me) were 1999 Perrier-Jouët “Fleur de Champagne” Blanc de Blancs (beautifully balanced and nuanced), 1997 Nicolas Feuillatte “Palmes d’Or” Brut (a difficult vintage in Champagne… a surprising stand-alone wine, with intensely seductive aromas), 1999 Bollinger Grande Année Brut (always my favorite, always distinctive), 1998 Deutz “Cuvée William Deutz” Brut (a house I had never tasted… good balance of yeast and fruit flavors), and N[on]V[intage] Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut (so good… who doesn’t like this wine?).

When it’s good (and there’s a lot of mediocre over-priced wine out there), Champagne can be so alluring, complex and structured yet light and bright. Getting to taste with Ed McCarthy and hear him speak was a thrill for me: Ed, with his white locks and friendly manner, is an American original, a character out of a Studs Terkel story, a wine authority and one of the country’s most adored wine writers (check out this profile of Ed).

Above: it’s always fun to taste with the jovial John Foy (standing, center), who writes for
The Star Ledger. Needless to say, the mood was mirthful at this extraordinary tasting.

Here are some of my notes from Ed’s talk:

“Chardonnay is the world’s most maligned grape variety. In Champagne it is at its best” (referring to blanc de blancs, i.e., Champagne made from 100% Chardonnay).

“Prestige cuvées need time, 10-15 years.”

“The wider the glass, the better for tasting prestige cuvées.”

“’88, ’96, and possibly ’02 are the best vintages for Champagne. Drink 2000 now because it is a precocious vintage” (using the term precocious in the true sense of the word, advanced or mature in development).

He also noted that Americans tend to favor “vintage-dated” Champagne, while the French have a greater appreciation of non-vintage Champagne (i.e., wine blended using top cuvées from different vintages). Don’t underestimate non-vintage Champagne, he said.

“1996 Krug is mind-boggling. If you must have only one Champagne before you die, make it ’96 Krug.”

Above: the main course for lunch was a whole, roasted salmon.

Needles to say, the mood was mirthful at this extraordinary tasting and whenever this many vintage, white-haired tasters get together, you are sure to hear epic tales of great wines and unforgettable meals. The best anecdote came from that great defender of traditional-style Italian wine, Charles Scicolone, a board-member of the guild and master of ceremonies (look for my post, “A Night on the Town with Charles Scicolone,” next week). A few years ago, he recounted, he and his wife Michele spent New Year’s eve with Ed and his wife Mary Mulligan in the home of a prominent wine importer. Ed brought a six-liter bottle of Louis Roederer Cristal that had been given to him by the winery. Not knowing where to chill the large bottle, their host filled the toilette with ice and placed the bottle in the bowl. Just before the clock struck midnight, the guests were dispatched to the bathroom to retrieve the wine and discovered that this prestigious bottle had “ended up in the toilette.” Despite this odd juxtaposition, said Charles, the wine tasted great.

Above: the beautiful color of the salmon paled in comparison to the hue of the 2000 Taittinger “Comtes de Champagne” Brut Rosé poured at my table (that’s 1999 Perrier-Jouët “Fleur de Champagne” Blanc de Blancs in my glass to the left).

* The term cuvée denotes “The contents of a vat of wine; a particular blend or batch of wine” (OED, online edition). In Champagne, a cuvée is a superior “blend or batch.”

Naturally Blogilicious @ Marlow & Sons, W-Burg

Above: Prince Edward Island oysters at Marlow & Sons in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

As I walked down Broadway toward the water from the J train Marcy stop on Thursday night, I was blown away by how many hipster and higher-end venues have opened in this Williamsburg neighborhood. When I first moved to NYC in 1997, there really wasn’t much here save for the bodegas, pizzerias, and fast foods that lined the street below the elevated train. Back then, the only restaurant that could draw Manhattanites over the Williamsburg Bridge was the highly overrated German beer hall Peter Luger, a would-be steakhouse where overpriced aged beef is drowned in clarified butter and hot-house-grown beefsteak tomatoes are dressed with Peter Luger steak sauce, a fancier version of A1 Steak Sauce.

My destination was über-hipster restaurant Marlow and Sons where I met up with two of the coolest food bloggers I know, Ganda and Winnie (funnily enough, our friend Cecily, also a super cool blogger, was sitting at the table next to us).

Above: note the cloudiness of the unfiltered Lunar in the glass.

We opened the evening with a 1996 Viña Gravonia by López de Heredia (an 11-year-old white wine) that went great with the Prince Edward Island oysters. The wine had more fruit in the mouth than the 95 and 94 that I’ve tasted and its gently oxidized nose was perfect with the salty oyster water.

Next we opened a 2006 Lunar (Ribolla Gialla) by Movia (that I had brought). I had met Movia’s owner Aleš Kristančič when he came to NYC earlier this year and he turned me onto this wine. As he explains it, he essentially places whole grape bunches into a vat, seals it, and lets the free-run juice turn into wine. According to Aleš, this natural wine contains such a small amount of sulfites that he believes he can have it approved by the TTB as “sulfite free.”* This unfiltered wine is rich, tannic, and shows wonderfully fresh flavors and aromas. In a way, it’s like the wine that early humankind drank: grapes that someone had forgotten in an amphora that inadvertently turned into wine. Lunar isn’t cheap and it’s not for everyone but I love it.

We closed the evening with yet another natural wine, a great Gamay. Wine director Marisa Marthaller has put together a remarkable list of naturally made Beaujolais and Beaujolais crus (probably rivaled only by Byron Bates’ list at Bette). She was kind enough to open her last bottle of Phillipe Jambon 2004 Roche Noire. Gauging from the initially super stinky nose, this wine contained no added sulfites. Winnie pointed out rightly that it smelled “poohey.”

Above: a laboratory beaker makes for a great decanter. Because of this natural wine’s initial “poohey” nose, it needed a lot of swirling and aeration. But when it came around, it was delightful.

Marisa (who really knows her stuff) decanted the wine in a laboratory beaker and the pooh smell gave way to delightful fruit. We asked for poohey cheeses to pair and she brought us some Hooligan (CT) and Dorset (VT). I ate the rind and all.

The food there was very good although a little too hipsterized for my taste. The oysters were fresh and delicious but the latkes were a little soggy. I liked the stewed lentils but we all agreed that it didn’t really make sense to top them with undercooked broccolo romanesco.

By the time we left, the restaurant was packed. In our corner alone — between me, Ganda, Winnie, and Amy — there were four bloggers: I can only wonder how many others visited that blogilicious night.

* Sulfites are compounds containing sulphurous acid. In modern winemaking (i.e., winemaking since the mid-19th century), small amounts of sulfur dioxide are often added to wines to “stabilize” them before shipping. The sulfur helps to eliminate bacteria that may be present in the wine and it also helps to keep the wine from oxidizing. But all wine contains some sulfites because as yeast turns sugar into alcohol, one of its byproducts is acid. The U.S. requires that all wine be labeled “contains sulfites” because asthmatics and people with aspirin allergies can be affected adversely by contact with sulfites. The “sulfite headache” is a myth. The reason why certain people experience headaches after drinking even small quantities of wine is that they are drinking bad wine! Imbalanced wines — especially highly alcoholic and overly concentrated wines — are what give people headaches. You can also get a wine headache by drinking too much of any wine and it’s important to remember that you should never drink wine without food and you should never sit down at the table without having a glass of water as well (if you’re drinking wine).

1986 Chianti (trading notes at Keens)

Above: old, traditionally vinified Sangiovese and grilled aged beef is perhaps one of the world’s most felicitous combinations and made our table very happy the other night at Keens Steakhouse in midtown.

One of my favorite things about Keens Steakhouse is the restaurant’s stationery. Its check presenters are adorned with Goreyesque imagery and there are “note pads” deposited at each table by the waitstaff (“Notes taken while at Keens”). We felt like school kids the other night when we met there for a porterhouse paired with old Chianti and began passing notes with savory and sometimes salacious commentary.

The star of the evening was a 1986 Chianti Classico Riserva by Castell’in Villa that we had brought ourselves. Words cannot describe how well this traditionally vinified Sangiovese paired with the meat: a seemingly divine combination of fruit and tannins that cut exquisitely through the juicy fat and richness of the beef.

And in what is sure to earn an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor, a 2000 Corton-Charlemagne by Olivier Lefaive performed wondrously. I’d never tasted this cru and as wrong as it seemed to pair it with my Caesar salad (topped with marinated anchovies), the match was spectacularly delicious. The wine had a seductively unctuous mouthfeel and a delicate balance of mineral flavors and subtle white stone fruit.

Above: the spirit was glib if not goliardic that night.