Some people think that it is the job of a wine critic to discover great bargains in the world of bottles and impart the news in hushed but excited tones to the madding crowds. Maybe that’s part of the remit. I incline, however, to this piece of wisdom from George Saintsbury, prosodist to the stars and incomparable, if quirky, cicerone to the fructum vitis et operis manuum hominum, which is to say: wine. “There is no money,” Saintsbury wrote,
of the expenditure of which I am less ashamed, or which has given me better value in return, than the price of the liquids chronicled in Notes on a Cellar-Book. When they were good they pleased my senses, cheered my spirits, improved my moral and intellectual powers, besides enabling me to confer the same benefits on other people. And whether they were bad or good, the grapes that had yielded them were the fruits of that Tree of Knowledge which, as the theologians too commonly forget to expound, it became not merely lawful but incumbent on us to use, with discernment, when our First Mother had paid the price for it, and handed it on to us to pay for likewise.
I like to think St. Thomas would agree. In any event, although it is my usual practice to confide dollars and cents, in this column I am going to forgo all pecuniary communication and simply tell you about some delicious wines I was privileged to sample over the Omicron Open, otherwise known as the Christmas holidays. None is cheap, really, but neither are any extravagant.
Fans of The Philadelphia Story will remember the starring role played by Miss Pommery 1926. It was she who tickled Tracy Lord’s tipple bone, leading to the midnight skinny dip with the dippy young scribe Mike, thus bringing out the Othello in oily old George Kittredge, man of the people. It’s a lovely Champagne, and while I have not had the ’26, I was pleased, courtesy of a generous friend, to get outside the 2004 Brut Cuvée Louise on Christmas Day. It was everything Champagne should be: rich, refreshing, ever so slightly yeasty in a taut, firm hand-on-your-shoulder sort of way. Elizabeth Imbrie, salivating over the Champagne bar with wicked Uncle Willie in The Philadelphia Story, exclaimed “I’ve never had enough.” “You will tonight,” was Willie’s response, and he was right. We alas, had but one bottle to quaff.
But then we also had the 2018 Domaine Faiveley Gevrey Chambertin “Les Marchais” to investigate along with the beef, so it’s not as if we were lacking for company. I had something to say about Chambertin in a recent column, so I won’t waste many adjectives on this rural cousin except to say that it’s pleasant, approachable, even-tempered, and biddable. Deep? No. Succulent? Not quite Delicious? Why ask so many questions. Have a bit more. You’ll like it.
I was also pleased to share a delicious dinner of Elysian Fields lamb chops with a friend or, to be more accurate, two friends: an intelligent and witty London pal and an intelligent and witty 2008 Chateau Beycheville, a splendid St. Julien that was showing very nicely indeed. It really is one of the very best St. Juliens, firm but yielding, well-structured but full, rounded, blooming, long.
A celebratory luncheon of goose brought me to the San Andreas Fault, at least to the 2016 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir “San Andreas Fault,” a delightful Sonoma Coast wine planted on a series of ridgetops formed by the geological timebomb just a few miles from the Pacific Coast. It’s a clear, dark, rubyesque wine, earthy in the best, most generous, way.
Finally, I’d like to introduce you to both a wine and a restaurant. Old-timers fondly remember the Gotham Bar & Grill at 12, East 12th Street in Manhattan. It was a delightful spot, with a welcoming atmosphere, delicious food and a good wine list. It was reinvented at some point and fell apart: snooty, barely edible ambition swamped gustatory good sense. Then Covid happened and it closed, unlamented. But out of its ashes has arisen the Gotham Restaurant, handsomely reappointed and with a talented chef intent on pleasing diners, not his ego.
The wine list, too, is special. I could spend an entire column or ten on that, but here I’ll just mention a modest but delightful 2019 Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It’s called 12 East 12 and was blended specially for the restaurant by the Alit Collective in partnership with Bret Csencsitz, the new owner of the Gotham. You can buy it online from the collective at www.alit.wine, but why not stop by the restaurant to sample a glass or a bottle first? Let me know when you are going and I’ll join if I can.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s February 2022 World edition.