In Plato's Symposium, Aristophanes argues that every person on the planet is half of a true being. When we find our "other half," we fall in love and complete the unified and perfect whole. In the culinary world, there is a similar relationship between food and wine. Every food has a perfect liquid complement, and the job of a master wine steward is to find and present such pairs.
Wine-tastings are often quite formal affairs, performed according to a strict procedure. At Bistro 1018, Morningside Heights's haven for wine connoisseurs, wine-tastings are never overdone. The selections for the evening are presented, and everyone is given a glass and a sheet of tasting notes. At your leisure, you may wander up to the front of the room and request a glass of any of the wines available. Then, drink in hand, you're beckoned by the spread across the room. Offering a wide range of delicacies to accompany the wide range of wines, the head chef at Bistro provides a large antipasto tray, vegetables and dip, delicious cheeses and pâté, and sumptuous lamb chops with a sweet mustard sauce.
The food, however, is merely a sideshow. One must remain focused upon the matter at hand: the vino. On this particular evening, Craig Skiptunis, the owner and head manager, picked 12 "holiday" wines designed to pair well with Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.
The aperitif was a non-vintage Bouvet Brut from Saumur, France. Skiptunis described it as a "great bubbly for a reasonable price." The small, tight bubbles are exactly what one desires in a sparkling white wine, a result of the Méthode Champagnoise used during bottling. During Method Champagnoise the secondary fermentation process occurs in the bottle itself, not in large vats. As with any bubbly, the Bouvet works well with oysters, canapés, and other such cocktail foods.
From the champagne, we moved into the white wines. The first selection was a Chardonnay from St. Veran, a region in Burgundy, France. In Burgundy, most of the wineries produce Chardonnays, and this particular offering (from the Vincent fields, vintage 1999) was a very light presentation lacking the oaky taste of many of its relatives. In contrast, the richer, creamier Australian Chardonnay, Xanadu, 2001, was created for turkey and stuffing. Most Chardonnays can be served with any poultry or light fish, but it is important to serve a full-bodied wine when you have a full table, such as on Thanksgiving.
The final white was the best of the bunch, a Viognier from Freemark Abbey in Napa, 2000. Viogniers are typically crossover whites, which means they are full enough to be served with more substantial meals, such as ham.
The full-bodied reds included a California Merlot, 2000 from Bocage, an amazing Rioja 1998 from Spain by Muga, and a Medoc 1999 from Bourdeaux, France, by Chateau Gallias Bellevue. The Merlot was quite good, and could accompany roasts and lamb excellently, but the rioja was all out amazing. With thinly sliced prosciutto, the rioja comes alive, intertwining its rich bouquet with the salty meat.
The Medoc (which is a Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot grapes) is perfect for a cheese course or even for gamey meats. The final red was a Markham Zinfandel 1999, also from California. While the wine industry is quite young in California, the red zinfandel is a truly American wine. Napa Valley soil produces some of the best Zinfandels in the world, and the bold and strong flavors are as pronounced and flamboyant as our SUVs and rock 'n' roll.
The final selection of the evening was, of course, a port. No meal is complete without a glass of the fortified wine to speed your digestive processes, but I will let you in on a secret directly from Skiptunis: whenever you are drinking port, make sure to have some blue cheese at hand. The combination of the pungent cheese and the powerful wine is heaven to the tongue.
Bistro 1018 offers monthly wine-tastings for $25.00 in advance, or $28.00 at the door. Call (212) 662-7600 for more information.