In A Hedonist in the Cellar, Jay McInerney gathers more than five years' worth of essays and continues his exploration of what's new, what's enduring, and what's surprising-giving his palate a complete workout and the reader an indispensable, idiosyncratic guide to a world of almost infinite variety. Filled with delights oenophiles everywhere will savor, this is a collection driven not only by wine itself but also the people who make it.
An entertaining, irresistible book that is essential for anyone enthralled by the myriad pleasures of wine.
Those who've ever thought wine writing was a bit sniffy will find McInerney's cheeky and informative squibs on wine a generous, almost ham-handed pleasure. In this collection of short essays, reproduced from his monthly column in House & Garden, the increasingly avid reader is enveloped in the various wines he tastes. It's sexy. But it's not just wine that's sexy here, it's also the people who have "caught the wine bug" and dedicate themselves to making their own labels. McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City; The Good Life) ferrets out the small winemakers, investigates their ethos and tastes their efforts with the same glee and tireless interest he dedicates to the big bottlers. This sense of discovery permeates each essay as he links the wine to its history, where the grapes come from and the culture that goes into its making. Readers will learn more than even the most dedicated oenephile can use, but everyone can be inspired to find the next bottle of something special for any occasion. (Oct.)
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November 05, 2007
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Excerpt from A Hedonist in the Cellar by Jay McInerney
Part Six: Matches Made in Heaven What to Drink with Chocolate Not far from the spot where Romeo secretly married Juliet, in the Valpolicella hills overlooking Verona, I discovered a more fortunate and successful match. I had just finished lunch with Stefano Cesari, the dapper proprietor of Brigaldara, in the kitchen of his fourteenth-century farmhouse, and I was trying to decide if it would be incredibly uncouth to ask who made the beautiful heather-toned tweed jacket he was wearing, when he put some dark chocolates from Perugia in front of me and opened a bottle of his 1997 Recioto della Valpolicella. One hesitates to describe any marriage as perfect, but I was deeply impressed with the compatibility of his semisweet, raisiny red and the bittersweet chocolates. Cesari later took me up to the loft of the big barn and showed me the hanging trays where Corvina and Rondinella grapes are dried for several months after harvest, which concentrates the grape sugars and ultimately results in an intense, viscous wine that, like Tawny Port, Brachetto, and a few other vinous oddities, enhances the already heady and inevitably romantic experience of eating chocolate. The Cabernet, Merlot, or Shiraz you drank with your steak may get along well with a simple chocolate dessert, especially if the wine is young and the fruit is really ripe, but real chocoholics should check out the dried-grape wines, many of which are fortified—that is, dosed with brandy, in the manner of Port, a process that stops fermentation and leaves residual sugar. "Fortification seems helpful in terms of matching chocolate," says Robert Bohr, the wine director at Cru, in Greenwich Village, which has one of the best wine lists in the country, if not the world. Bohr likes Tawny Port with many chocolate desserts, finding Vintage Port too fruity. (McInerney does too, and advises that some of the best Tawnies come from Australia's Barossa Valley.) But most of all Bohr likes Madeira. If you were to order the Hacienda Concepción chocolate parfait at Cru, Bohr would direct you to a vintage Madeira like the 1968 d'Oliveiras Boal. Madeira has become so unfashionable in the past century that many putative wine lovers have never tasted it, but I'm sensing the stirrings of a cult revival spearheaded by supergeeks like Bohr. The sweeter Malmsey style seems to be best suited to chocolate desserts. And by chocolate, I mean, of course, dark chocolate. Milk chocolate should be consumed only by day, if at all, and accompanied by milk. The cough-syrupy Umbrianpassitowine is made in the same fashion as Recioto from the mysterious and sappy Sagrantino grape. These powerful, sweet reds seem to have originated as sacramental wines, and they continue to inspire reverence among a small cult of hedonists, myself among them. This practice of drying grapes goes back thousands of years; there are references to drying wine grapes prior to fermentation in Homer and Hesiod. ("When Orion and Sirius come into mid-heaven," Hesiod advises inWorks and Days,"cut off all the grape clusters and bring them home. Show them to the sun for ten days and ten nights.") I like to imagine that these dried-grape wines resemble those that were drunk at Plato's symposium or Caligula's bashes—although chocolate wouldn't appear in Europe until the sixteenth century, Columbus having stumbled upon a stash of cacao beans on his fourth and last voyage to the New World. Two of the finest wines for chocolate, Maury and Banyuls, come from remote Roussillon in France's deep southeast. These so-calledvins doux naturelsare made (mostly) from late-picked Grenache grown on steep, terraced, wind-scoured hillsides near the Spanish border. The standard-bearing Banyuls estate is Domaine du Mas Blanc, one of the world's most famous obscure domaines. I first tasted this wine at JoJo, Jean-Geor