272 Seasons

272  are how many seasons that have come and went over the course of my short life. Each season brings changes that reflect both the weather and the time frame in which it occurred.

One of my favorite musicals, “Fiddler on the Roof” has a beautiful song that speaks of  the seasons morphing into Sunrises and Sunsets. Written in 1964 by composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick, “Sunrise, Sunset” speaks of the calendar of life.

“Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? I don’t remember growing older. When did they?

When did she get to be a beauty? When did he grow to be so tall? Wasn’t it yesterday that they were small?

Sunrise, Sunset, Sunrise, Sunset, Swiftly flow the days, Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, Blossoming even as they gaze

Sunrise, Sunset, Sunrise, Sunset, Swiftly fly the years, One seasons following another, Laden with happiness and tears, One season following another, Laden with happiness and tears…Sunrise, Sunset.”

Our ability to look back through the decades of our lives reflects a common theme. No matter how good or how bad the times were, they change swiftly, like the seasons. Each season is memorable in the victories and defeats we experience. Sometimes one season can change us for a lifetime.

Marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, the death of a parent or close friend, changes us like the seasons we bask in.  We can feel when winter is coming or the first bloom of Spring, lifting our spirits because of the warmth of the sun.

As we grow older and we’re not in such a regimented existence, time seems to speed up. The regimentation begins in Kindergarten moving through College and then into a job. All these elements of discipline require a time schedule.

It seems that for most people the discipline of organizational structure relies on patterns. The pattern of time, meals, routes, and scheduled time off. The Hamster wheel is very comfortable for most. Switching off the thought process to navigate as a robot affords most the luxury of a comfort zone.

Unfortunately our lives are relatively short. This means that for most people experiencing the thrill of life’s adventures becomes uncomfortable because this breaks the routine of self-inflicted patterns.

If we are goal oriented and soldier ahead with the end game in mind we can find that experiencing the thrill of life’s adventures is our reward. This honors both sides of the spectrum, routine and adventure.

I’ve had to think about the seasons that were the most reflective and thought provoking. In addition to life and death situations it is the change of circumstance that brings to light the abstract and the actual. Sometimes we envision a place or person will enhance life’s beautiful orb of possibility.

As a child we believe anything is possible. We dream of castles in the stars or far off lands to explore. As we get older most listen to the negativity from others that keeps forming a box around our mind. It’s easier not to try then to try and be defeated.

However, most people will agree that our greatest lessons come from our defeats. If we don’t repeat that same mistake we can grow as a person and become much more affective in determining what our future life can be.

With the sunrise, it’s about jumpstarting the day with purpose and a hearty dose of optimism. With the sunset, it’s about slowing down and savoring life’s flavors, recognizing that every day is a unique blend of sweet and savory.

Each season we experience is an expression of God painting from a pallet that brings nature to life. I see the Daffodils and Tulips ushering in Spring and the birth of wildflowers cascading across meadows with color and scent.

As Summer approaches and the Spring rains have mostly drawn their seasonal curtain until Winter we now relish the activities of Summer. Boating, hiking, camping, and picking the berries that surround us for the pies we so look forward to devouring. This becomes a season full of life.

Farther from the beginning than the end our seasonal curtain will at some point be drawn. The many memories will be but a foot note in a life that dreamed big (not always succeeding, but never giving up).

Keeping our word through-out those 272 seasons becomes one of the most important aspects related to success. Internally, if your word is your contract you can live through each season with the tranquility that comes with a decision your parents instilled in you when you were young.

The strength that comes with peace of mind can make any season a beautiful adventure. Then we can behold the wonder of discovery and the expansion of horizons never thought possible but achieved by the greatest distance we’ll ever travel… the distance between our ears.

 

 

 

The Voyage of a Searching Soul

 

Whether its a dream that propels us to lands and people in our imagination, or the reality of planning a voyage to new destinations. Our heart lives for a Uruguayan sunset or the acoustic camouflage of the ocean that drowns out all other sensory distractions.

Our brain lives for the thrill of discovery which is at its height when we experience a place or event for the first time. Being in the mode of discovery opens our universe to the unveiling of new possibilities.

Those new possibilities create that inner smile that radiates through-out our body. This smile in turn  transmits negative ions that increase levels of the mood chemical, serotonin. This “serotonin” helps to alleviate depression, relieves stress, and boosts our energy. What could be better than to be on a voyage that illuminates all that brings a song to our soul?

New places we’ve read about and would love to visit brings cultures into the spotlight of discovery. Music, food, wine, architecture, and literature provide an interaction with those we’ve met along the way. This opens up the corridors of knowledge, bringing history books to life.

Enraptured by a tour of Buckingham Palace, the Louvre Museum, and the Burgundy region of France, we walk across a path tethered by the present, thinking of the past, eventually… to be shared in the future.

Each country we visit has its own magical charm that begs the question, “Have I been here before?” Past lives are open for discussion as familiarity breeds questions we can not answer.

Our propensity to gravitate towards certain foods, wines, and countries draws us closer to the past.  We breath in the smells, sounds, and flavors of cultures we can now speak of from experience. Each experience is a page in a book yet to be written, penned by an author immersed in the soul searching bounty of life.

As countries are brought into focus, I look for the finest to draw from in a short amount of time. I search for the best tours that create a real feel for the city. We find ourselves in the mode of discovery highlighting cultural expletives we must see that represent a grain of sand in the hourglass of life.

In Spain it will be flamenco guitar, tapas, sherry,  the most beautiful Gothic architecture, and world class beaches. Thriving in the  means of exploration I find things I wasn’t even searching for.

I stumbled across a page that listed the  best pizza restaurant in Europe located in Barcelona Spain, called “Sartoria Panatieri”. And on a more sublime note… who could forget one of the most revered artists of all time, Pablo Picasso born in Malaga, Spain.

Each city in every country has a story to tell. Each tale is brought to life through music. That music becomes a style that reflects a large part of the country’s identity. The arts are what draws people to experience different cultures.

And then there are other notes of culture to listen to. The food in every country which represents culture, climate, and products available. Each dish is passed down from generation to generation following the taste and traditions of the people who famously created it.

If you were to talk about how the top ten countries in the world prior to the 20th century related to their contributions to humanity… in almost every case music, food, wine, architecture, and literature would top the list.

Now it is technology and the advances turning luxuries into necessities. But before that it was the communication through the above mentioned arts that drew people to forget the struggles of everyday life.

In Portugal, Fado is a music of the world. Originating in Lisbon, Portugal,  it sings the feeling, heartbreak, and the longing for someone who is no longer in their life. The matches, or the mismatches of life are an infinite theme for inspiration. The mournful tunes and lyrics are often about the sea or life of the poor. Usually this music is infused with a sense of resignation, fate, and despair.

Every country, every state, every community, every person… if they’ve lived a little, writes poetry or sings songs about soulful sadness. It’s a lingering thought just beyond our reach… a perceptible weight on our heart.

The voyage of life is brought to a soulful crescendo when sadness is silenced. We learn to overcome our youthful hormonal surges that seems to create an emptiness inside. Then, with wisdom that comes with soulful searching, and of course age, we replace sadness with love.

The love we have for life’s voyage is a journey that leads us to search for answers about ourselves. Not only ourselves but those we’ve shared special memories with which are etched in the caverns of our mind… for as long as forever is.

Beloved Phrases from the Past

When I was growing up there were a plethora of phrases that embodied the spirit of the moment.  Many of these “sayings”  had historical origins.

Other phrases I attributed to my parents and grandparents. These are some of those notable sayings both historical and home grown.

“Turn a blind eye” is often used to refer to a willful refusal to acknowledge a particular reality. This dates back to a legendary chapter in the career of the British naval hero Horatio Nelson. During the 1801 battle of Copenhagen, Nelson’s ships were pitted against a large Danish-Norwegian fleet.

When his more conservative superior officer flagged him to withdraw, the one-eyed Nelson supposedly brought his telescope to his bad eye and blithely proclaimed, “I really do not see the signal.” He went on to score a decisive victory.

Some historians have since dismissed Nelson’s famous quip as merely a battlefield myth, but the phrase “turn a blind eye” persists to this day.

The phrase “paint the town red” most likely owes its origin to one legendary night of drunkenness. In 1837, the Marquis of Waterford, a known lush and mischief maker, led a group of friends on a night of drinking through the town of Melton Mowbray. The bender culminated after Waterford and his fellow revelers knocked over flowerpots, pulled knockers off of doors, and broke the windows of some of the town’s buildings.

To top it off, the mob literally painted a tollgate, the doors of some of the homes and a swan statue with red paint. The Marquis and his pranksters later compensated Melton for the damages, but their drunken escapade has lived in infamy.

“By and Large” is another phrase that originated on the high seas… like “taken aback”, “loose cannon”, and “high and dry”.

As far back as the 16th century the word “large” was used to mean that a ship was sailing with the wind at its back. Meanwhile, the much less desirable “by” meant the vessel was traveling into the wind. Thus, for mariners, “by and large” referred to trawling the seas in any and all directions relative to the wind.

“Butter someone up” means to impress someone with flattery. The origin of this was a customary religious act in ancient India. The devout would throw butter balls at the statues of their gods to seek favor and forgiveness.

“Mad as a hatter” of course means to be crazy. Believe it or not this phrase did not originate from Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Its origins date from the 17th and 18th centuries.

In 17th century France, poisoning occurred among hat makers who used mercury for the hat felt. The “Mad Hatter Disease” was marked by shyness, irritability, and tremors that would make the person appear, “mad”.

“It’s raining cats and dogs” is supposed to have originated in England in the 17th century. City streets were filthy and heavy rains would occasionally carry along dead animals. Richard Brome’s, The City Witt, 1652, has the line “It shall rain dogs and polecats”. Also, cats and dogs both have ancient associations with bad weather.

“A stitch in time saves nine” means it’s better to solve a problem right away then to let it fester to become a much bigger problem. It’s first recorded in a book from the year, 1723. Of course it is a sewing reference. The idea is that sewing up a small rip with one stitch means the tear is less likely to get bigger and need more stitches, such as nine stitches later on.

However, the Prime Minister of England, Boris Johnson said this phrase as he announced extra rules on things like pubs closing times in England.

Several other phrases my grandmother used were as follows:

      • Many hands make light work
      • Absence makes the heart grow fonder
      • Never look a gift horse in the mouth
      • People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks
      • Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater
      • Early to bed and early to rise makes you happy, healthy, and wise
      • Any job worth doing is worth doing well
      • Birds of a feather flock together
      • You’re preaching to the choir
      • More than you can shake a stick at
      • It doesn’t amount to a hill of beans
      • Goodness gracious (my favorite)

It’s funny how I would take these phrases for granted when I was shorter. Now I look back nostalgically and associate certain people and situations with the blessed memories of a time long ago.

I guess time is relative as we proceed to the final curtain. Each memory from the past related to our family takes on a very special meaning. We were captivated by phrases, not always understanding the meaning but certainly appreciating the delivery.

I remember my grandmother washing apples from her tree with soap and water. Occasionally an apple would slip out of her hands and land on the floor. That’s when she would exclaim, “Goodness gracious”.

I miss that phrase coming from my sweet grandmother.  That moment lives today in infamy, though not in life.

The Business I Loved

When I was a little kid I was very good at constructing forts using my building blocks. I figured out later that what I was really good at, design, and artistic composition, required something that unfortunately was my weakest subject in school… math.

Then, after I took a job as a busboy at the Caprice restaurant in Tiburon California, I fell in love with the restaurant business. I loved juggling five things at once depending upon timing, quality service, and of course… knowledge of your product.

At the Caprice I learned table side service. I would carve filet tenderloin, rack of lamb, and prosciutto. I also prepared Steak Diane, Duck a L’Orange, Caesar salad, Crepes Suzette, Cherries Jubilee, and a myriad of other dishes at the table.

Along with the dishes listed above I learned to make cocktails, and began the process of learning about wine. Each element was a journey which took me down different paths requiring intimate knowledge of product and service. The more I learned about the restaurant business,  the more I realized that each aspect of cocktails, food, wine, and service was a never ending educational deep dive.

I also knew that to aspire to the heights of fine dining excellence I would have to make a great commitment. This would require being around the best chefs, managers, and sommeliers in the world.

I’ve seen customers fight in the restaurant, carried out on a stretcher, cuffed by police, and pass out with their head down on the table with a thump. I’ve been threatened by customers, and even worked at a restaurant that received a bomb threat.

Each restaurant I learned something new about food, wine, cocktails, and myself. I’ve worked on the largest dinning ship west of the Mississippi, the oldest and most respected hotels atop Nob Hill in San Francisco, owned a restaurant chosen in the top ten by Time Life Books, and journeyed to NY to work with Joel Chenet (who was the personal chef to the president of France).

The Master Sommeliers I’ve worked with in Las Vegas include Ian Cauble, and Fred Dame (the third in the US to become a Master). I studied with Master’s Evan Goldstein and Wilford Wong when I was a General Manager at the Fairmont in San Francisco.

Along the way I was in charge of the wine list for Mason’s at the Fairmont Hotel, the wine lists for the Mark Hopkins Hotel, the California Hornblower Dining Yacht (entire west coast), Epanoui in Tiburon, The Plumb Room in Fort Lauderdale Florida, Bonnie Castle Resort in up State New York, and John Ash in Santa Rosa California.

Each restaurant and every situation I learned something new about food, the pairing of food and wine, and the distinct differences between liquors. I received my sommelier certification in 2014 at the Aria (a five star hotel in Las Vegas).

I see the movies Burnt, Chef, and others that take me back to the pressure cooker that is the restaurant business. The execution of food is the art of starting with exceptional product prepared consistently in an artistic form.

It’s funny that with all the artistic presentations that drew oohs and aahs from the guests, the most complements I ever received was at the steak house, Jean George at the Aria Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

This was proof positive that when travelers dine out, they appreciate more than anything, a good steak. Of course working in the restaurant business is filled with high drama between the front and back of the house, management, staff, and of course the guests.

When I worked at L’Oliver in San Francisco I worked with some really crazy servers. One such server, Robin, was a raging alcoholic. He’d do double shifts, working lunch and dinner. He would start drinking scotch out of a coffee cup when he arrived for the lunch shift, around 10am.

By dinner time Robin was inebriated, and when the last seating rolled around, he could hardly stand. On one such occasion he was serving a well dressed couple having an intimate celebratory dinner.

After clearing the ladies unfinished Dover Sole entree, Robin went in the back of the restaurant and finished off the Dover Sole. After drinking another glass of wine he paired with the Dover Sole, hiding behind a curtain in the kitchen, he staggered out to the couples table.

It was beautiful to watch. Kind of like a car crash you want to turn your head away, but can’t. Robin was weaving between tables to reach the couple. As he began to tell the couple about desserts, he spit a piece of the Dover Sole which landed perfectly , a direct hit, onto the gentleman’s tie.

Watching this was like watching a movie in slow motion. The gentleman looked down at his tie, looked up at Robin, and said, “Check please.”

The gentleman, after leaving the table with his wife, made a B line for the owner. All I saw were arms flailing as he described the egregious service. The owner was beside himself with apologies to the customers/victims.

I then went to find Robin to tell him to watch out for the owner that was coming for him. However, Robin was passed out in the private dinning room, drooling on his uniform in a position of absolute content.

I hid in a dark corner to watch the owner arrive to find Robin, wake him up, and suspend him for two weeks. I’m not sure that Robin even remembered anything past 6pm, but for me… it was truly a funny sight to witness.

I’ve got a hundred stories like that one.  Each day was a journey into the unknown.  This revolved around the people I worked with in need of psychiatric assistance, and the guests in search of escape, drowning themselves into the world of inebriation.

 

Spanish Sherry

When first I heard about Sherry, the only thing communicated to me was that Spanish Sherry was the best in the world. There were few upscale restaurants in San Francisco that had quality Sherry as either an aperitif or an after dinner offering.

At the time I had regularly scheduled tastings with four master sommeliers, usually in a private dining room at the Ritz Carlton. Our tastings included wines from around the world as a testing ground for future advancement in the sommelier world.

I found these tastings to be enlightening, and so very educational. To be around those four guys that had passed their master sommelier exam was a true blessing. It gave me a heightened awareness of the subtleties of wine and the distinctive properties exhibited by terroir and varietal composition.

One of the tastings I’ll never forget involved Spanish Sherry. This wasn’t so much a lesson in determining the varietal or terroir but a lesson in the excellent art of Sherry production. I was told there was only one place that produced the greatest Sherry in the world… and that was Spain.

While there was usually a debate about other varietals related to best in the world… there was no doubt that Spain was the Sherry capital of the world.

The history of Sherry is closely linked with that of Spanish wine production, particularly the political fortunes of the Cadiz region, where it originated. This region saw the Phoenician settlement of the Liberian Peninsula create a triangle of Sherry production that exists to the present day.

The triangular region between the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria, and Sanlucar de Barrameda is the epicenter for one of the world’s oldest wines.

The evolution of Sherry has been influenced by many of the world’s greatest empires and civilizations : the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Moors, Spanish, and British. While Sherry does not enjoy the level of popularity it once did, it remains one of the world’s most unusual and historical expressions.

The Sherry Triangle is an area in the province of Cadiz in southwestern Spain. The secret is the combination of soil. The  chalky, crumbly, moisture retaining albariza, encourages the growth of flor, a type of yeast that forms on the aging wine and prevents it from oxidizing.  The cities mentioned above are where the bodegas store and blend this magnificent beverage. Jerez translates as Sherry in Spanish, and so the wine is named after this region.

There are strict rules to what classifies as Sherry. Only fortified white wines bottled in Jerez and made using Jerez grapes can be awarded the D.O. (Denominacion de Origen). In the Jerez region the predominant grape is the Palomino, named after a 13th century Spanish knight. In other regions this grape is pedestrian. However, in Jerez the magic of the soil and the prevailing humidity allows the growth of the protective flor yeast to exact an exceptional dryness and earthy aroma.

Few things can beat Sherry as a pre-meal aperitif. Ever since Sir Francis Drake ransacked the port of Cadiz in 1587 and made off with 3,000 barrels of Sherry, the British have been addicted to the stuff, and continue to be the main international clients.

Within the category of dry Sherry there is the Manzanilla, which is made exclusively in Sanlucar de Barrameda. Many can detect a hint of sea in this wine due to its proximity to the ocean.

Like Port, Sherry is a fortified wine, meaning extra alcohol is added to bring the percentage of alcohol to around 16 percent. After the grapes are harvested in early September, they are crushed to make a still white wine. This ages for about two years before being put through the criadera and solera system, which is a process to blend different years to ensure the finished product is of consistent quality.

The different types of Sherry are as follows: Fino: clear and perfectly dry with an aroma of almonds. This type of Sherry is served chilled accompanied by nuts or tapas. Manzanilla: this is the Fino Sherry made in Sanlucar de Barrameda. It is even drier and paler than other Finos. Oloroso: The layer of flor yeast is thin, or absent in this Sherry as it ages. There is partial oxidation which accounts for the darker color. Oloroso is a rich amber with an aroma of hazelnuts. The best and oldest is the legendary Matusalem. Amontillados: this Sherry is the mid-way point between Fino and Oloroso with some qualities of both. Palo Cortado: In Jerez they say this is a wine that you can’t make… it just happens. A rare treat, it has an aroma reminiscent of an Amontillado while its color is closer to an Oloroso. One of the best is the 60 year old Sibarita. Cream Sherry: this is an Oloroso Sherry mixed with the sweet Pedro Ximeniz, a good companion for pates or fois gras.

In October we are going to this magnificent area of Spain to participate in our own Sherry tasting. Going to the source where centuries of wine making have produced products indigenous to only one region… is truly a gift. Meeting the winemakers and owners of these bodegas is a once in a life time trip. The sensory experience involving the landscape, grapes, barrels, and those that participate in its creation will be like stepping back in time. Their focus and thus acclaim is a testimonial to generations of Spaniards engaged in producing what many believe… is the best aperitif and after dinner beverage in the world.

Madeira, A Wine that Stands the Test of Time!

 

When I was the GM at the Fairmont in San Francisco, I was in charge of the “owners” restaurant, Masons. Mel Swig was the owner of the Fairmont Hotel and the gentleman that started that iconic brand. He hired me as the GM to  upgrade the food, beverage, and service.

The restaurant was built for magnificence, with rare Brazilian wood pillars that framed the Connemara marble floors. The walls were adorned in hand-woven silk tapestries that were custom made to fit each panel outlined in the blonde, Cerejira, Brazilian wood, polished to a mirror like finish. Carpet was outsourced from India and the ceilings reflected a complex checkerboard design sculpted in Avodire, African wood.

The Chef I outsourced from the famous L’Etoile restaurant at the Huntington Hotel on Nob Hill, his name was Claude Bogaurt.  When he left for Masons, they had to close L’Etoile. His culinary acumen was unparalleled, adding a sophistication to proven dishes loved by the residents of Nob Hill and tourists alike.

I also added world famous piano player Peter Mintun, (also from the Huntington Hotel), making Masons synonymous with international sophistication.

Herb Caen the famous San Francisco gossip columnist wrote about Peter Mintun over 100 times. Celebrities and musicians alike revered Peter Mintun for his repertoire from memory that spanned from the 1920’s to the present day popular songs.

With those pieces in place I expanded the wine list and added another very important composition to this culinary puzzle, Madeira. Madeira is produced on the island of Madeira (Madeira means, “Island of the forest”), 480 miles southwest of Lisbon, off the coast of Portugal.

Madeira is oxidized through a unique process involving heat and aging. This intense process results in a virtually indestructible wine that will last (even in an open bottle!) for centuries. The style is characterized by a dark color, and a rich texture with coffee and caramel flavors. The wine is made from the Malvasia grape used because of its high levels of acidity which balances the high sugar content.

There are four main recognized different types of Madeira:

  1. Sercial is a white grape that produces some of the driest Madeira wines. This varietal originates from the region of Bucelas, near Lisbon.
  2. Verdelho is semi-dry characterized by a bitter, nutty taste with aromas of dried fruit and honey.
  3. Bual is semi-sweet with distinct notes of spice, dried fruit and a touch of botrytis (noble rot), accentuating it’s late budding, not allowing it to be exposed to spring frosts.
  4. Malmsey is the most famous Madeira wine. This is the richest, sweetest style of Madeira. Light golden, smooth and luscious on the palate with chocolate notes woven with caramel, hazelnut, a finish of honey, and a threat of mango. This  ultimately makes Madeira one of the most desirable dessert wines in the world.

Shortly after accepting the GM job, I was invited to a Madeira tasting at the Ritz Carlton on Nob Hill sponsored by the Wine Spectator. I was excited because this tasting featured one of the most famous wine critiques in the world, Michael Broadbent. After writing his classic book, “The Great Vintage Wine Book”, Mr. Broadbent went on tour teaching restaurateurs about one of his favorite wines, Madeira. Mr. Broadbent actually has his own line of Madeira’s bottled for him by Blandy.

This event at the Ritz wasn’t only a tasting of vintage Madeira’s but an opportunity to taste some of the rarest expressions of that grape. I tasted quite a few Madeira’s at that tasting. It was really the first time I had been exposed to such a variety of this rare wine. Most restaurants of an elegant nature didn’t serve Madeira’s as a dessert drink option.

I thought that this was the perfect pronouncement of elegance to finish a fine meal. Thus, I brought Madeira to the Fairmont for the first time in it s illustrious history. This event was written up in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Bringing Madiera to Nob Hill is a flawless gesture for a beverage that is the perfect end to a meal. What could be better than to have dinner at this elegant restaurant, finishing with a vintage Madeira,  while listening to the unbridled music mastery of Peter Mintun?”

I brought in non-vintage Bual and Malmsey as choices that were not priced to high for the average guest, and thus summarily promoted by our staff. I did however also bring in a Madeira for the more adventurous. I purchased a case of 1863 Madeira which I served at $100.00 a glass.

When asked by patrons that were interested in renting our private dining rooms, “Is that 1863 Madeira worth the price per glass?” I would exclaim, “Personally, I drink nothing this century. Yes, it’s a beverage experience that creates a fond memory. How much is that worth?”

And so, later this year, Nancy and I will venture to the island of Madeira. This is a dream come true. Madeira is my close second favorite wine behind the red Burgundy of France. The journey to explore wine regions around the world, learning the exciting variables that honor these artists and create memories in a bottle is an expedition to a time and place never to be forgotten.

 

 

What’s Your Favorite Wine, Part II

 

In the deepest recesses of a restaurant in Tiburon California, after work, the GM, Fritz, said to me, ” Jack, it’s time for you to try a red Burgundy from France.” I will set the mood…this was the Private dining room at the Caprice which featured a rock fireplace carved out of the California coastline, wood wine cases from expensive French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese wines that acted as the fascia over the existing ceiling.

To further add ambience to this most beautiful space was a bar, crafted out of redwood, adorned with a nautical bell, and other sea fairing memorabilia. Two final touches made this a world class space.

First there were the port holes from the USS Texas dotting the southern wall facing San Francisco Bay. As the waves would crash against the side of the building washing the building with salt water, the remaining sea water would proceed under the structure to cool the wine in the cellar to a perfect 59 degrees.

Keep in mind that day in 1972 I didn’t know a red Burgundy from a Cabernet. I was just happy to be taken under the wing by Fritz whom was well versed in all aspects of beverages. That night in 1972 I tried a Chateau Corton, red Burgundy, in the proper glass, as God intended. I was completely blown away. That was the start of my love for wine and specifically, red Burgundy.

Today I will speak of my three favorite red wines. If I broke down each red varietal available, this blog would read like War and Peace. The three wines I refer to are as follows:

  1. Pinot Noir
  2. Cabernet
  3. Syrah

Pinot Noir was Napoleon’s favorite wine. Specifically, the wines of Chambertin. He used to carry a barrel full of Chambertin wine in a wagon wherever he would travel along the French countryside. His favorite vineyard was “Clos de Beze”.

So I’m telling you the former Emperor of France, Napoleon, in the country for centuries revered as the greatest producer of wine, had only one favorite, and that wine was Pinot Noir.

I won’t detail the complexities of the vineyard designations, but when Nancy and I viewed this area of France… it was a dream come true. Grape vines cropped short, beautifully cascading up and down the hills of Burgundy with a gentle mist adding mystery to magnificence.

The flagship of Burgundy are the Domaine Romanee-Conti (DRC), Grand Cru vineyards. The production consists of 5,000 bottles per year. It is simply not possible to produce anymore and maintain the high quality because the vineyard is only 1.8 hectares.

This domain produces a total of eight different wines, from eight plots. Each plot has Grand Cru status ( the grandest of wines, both red and white account for less than 1% of the region’s production) . These eight are located in the Vosne Romanee. However, in 2008 another vineyard was added, the only vineyard in the Cote de Beaune, Corton.

To best illustrate its magnificence I have chosen the  1990 LaTache red Burgundy, agreed by many to be an amazing representation of this region. This ’90 La Tache is tasting better than all other La Tache wines tasted to this point. This wine has an explosive nose of lovely raspberries, some charred oak with great intensity and length. An experience by which all others would be judged.

Pinot noir is very difficult to produce. When you try the subtle earth first flavors (old world) followed by raspberry, blackberry, cherry, spices, and a whisper of oak, you will drift to the sublime. The DRC pinot noir is the purest, most aristocratic and most intense example of pinot noir you could possible imagine. Not only nectar; a yardstick with which to judge all other Burgundies.

Pairing pinot noir with food involves the simple expression of the product prepared from farm to table. Lamb, Veal, Chateaubriand, are all great choices.  The simplicity of preparation will add value to the quality of the pairing.

Next is Cabernet, again available in many different countries. The best examples are from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, and Washington State. Napa Valley cabernet was put on the map in 1976 (The Famous Paris Judgement) when it entered the 1973 Cask 23 Stags Leap Cabernet (and won) against the finest representations from the Bordeaux region of France.  This included the 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, 1970 Chateau Haut Brion, and a 1970 Chateau Montrose from Saint-Estephe.

Today’s Cask 23 Stags Leap, 2019, combines the signature perfume notes of Fay vineyard with structure and dark fruit. Fragrant fresh aromas of red and black currant, black tea, anise and nutmeg fill the nose. The wine has a vibrant mouthfeel with savory and velvety tannins along with blackberry and currant flavors. As an important side note, new world wines are fruit forward and old world wines are earth first.  The Napa Valley represents a punch in the palate as the blackberry and current explode in your mouth.

The first growth Bordeaux wines are a blend of five different varietals. This blend tones down the bigger varietals and gives the old world, earth first signature another layer of expression.

Another region that produces fine Cabernet, is Washington State. This state produces a Cabernet that has exploded on the scene over the last twenty years and has captured more 100 point Wine Spectator recognition awards than any other winery in the United States.

The winery I refer to is Quilceda Creek located in the Columbia Valley, Washington State. The 2021 Quilceda Creek Cabernet uses 100% French oak and grapes from the Champoux, and the Mach One vineyards.  This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon combines power with finesse. Paul Golitzin, the winemaker, comes from a great pedigree of winemakers that traces their roots back to the original Beaulieu Vineyard winery in the Napa Valley.

That original winemaker at BV was the famous Andre Tchelistcheff, “the Maestro”. His nephew, Alex Golitzin, launched Quilceda Creek. Pairing this wine crafted by this genus with game meats, salmon, or hand-crafted pasta dishes would be a magical mystery tour of textures greeting grapes.

The last wine I will discuss is Syrah, the King of southern France and specifically the Rhone valley. Some of the most famous Syrah wines come from the appellations in Northern Rhone: Cote-Rotie. The vineyards are unique because of the steep slopes facing the river and their stone walls. Cote Rotie can be translated in English to “the roasted slope” and refers to the long hours of sunlight that these slopes receive.

The wines featuring Syrah also contain up to 20% Viognier, a white grape used for its aroma. If Viognier is used it must be fermented at the same time, a process known as “co-fermentation”.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the most famous AOC (Appellation d’ Origine Controlee) in the Rhone Valley. Within the Rhone Valley Chateauneuf -du- Pape is an historic appellation as it is the very first in France and therefore in Europe. The gratification of this wine is both intellectual and hedonistic in nature. The flavors mimic a Provence marketplace with its flavors, and wide array of aromas, rich and round, sumptuous and opulent.

As with Pinot Noir the only place to truly enjoy this wine is from the Rhone Valley in France. However, if your vacation would limit you to the US, then the obvious choice would be Paso Robles, and the Herman Story Winery. A Boutique winery that features only Rhone varietals and blends of said varietals.

Russel P. is the winemaker at Herman Story and provides the most entertaining and substantive experience in all of Paso Robles. The wine produced by this winery represent the best in full-bodied, rich, deep fruit, and oriental spice on the market today.

Pairing Syrah is simple. Go out and shoot something, grill it, oven roast it, or barbecue it, and you will find the richness of the wine will enhance the flavors of the game.

Syrah is a complex wine with an intense ruby color, deeply-rich, with blackberry, boysenberry, and pomegranate. The fruit on the nose is complemented with allspice, pepper, and tobacco.

I hope you enjoyed the excursion into my favorite red varietals and remember… life is too short to drink cheap wine.