This week, half of The Thirsty Kitten duo was in New York visiting our eldest offspring, who is a college student in The City That Never Sleeps. I was the lucky traveler. Under the guise of helping haul some of our daughter’s things back home to make her dorm move-out easier in a few weeks, I relished the idea of being in New York in the spring. Though I often tell people I am a native New Yorker, the truth is that I only lived there for the first six months of my life. Yet, it is also true that I have had a consuming passion for the city ever since.
Over the course of our dinners, my daughter graciously substituted for her dad in being my wine tasting partner. The Daughter is not a student of wine, but is an English major who is passionate about creative writing. She brought an open mind and fresh palate to the job and, charmingly, applied words and ideas from the literary world to what she smelled and tasted. Authors, characters and plot lines came alive in the sips I took, thanks to The Daughter. The experience reminded me of the beauty of approaching something you think you know well with Beginner’s Mind. The whole world sparkles when it feels new.
Our first evening, we dined at The Barrel Room in SoHo, a 30-seat cafe within the space of the City Winery, which features live music, great food and wines. On The Barrel Room side of the space, you get everything except the live music, but can watch it on a screen above the bar. In addition to a traditional wine list, The Barrel Room offers a dozen wines made on the premises and poured straight from the barrel through a tap. That’s right– wine on tap. I was excited.
I ordered a flight of reserve reds and received a trio of Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Zinfandel, all proprietary wines of the City Winery, sourced from California grapes. To my tastes, the 2010 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir (from Santa Maria) was a full bodied version of the varietal, with tart raspberries and good acidity. To The Daughter, it reminded of an apple orchard in the fall. “This wine,” she noted, almost as if it was obvious, “wears its heart on its sleeve.” So true, I thought! And very perceptive, as well. To me, great Pinot Noir has an elegance that almost fools you into missing the fact that it is actually very down to earth, authentic and bears its vulnerable heart to the world.
My take on the 2008 Cabernet from the Haystack Vineyard (Atlas Peak AVA, Napa Valley) was that it was a restrained version of the varietal, not as fruit filled as some California Cabs, with a medium body, earth-driven style. The Daughter said that this wine reminded her of standing on New York’s High Line around 14th Street in the Meat Packing District, looking at the old brick buildings mixed with sleek new ones of metal and glass. We had just been at that spot earlier in the day and her assessment made complete sense to me– Old World and New, not definitively one or the other, but an exciting mix of both.
Similar to the Cab, I found the 2009 Madder Lake Vineyard Zinfandel (from Lake County) to be balanced and lovely, but not as intense and fruit forward as many California Zins. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the flavors of spice and plum and found it my favorite of the tasting. The Daughter also chose it as her favorite. “This wine,” she said, “tastes mysterious, like the low notes in music.” In fact, it reminded her of a quote from author Herte Müller: ”Whatever you carry out of your province, you carry in your face.” Now that’s what I call a great description of Zinfandel! It is truly a wine of deep roots and history, and with a few dark secrets in the closet.
The next evening we dined in the West Village at Palma, a quaint, organic Italian restaurant. We were fortunate to be seated in the back garden, which felt as much like the Italian countryside as it did New York. I ordered a glass of Prosecco (Bisol’s Desiderio Jeio), feeling that Italian bubbly would be festive. Plus, I think everyone should teach their children what “champagne” is called is countries other than France so that they will be adequately prepared for life. The Daughter smiled wistfully after she sipped and said,”like blue clothes hanging on a clothes line.” The image made me think of a gentle breeze and the crunchy sound of dry grass in a summer drought. The nuances in her assessments were beginning to feel familiar and comfortable, like she was calling up vignettes from the past that described what I tasted.
We closed our culinary adventures back at the hotel, sharing a gigantic slice of chocolate cake with chocolate icing from Magnolia Bakery that The Daughter had procured earlier in the day. We paired it with a 2009 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel from Nalle Winery in Sonoma. The spicy blackberry notes of the wine were a wonderful complement to the dark chocolate. The Daughter, who noticed I had not yet asked for her thoughts, said, “Do you want to know about this wine?” And without hesitating for my reply, she said softly, “It’s like mothers and daughters.” I sighed happily and held the closeness of the moment to heart for safe-keeping.
So this week, we toast to sipping with fresh perspective, to tasting wine for the mood and story it evokes and for the shared moments it creates. Identifying flavors is somewhat of a science, but connecting wine to a memory, a moment, or a story is an art that can imprint it in your heart forever.