Summer 07 Ends, Eating Raoul’s and Drinking 1990 Chinon

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The summer of 2007 will be remembered — in my mind at least — as the summer that I quit my full-time day gig (September 7 was my last day as Marketing Director at the group that runs Centovini, I Trulli, and Vino), the summer that Nous Non Plus went back to France for the second glorious time, the summer that I turned 40, the summer of my official mid-life crisis, and the summer that I fell in love with Cabernet Franc and Chinon.

The seemingly endless and at-times-painful summer of 07 (for there was a promise that unraveled sadly, as well) came to an end on Sunday, September 23 at 5:51 a.m. (or so they say), the day after Yom Kippur and the day after my mother’s birthday.

The night before I left for California (to spend Yom Kippur and my mom’s birthday with the family) was a summery evening in New York and the city was bustling with the last notes of warm-weather partying. I found myself downtown with a wine biz bud and we couldn’t get a table anywhere: Blue Ribbon was packed to the gills, Balthazar was as bustling as Belshazzar’s Babylonia, and a Bellini sludge sparkled and shimmered as it oozed over the sidewalk at Cipriani into the gutter.

The solution? Raoul’s… where the colorful characters and the Negronis (with maraschino garnish) took the edge off a thirty-minute wait for a table. Our reward? The best seat in the house — the deuce in the corner of the dimly lit garden — and a wine list that included a 1999 Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia (“the best Burgundy in Rioja,” our skilled and sharp-witted sommelier noted), and a 1990 Domaine Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses, both at very reasonable prices.

I had never been to Raoul’s, a true downtown New York experience where locals with thick eastcoast accents and full heads of hair (some real, some faux) gather, an authentic 1970s scene, too upscale for Scorsese’s Mean Streets but not mundane enough for Allen’s Manhattan.

The Viña Bosconia was light and fresh and went well with my frisée salad (laden with lardoons and topped with a runny egg).

The 1990 Chinon was simply sublime. I’d been drinking Chinon all summer (in Paris and New York) but had never had the chance to drink any older vintages. The 1990 single-vineyard Raffault teemed with the wonderful vegetal flavors that Robert Parker seems to despise — he once wrote infamously, “I have found the majority of these wines (made from 100% Cabernet Franc) to be entirely too vegetal and compact for my tastes” — and it paired beautifully with my steak au poivre, the house specialty at Raoul’s. The wine had a delightful freshness — impressive for a seventeen-year-old wine — and we enjoyed every drop.

By June of 1990, I had finished my first year of post-grad studies at the Università di Padova (where I met my friend, cineaste and novelist Mauro Gasparini, whose excellent blog, I recently discovered). I spent the rest of the summer in San Diego living at home and working as a bike messenger, preparing for the doctoral program at the UCLA Italian Department where, in September, I began teaching Italian language.

I never could have imagined that the summer of 2007 would find me working as a writer and a copywriter on the New York food and wine scene. But stranger things have happened. Hopefully, even stranger things will happen yet.

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Above: Eating Raoul, 1982. Isn’t funny that the male lead works in a wine store? Well, it seems funny now.