This job has some nice perks, but for sheer decadence few can match the joy of watching a ballgame from a skybox at Camden Yards while scarfing down sausage and washing it down with 1990 Chateau Petrus.
The wine, in case it's not something you serve every night, is a celestial Bordeaux that fetches upward of $200 a bottle. A nit-picker could complain that it isn't as celestial as the 1990 Chateau Margaux, which costs a mere $100, but the Petrus was more than good enough to ease the pain of watching the Tigers take batting practice against the Orioles pitching staff.
The occasion was a trade tasting put on by Dreyfuss, Ashby & Co., a leading wine importer whose generosity will be repaid by trashing their 1991 red Burgundy selections. (That's why we paid for the ticket, so we could do so in good conscience.)
But first, the good news.
If the wines produced by the large Joseph Drouhin firm are a reliable indicator, devotees of white Burgundy will be delighted by the 1992 vintage, which is just coming on the market.
From the humble Rully Blanc all the way up to the exalted Puligny-Montrachet Folatieres, Drouhin's 1992 whites were marvelous. Out of nine 1992 white Burgundies, only an over-alcoholic Beaune Clos des Mouches failed to impress.
What was especially noteworthy was the strong performance of Drouhin's "village" wines -- those that carry the designation of a -- well-known wine town but not a specific vineyard designation. Village wines from Burgundy are often among the biggest rip-offs in the world of wine today, but Drouhin's Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet showed exceptional depth, ripeness and complexity.
In general, the 1992s are plump, rounded wines that won't
require as much time to develop as most good vintages of white Burgundy. Prices could be moderated by the fact that much of France slogged through a miserable vintage. There's no justice to it, but the market sometimes knocks down Burgundy prices when Bordeaux has a poor year.
Unfortunately, the consumer will not find many delights among the 1991 Drouhin red Burgundies. Out of 11 choices, there were no outstanding wines. The overall quality could be described as workmanlike. Some of the wines were better than average, but given the lofty price of red Burgundies, it is unlikely the consumer will find many bargains.
Part of the problem could be the Drouhin approach to winemaking. The wines appeared to have been filtered, a process that takes a heavy toll on the sensitive pinot noir grape. Overall, however, the main problem seemed to be a mediocre vintage.
Drouhin appeared to have more luck during 1991 in Oregon, where its 1991 pinot noir is packed with fruit and could be quite impressive if given two or three years to tame its rough edges. Whether it will live up to its price of about $30 is doubtful, however.
Dreyfuss-Ashby also served the wines of a thoroughly mediocre Oregon operation called Argyle, which makes some of the worst chardonnays you could imagine. Why Dreyfuss-Ashby would include it in an otherwise classy event is a mystery.
But it's easy to forgive folks who serve you 1985 Bollinger Grand Annee Champagne, a must for any self-respecting skybox inhabitant.
By the way, the sausage and Petrus really didn't go all that well together. But who could resist?
From the electronic mailbag:
Q: We love spicy Indian food, but we're having trouble finding a wine that can stand up to the fiery dishes. Under $20 would be helpful. Any suggestions?
A: After a search that went from the steaming jungles of Madras to the frozen peaks of the Himalayas, the perfect wine to serve with Indian food has been found. The problem is finding any, because it's about the most esoteric stuff you can imagine.
The wine world's Curry King is German scheurebe from the Rheinpfalz region, harvested at spatlese or auslese levels but vinified dry. The problem is, only a few producers can carry it off, and they produce small quantities. The best are Muller-Catoir, Kurt Darting and Lingenfelder. To locate wines from these producers you might have to call the importer, Terry Theise, at the Milton S. Kronheim Co. in Washington.
Be warned that scheurebe is an exotic grape that is an acquired taste. Its assertive herbal and grapefruit-rind flavors can be jarring, but with spicy Asian food, it shines.
Most likely, you'll want to settle for a more available, less weird wine. Some other good matches include a good riesling from a top German estate, a dry Vouvray or a youthful California chenin blanc. Stay away from reds or oak-aged whites. You might want to try a Spanish cava (sparkling wine), as it will douse the fires without sacrificing your better bubbly.
Q: I have a nice collection of cabernets (1985); Bordeaux (1986, '88, '89); Rhones (1985, '88, '89, '90); Brunello di Montalcino (1982, '85), Chiantis (1978, '85, '88, '90) and Barolos (1985). I store them in my basement, where the temperature does get up to 73 or 74 degrees in the summer.
I have always heard that if the temp gets above 65, plan on drinking before they are 10 years old. How critical is the temp and does the vintage and/or varietal have anything to do with their abilities to withstand this high a temp? I had planned on drinking these from ages 10 through 20. Should I change my plans for some or all of these wines?
A: It's a tough call. If your cellar reaches a peak of 73-74 on a few hot days, that's unlikely to cook them or speed them up too much. But if your cellar remains at a constant 73-74 from Memorial Day through Labor Day, that's another story.
The answer will also vary with the vintage and type of wine. If your temperatures stay that high for long stretches, you might want to drink whites on a buy-'em-and-pop-em basis. Port and madeira probably won't be affected.
Among reds, the biggest, burliest vintages -- which you seem to fancy -- will resist heat marginally better than lighter years, but even the best won't take unlimited abuse.
For serious reds, the 10-year figure is a good guideline if your summer temps are consistently in the 70s. You can probably go longer than 10 with 1986, 1989 and 1990 Bordeaux, 1982 and 1985 Brunello and some 1989 and 1990 Rhones.
The key, as with any cellar, is to taste regularly to monitor for progress. Remember that your cellar is not a museum but an active part of your home. Visit it regularly, and don't skimp on air conditioning.
Have questions? You can leave them as messages on America On-Line's Wine & Dine Bulletin board or send them via the Internet to editurz.aol.com.
You can also send them to The Sun at 501 North Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.
1990 Bourgogne Rodet, Pinot Noir de Vieilles Vignes ($9).
Unbelievable, simply unbelievable! A red Burgundy -- real French Burgundy -- that costs only $9 and actually delivers the characteristic cherry-ish flavors of the region. It isn't complex or rich, but it's a truly harmonious wine in a light, appealing style. If that isn't enough, Rodet's 1991 Bourgogne, Chardonnay de Vieilles Vignes ($9), is just as spectacular a value among white Burgundies. Here are two great house wines for consuming over the next six months.