It's A Small World (After All)
I first traveled to New York City in 1996 on business. Like most other first-timers, I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer size, magnitude, noise, and movement of the city. As I took a cab back to the airport at the end of the week, I distinctly remember wondering how anyone could possibly live and function in this city. As I returned again and again (and again and again and again, and, well, you get the idea), New York actually seemed to slow down. I adjusted and began to feel more at ease in the city. I learned the subway system; I found favorite restaurants and hang-outs, and, probably, most importantly, I learned when it is just easier to walk even if it is raining/snowing/120 degrees outside (actually, what's really most important is to remember to pack a few extra shirts when it is a 120 degrees and a thousand percent humidity!). And then a really interesting thing happened. I started to run into people I knew on the streets. Sometimes they were business contacts and sometimes long lost college acquaintances, but almost every time I'm now in New York I'll unexpectantly run into someone I know. And so, over the course of twelve years and 50+ trips to New York, the city has transformed from totally overwhelming to a very small world. What does this have to do with wine? Quite a lot actually. For most people, walking into a wine store or opening a voluminous wine list at a high end restaurant feels just like the shock and awe of a first time visit to New York. And it is only with time, repeat visits, lots of trial and error, and hopefully some friendly guidance that one becomes fully comfortable in either of these alien environments. And then, every once in a while, wine, just like New York, throws you a surprise and reminds you that it really is a small world.
This past weekend, we took the kids to Los Angeles to visit family and friends. On Friday we had dinner with Kerith's brother and sister-in-law at Osteria Mozza, the new-ish restaurant from Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton. The food was really fantastic - lots of great cheese, fresh pasta, and delicious main courses. The wine list was devoted to mostly Italian varietals and was a little overwhelming even for us. We've been to Italy before and feel fairly comfortable with Tuscan wines, but we are lost when it comes to anything produced north or south of Tuscany. We decided that we wanted to try a barolo since they typically have some of the same traits as pinot noir. Barolo is made from nebbiolo grapes and is usually characterized as refined, elegant, and sensual - just like great pinot noir, albeit more tannic. After some back and forth with the sommelier about various producers and vintages, he steered us to a single vineyard barolo, the 2003 from Saffirio sourced from the Persiera vineyard. The wine was smooth, food friendly, with lots of dark fruit on the nose, and just the right amount of tannin, overall, a great delight and accompaniment to the dinner. In a nod to marketing, one of the things that stood out was the label featuring a gnome that looked remarkably similar to that weird mascot on the Travelocity commercials. The only bummer of the evening was that we requested to take the label home with us, but after waiting about fifteen minutes, we had to give up and leave. Without the label to remember the wine by, we left with the realistic expectation of never seeing or tasting this fine wine again. And that would have been that, except for what happened next.
On Saturday we met our good friends Darren and Susanna at Hatfields, another new-ish hot spot. Again, the food was excellent, with standouts including the Croque Madame appetizer and the lamb entrée. Our friends brought along the wine for the meal. First up was a 1990 Perrier Jouet Fleur de Champgne, a remarkable sparkler made from chardonnay and pinot noir. It had sumptuous aromas and was a great start to the evening. Then, with a flourish and a promise of a unique and delicious wine to come, Darren pulled from his bag........yes, none other than the exact same 2003 Saffirio Barolo from Persiera vineyard from the evening before. The gnome on the label was a dead give-away, and the wine was just as delicious on night two as it was on night one.
The odds of the sommelier at Osteria Mozza recommending this small production, family owned wine from their roughly 100 barolo offerings and then having the exact same bottle show up the very next night via our friends' private cellar are almost too small to conceive. By comparison, I probably have a better shot at beating Michael Phelps in the 200M freestyle. It just shouldn't happen.
But then wine, just like New York, has the tendency to compress time and space, bring people together, and ultimately become the exception that proves the rule. And so, on Saturday night in L.A., by way of a dunce cap wearing gnome from Piedmont, Italy, we were reminded again just how small a world this really is.