First of all, we’d like to thank you, our regular readers, for your patience and loyalty. We’ve heard from a number of you that you’ve been checking for the weekly posts you’ve come to expect from us and, well, our columns haven’t been quite weekly lately. What can we say? In the juggle of daily life, The Kitten posts have had to take their turn at the bottom of the heap. Our apologies. And our thanks for letting us know you miss us! Henceforth, we promise you that we’ll post at least every other weekend and will try to toss in periodic “extras” when we can.
This week, in honor of Halloween, we turn our attention to a subject that is little addressed in wine circles. In fact, it’s darn well overlooked. Yes, people, we’re talking about ghosts— the ethereal, other-worldly spirits that capture our imagination, especially this time of year. So we invite you to join us as we ponder what ghosts and wine might have in common.
You know how some places conjure a feeling or a mood? You walk in and have the sense that you’ve been there before? More intense than déjà-vu, it’s like there’s something ancient about the place that you already know but can’t put your finger on. It’s a feeling that’s downright, well, ghostly, and it encourages reliance on your intuition as much as your five senses. Just like places, wines can do this, too. And for us, our most memorable experiences of place or wine have been ones with this mysterious quality of being familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
Recently, I was in NYC visiting The Daughter, our eldest child, and we were looking for dinner on a Sunday night in midtown Manhattan. Turns out, this is a harder task than you might expect. In the City That Never Sleeps, midtown is actually rather deserted on a Sunday night. But with the help of Yelp, we found Sofia Wine Bar not only nearby, but open.
Walking from the hotel to the restaurant, most of the establishments we passed were quiet and dark. Yet when we neared our destination, we could see the warm glow of lights at the end of the block. We felt we’d stumbled upon a secret haven, like Harry Potter must have felt when he found Platform Nine and Three Quarters. As we stepped through the front door, sounds of laughter and animated conversation pulled us in. Lucky for us, there was a single table open in the quaint, back room.
The old brick walls, the carved wooden window details, and the glow from the light fixtures gave the place a ghostly feel— not scary ghostly, but “pleasantly haunted.” [We borrowed this quote from the owner of a winery inhabited by ghosts featured in Wine Enthusiast’s recent article, Old Haunts.] Immediately intrigued by the setting, all our senses were on high alert, perhaps the perfect state of mind for tasting wine and food.
The Special of the Day— Lasagne— was described to us with such loving reverence and flourish that it made this familiar dish sound like a rare delicacy. We we ordered it right way. And, in fact, it was every bit as mouth watering, fresh and pillowy-light as described. We both found it exquisite. Earning this rating from The Daughter is an especially difficult task, as she is a self-described Lasagne Fanatic who has sampled renditions of the dish at restaurants all over Manhattan.
The wine list was creatively organized by rhyming verses that divided the wines into flavor profiles. For instance, a category that included an Old Vine Grenache, a Sangiovese, a couple of Pinot Noirs, and a Dolcetta D’Alba was described as: “the touch of earth and soft tannins appeal, to the dash of plum and medium body feel.” I was charmed. Yet with over 80 wines by the glass, I simply couldn’t make up my mind. So I asked our server to pick for me and to NOT tell me what he was serving me, but rather to give that information to The Daughter to hold in safe keeping until I was ready to know. I love guessing games. And blind tastings.
The only guidance I gave our server was that I preferred full bodied red wines with balance and fairly full fruit, but not so fruity that they lacked structure. Even in dim lighting, I could tell that the wine he brought was dense and dark in color. It held aromas of blackberries, mixed with plum. The first flavor on the tongue was ripe black fruit and it finished with noticeable tannins. A little licorice and some brambly qualities came in mid- sip. I was fascinated.
I told The Daughter of Syrah-like qualities in the wine, but concluded it was not Syrah because of the level of tannins. I spoke of Cab-like qualities but concluded there was too much fruit and not enough earthy dust to be Cab. It tasted familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. As I type this now, I am wondering why on earth the idea of a blend didn’t dawn on me at that very moment. Perhaps I was lost in the imagery that the flavors brought to mind; each sip made me think of narrow, cobblestoned streets at dusk that twist and turn uphill. Or perhaps it was the ghosts that were throwing me off.
In the end, The Daughter revealed to me that I had been sipping an Argentenian Malbec blend from the foothills of the Andes Mountains, Cuvelier Los Andes “Coleccion.” Comprised of 60% Malbec, 15% Cabernet, 15% Merlot, 5% Syrah, 5% Petite Verdot, the Syrah gave the Bordeaux-like blend an interesting twist. And the Andean terroir gave the wine a unique flavor profile that made it difficult to pinpoint. It was one of the most delightful and confounding blind tastings I’ve ever had. When I thanked our server for his delicious and creative choice, he confessed that he had wanted to make the tasting challenging.
So this week at The Kitten, we’re hoping that whatever you sip takes you beyond the the concrete findings of taste and smell alone and brings you intuitive connections to something mysterious and bigger than just the wine itself. In this spirit, we raise our glasses to the familiar and the unfamiliar, to all of you, to Halloween, and to friendly ghosts everywhere.