When I was a petulant, precocious young man, people loved to tell me little clichés about wisdom like knowledge is learning from your mistakes, wisdom is learning from others' mistakes. As an adult, the only times I feel I am truly being wise are when I am in a situation where I have some semblance of knowledge and experience, yet I choose to stay the hell out of the way of someone and let them show their brilliance.
Last night Helmet, The Bacchanals and I went to Cru and gave ourselves over to the restaurant's staff's whim for both our food and the wines to go with it. Five may be exactly the right number of people for dining at Cru; you can get a different bottle of wine per course and, three hours later, have had a pretty hedonistic evening at a bottle a person (unless your us, then figure two).
Of course it is fun to taste wines in a clean, well-lighted place, and to discuss the merits of one versus the other, but the true pleasure of wine is in how it plays with food. Wine is a part of food and food is a part of wine and when you separate the two you are left with cocktail wines completely lacking in depth, complexity, and nuance. Whatever food you put next to a fruit bomb is trampled and lost (this is why I chuckle at people that brand themselves hedonists, and only mean they like California cabernet with steak). Hedonism is a devotion to the pleasure of the senses, not a total abuse of your palate with wines that are so outsized and extracted that you'd lose a wild elk loin next to them. Understanding this is what puts Cru well above most of its competitors.
Yesterday afternoon I called Cru and asked them to choose what we would drink and eat for the night, within certain cost parameters. Robert Bohr (chief wine dude) and Shea Gallante (head kitchen maestro) got together and made a plan. Here is what we had. (In the interest of totally focusing on our hedonistic endeavor we skipped menus, so forgive some shady descriptions).
97 Billecart Salmon Brut Rose, Cuvee Elisabeth
Fresh, well-structured, tart red fruits, and cooked shrimp shells on the nose; crisp and angular on the palate. This was paired with three quick little tastes (all about the size of a quarter) -- a cubano sandwich, a pastry cup filled with pine nuts and robiolo that had been whipped with truffles, and a sweet potato arancini -- as well as an amuse bouche of sweet shrimp crudo with caviar (about the size of a silver dollar). The rich pork was cut by the wine's crispness, the sweet earthiness in the arancini brought out the yeast in the juice, the creaminess of the robiola accented the fruit, and the sweet little shrimp danced on the cleansing bubbles, while the salty caviar defined the wine's angles.
98 Albert Boxler Grand Cru Brand Riesling
No two good Rieslings are ever the same, yet somehow they all smell like Riesling. Minerals, spices, and tropical fruit on the nose, on the palate this was unctuous and oily with out being cloying. It was served a little warmer then cellar temp, which let it strut its depth. This came with tuna crudo topped with sea urchin. The saline freshness of the urchin brought out the lighter notes in the tuna, and together they pulled the spices to the front of the Riesling
81 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondoina Rioja blanco gran reserva
This wine saw some oxygen in its life. It was golden in color with a very focused nose. It showed mostly minerals, with some dairy and a little green melon; on the palate it was quite linear, but a wide line. It painted its minerality down the center of your tongue, leaving just the edges to make sure you knew where it had been. This was paired with a seared mackerel that had the oily richness to sit squarely on the landing pad drawn by the wine.
93 Gevery Chambertin Lavaux St. Jacques Raphet
Cinnamon, smoke, roasted meats and barnyard all backed up a huge cherry nose. I have said it before and I will say it again: there is no red wine that goes with lobster. So imagine how upset I was to be enjoying how the mushrooms that accompanied the poached soft-shell lobster brought out goodness in this wine. I assured myself that a great chardonnay would still be better. Then I discovered the piece of pork crackling tucked under the tail meat of the lobster that tied it all up in a nice little package that could not be denied as very well-paired.
Still with this wine, we had a duo pasta course of bone-marrow tortellini in oxtail consommé, and cavatelli with a veal Bolognese. Both amazingly rich and savory in entirely different ways, but both good at drawing earth out of the burgundy.
90 Domain Marcoux CdP
When we came to this one it was a little tight, but as it opened it had all the harmony of great Chateauneuf -- soft mature tannin, black fruit, and a defined spine. It stood very resolutely next to a duck breast. The texture of meat at Cru is amazing. With this dish it is tempting to talk about gamey notes in both players, but the bringing together of textures was what this course ended up being about. The duck feels as if it would be better consumed by pressing it against the roof of your mouth with your tongue, rather than doing by anything as barbaric as chewing it, and the silky tannins of the wine are much the same.
90 Vietti Barolo lazzarito
This wine was all rose petals, chocolate, truffles, and dried fruits with a lingering finish that blended right into the veal tenderloin it was served with. The veal's richness played up the acidity of this Vietti (an acidity that too many of today's more modern Barolos lack).
Vietti (an acidity that too many of today's more modern Barolos lack).
We finished these wines and had a yogurt and yuzu pre-dessert, and a dessert comprised of roasted apples and caramel. These were mostly impressive for their ability to stay light enough that they were fully consumed; in spite of the fact that we'd sworn we could eat not one bite more at this point.
Then it was on to the bar for:
64 Pio Cesare Barolo
A cool wine because when else are you going to see it? You are drinking what is left of a wine I am not even sure was great in its prime, but as a cheap study it is fun to taste the cranberries and the metallics and cinnamon holding on as this one fades. Only a place like Cru is going to afford you this opportunity.
93 Mazis Chambertin, Faiveley
I have tasted great burgundy and it is the best thing in the world. I will not say this is great burgundy but it is fantastic and is a lot like great burgundy. Quite fun to drink with notes of roasted salted meats, barnyard, cherries, smoke, and cinnamon. If it has a flaw, it is that the fruit is upfront and a little ahead of everything else. I wonder what will happen with time.
86 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo in magnum
This wine was all about red fruit. Even though it was twenty years old, I can't help but feel we were drinking it about thirty years too early. Big, red, and fruity is really all I can say.
99 Del Forno Vallpolicella (at Otto) green, young and tight, this is going on my hold list. I will revisit in ten or so years.
The biggest benefit of planning ahead is that the Cru team has the time to plan this well, which is evidenced by the fact that all these wines were served at the right temperature and pace.
If you want to go out and enjoy food and wine, rather than do some eating and drinking, go to Cru where they understand that, although simple and easy can be brilliant, care, thought and expertise are sublime, and they are very skilled at sharing this.