CHOCOLATE and SAUERKRAUT (5) - My First Berlin Christmas and my First Harlan
There’s a certain amount of anxiety I have about drinking wine with people who drink wine professionally. It’s easy for them to say that what you like is what is good and no value judgments apply but there’s always the odd chance that you’ll fawn all over some bottle, waxing on about the hint of Meyer lemon and the touch of geranium only to find out that you’ve just had a glass from the cooking wine. It hasn’t happened to me yet, although I’m sure what passes for cooking wine in some circles is tantamount to a special occasion bottle for me and my boyfriend.
Last night, at a Christmas dinner given by some wine friends of ours, everything I tasted I liked. There was a well chosen Sekt to start things off served along side an appetizer of grated radish with soy-sauce and topped with big Salmon roe eggs. We moved from there to a very peachy 1997 Riesling accompanied by a simple plate of sliced smoked salmon and a piece of real New York bialy—the elegant cousin of the bagel. I tried to make conversation about German wine labeling, hypothetically mentioning that it was a theoretical possibility that a coarse American wine drinker would be tempted to view the German wines as less sophisticated than say, French wines, because the labeling looks as though there are only four categories of wine in Germany—dry, half dry, sweet and very sweet. This line of conversation did not go over well and hypothetically made me look like I was rhetorically out of my league. Luckily, I was able to calm myself with a big gulp of decanted red wine from an enormous face swallowing glass.
About this red wine—it tasted like a composite of every bottle I’d ever had with my Dad in California. It was the first time a wine conjured up a person for me rather than merely a set of flavors. Not that there weren’t amazing notes of bitter chocolate and a bouquet I like to refer to as “fancy French whore” a.k.a rose perfume with underlying musky body odor notes. When a California Cabernet is especially mineral in its qualities, when it has that pond scum decomposition to it, I like to refer to those bottles as “dead French whores.” You get the point. But this bottle was like the consummate California Cabernet and I felt brave enough to say so. I felt truly vindicated by this assessment when I found out that I was drinking a Harlan—easily the most sought after Napa Valley wine in the world, with a price tag to match. If you get to taste a Harlan once, consider yourself lucky. It’s not that its character is so singular compared to the Rubicon wines or even the smaller boutique Napa producers. It’s more a matter of composition. It’s absolutely perfect in its structure. It makes you think of very sound architecture or a man at the height of his physical power charging up a mountain. It’s “strong like bull” as my Dad has often said about powerful red’s we’ve drunk in the past.
When I called him after dinner to tell him about my first Harlan experience, his tone was one of pride, much like the few times I was able to call him from college to say that I had a straight A’s report card. He recalled his first Harlan at the Bris (Jewish weenie snipping ritual) of a friend’s son. The friend, a building contractor, would not allow his son to numb himself before the big operation with Manishchevitz, as is customary, and opened a bottle of Harlan for the little fellow, which he and my Dad finished. Ever ready with his arsenal of superlatives, my Dad exclaimed Harlan to be the greatest, smoothest, sexiest red he’s ever had. Secondarily, he mentioned the price was ridiculous, shameful, and pompous. But, we both agreed, when someone else if footing the bill, there’s nothing you’d rather drink.