I am fortunate to have the wine experiences I have had. I am fortunate that as I continue to make this a viable career and business, many along the way have shown me kindness and generosity by letting me in and giving me access. Because of that, I find myself pouring it forward, that is, sharing my experiences, and also my wine (which wasn’t always mine anyway) in order to maybe help other folks create experiences they too can share. I am not unique in this regard. The wine industry is very personal, social and connective, and I have seen many who pour it forward, and I have been an appreciative recipient, as I was this night.
If you have ever read anything Ive written, or been to any of my events, you have heard me refer to wine as personal, social and connective. Recently, this came true…my good fortune combined with experiences that New York wine bar owner Walt “Clyde” Frazier would refer to as fortuitous, maybe even serendipitous. Timing isn’t always everything but sometimes it’s pretty cool when it breaks your way.
I was waiting to meet a long-time friend for dinner at Veritas in New York City, a restaurant that has a bit of a wine reputation. It was a beautiful evening and while standing out front reading the menu I noticed a guy in a white jacket…and yes, he ultimately took me away. The guy in the white jacket happened to be the owner and (very talented) chef Sam Hazen. We started talking about the menu and the wine list…Sam had great things to say about his head sommelier and I said I was a hack compared to her. I asked Sam what he liked to drink. I also asked him what to order that night. I told him my friend was also a wine fan and wanted to try the restaurant, so Chef said he wanted to do a tasting menu for us. Ok by me!
I didn’t see the bill Friday night. I am not sure what the total was or what was included on the bill, but this wasn’t about freebies. I am happy, and in fact, flattered and appreciative when anyone shares their time and their passion and their knowledge with me. So I like to pay it forward, or in the case of wine, pour it forward. My good fortune Friday night, meeting Sam and his staff, which led to a great friend experience with memorable food and wine deserved to be poured forward, which I would do the next night.
One of my old coaching mantras was “life is about balance”, and balance was the word came to mind when replaying my dinner at Veritas in my head. I am not as enthralled with fine dining as I once was because to me a great meal is a celebration not a sacrament. Right away, I liked the ambience of the restaurant, it wasn’t formal or pretentious, but still appropriate for the quality food, wine and service I was about to experience. Service was enthusiastic and sincere but not exaggerated. Head Sommelier Alexandria Cubbage was personable and informative, gave suggestions and provided guidance, but was never in our faces.
When going over the wines in what could be a daunting exercise in what could be considered a winelist “War and Peace” (classic but impressive in size too), after some questions and a little conversation, Alex narrowed it down to a handful of suggestions. The Jean Francois Ganevat Cotes du Jura “Les Chalasses” caught my attention. My friend was in from California, and I thought not only would the wine go well with the variety of foods we would be trying with the beginning part of the tasting, but I wanted to give him a chance to taste chardonnay from a different angle. This is an old vine (110 years or so old) wine that comes short of the somewhat typical oxidized taste of whites from the Jura made by a sought after producer. Not Californian by any stretch, but also not quite Burgundian either, it was a really good choice for both my wine pairing and wine geek senses.
There was excellent balance, and quality, on our plates too. Sam popped out of the kitchen at regular intervals to talk with us (and others in the dining room). From the amazing oysters that tasted like the ocean at its best, to the scallops with foie gras, and the Calendar Island mussels in a lemon broth, just to name a few of the dishes that got us primed, there were no misses. Speaking of those mussels, I don’t know what goes on up there in Maine, but you won’t taste or see better looking mussels. I told Sam they tasted like mussel foie gras. He said he loved the description and he’d use it.
We eventually morphed into glasses instead of bottles, and then half glasses instead of full glasses, but Alex and Tristan (one of the somms) kept bringing along really nice wines. I was (well) done but when this amazing cheese platter came out, ahead of the amazing dessert, and I asked if they had a Pineau de Charentes, they not only had one, they had a beautiful 20 year. For those not familiar with it, it is sort of a midpoint between wine and cognac, and to me, perhaps the best all-purpose wine for a cheese assortment. I was going to pass on the cheese but couldn’t bring myself to say “so long, farewell” just yet, especially when one of the cheeses was from the Von Trapp Farmstead in Vermont.
It was a beautiful meal, a great and fun experience, with service that paired well with the food quality, something that I don’t take for granted. I was grateful for the time Sam and Alex and the others spent with us, and for the chance to spend that time with an old friend I hadn’t seen in awhile. And I was happy that it only took until the next night to “pour it forward”, which I will cover in the next part.