Inadvertent Taste Test

Sometimes an evening wanders through various wines before one of them rings the bell. Like the other night, when we hosted our friends Michael and Christine and their little boy, Felix. It’s always a pleasure when they come; we get along and the conversation flows and there’s always laughter. So I look forward to nights with them, and I try to do something special. In this case, I ran (literally, I was late) up the street to a small market I trust, and I bought Strawberry Mountain grass-fed hanger steaks and a pound of chanterelles, and also got the woman behind the counter, a former chef, to tell me how a veal demi-glace is used in a pan sauce. I had a little demi in the freezer, but I’d somehow never tried that before.

On the way home, I paused to scan the menu of a neighborhood restaurant and noticed a salad that looked good, with beets, mizuna, avocado, orange sections, and ricotta salata, so I grabbed the fixings for that, too. Not long after, the front door opened and little Felix barreled in and our girls fairly screamed with excitement and I popped a sparkler I’ve covered before, the Domaine Carneros brut rosé “Cuvée de la Pompadour.” Everybody was worn out from the week (it was a Friday), but this is a light, lovely wine, and has just the right mood-lifting quality.As for what to serve with dinner, though, it was less obvious. I had four good wines open, and was interested in each of them, and I finally just set them all on the table: a Barbera d’Asti Ca’ di Pian 2005; a Chianti Classico Castello della Paneretta 2003; an I Favati “Cretarossa” Aglianico d’Irpinia 2004; and a Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône 2005.

None was quite perfect with a reduction sauce of red wine and veal stock with chanterelles, but it was instructive to pass each around, drinking and eating and eating and drinking—the Aglianico so powerfully earthy, verging on dirtlike; the Barbera so light and pure and direct, with good acidity and minimal tannins. The Côtes-du-Rhône was probably the best pair for the meal, but it was the Chianti, with its clean taste of cherries, that took the night.

And here’s why: Christine loved it, and remarked on it. Nothing more. Just one guest, one adored friend who didn’t even realize I was running a taste test (it appeared that I had simply left four bottles on the table) saying, “That’s a delicious Chianti.” Because the point, finally, is to please, to reach out in the direction of friends and offer something that shakes off the day long enough to put pleasure front and center.

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