Getting hammered at auction:Whiskey makes men crazy

That’s sexist, I should include women, although I think it’s a guy thing to pay $30,000 for a bottle of single-malt Scotch, albeit an 1883 Glenlivet. High bid in the auction at Bonham’s in Edinburgh was a little under that, around $29,500.  The auction house had estimated the bottle at 10,000 to 20,000 pounds and it fetched 18,750. pounds.  What’s  so special? This Glenlivet was distilled in 1883 and bottled in 1931. Almost 50 years in barrel and 80 in bottle.  Checked our shelves and we can’t match quite match it. Our oldest Glenlivet is the 21 y.o.  Archive and you can have it for a lot less $30,000.  Less than $150 even.

Surprising Bern’s

For wine lovers of the world, there are two world-class wine destinations around Tampa Bay, B-21 and Bern’s Steak House. So when wine VIP’s are in town, we often find ourselves at Bern’s rifling through the treasures.  Happened again last week. French, Spanish, Australian, Argentine and Bostonian friends  joined us in the bar. Even this group is intimidated by Bern’s wine list. One reason we often let the sommelier make the picks and play “stump the chumps”.  That night’s winner was a lovely 20 year old Prado Enea from Muga winery, identified blind by Summer Martin, our Spanish expert.

Choosing your own is  easy once you narrow the selection. Given his head Bob Sprentall dove into grand old Bordeauxs and came up with dandy Chasse Spleens from the 50’s.  To show my guests a different part of Bern’s depths (and America’s), I went for old zins, one of my hunting grounds at Bern’s. Try this, a 1975 Simi zinfandel, so long ago that Zelma Long was still at Bob Mondavi’s.
How does good zin taste at 36, still bright in flavor yet refined in body and taste as if it had evolved into old Burgundy by mistake. “I can’t believe this is zinfandel,” said my Rioja guest. “I expected something heartier.”’ Gentle on the wallet too, $54.

Found another treasure at Bern’s too: black truffle creamed corn. Whatever your steaks are , put some corn and an Okinawan
sweet potato on the table.

On the Prowl: Ron Siegel Does Bern’s

bernsThe following is a guest blog from long-time B-21 friend, Ron Siegel. This submission chronicles Ron’s two-night Berns-a-thon at Tampa’s culinary landmark, Bern’s Steahouse.

Bern’s was great! On night one, we took a bottle of ’75 Dom late disgorged for the millennium to drink on the way – think lemon crème brulée with perfect acidity – the finish just kept getting bigger in the mouth. I love this champagne, but the almost $1400 auction price will keep me from adding more to my stash of ten. We started with the ’70 RSV Marey-Monge DRC, a “wow” wine that featured soaring red fruits, dried cherries, sous bois, and Asian spice – a nice finish with some mushroom, earth notes and cherry. We then went to one of my favorites as they are holding a few for my future visits: the ’70 La Tache. Great structure and fruit for this vintage – more power and richer than the ’70 RC – a perfect way to go into the Wagyu beef we ordered and start with our steak wine, the ’80 La Mouline. Almost black in color with a nose of black fruits, bacon fat, smoke and violets. In the mouth it possesses nice structure with some pepper, grilled meat, and black olives, an almost perfect wine that stood up to the richness of the Wagyu. We had some 100+ year-old Armagnac and Madeira as well. A great way to celebrate, we arrived at 7:00 P.M. and got home after 3:30 A.M.

On night two we toned it down a bit. We took my nephew – who was also celebrating his birthday – and his wife who are just starting to appreciate French wines. I promised them that we would treat them to night at Bern’s. We started with Burgs, a ’64 Bonnes Mares from Bertheau and an ’83 CM Amoureuses from Vogue; both were outstanding. We then moved to Bordeaux. The ’70 Leoville Barton showed much younger and better than the last time I had it, while the ’50 Haut Brion was quite strange – Port-like with ripe dried fruits – almost too sweet and not very Haut Brion-like. Our last set of wines were from the Rhone starting with the ’80 Clos des Pape, a great wine that is fully mature and a bargain at $125. We then moved to the Northern Rhône and finished with the ’90 Côte-Rôtie fom Guigal, a nice, mature Rhone showing all of the classic Côte-Rôtie notes. Since this was their first trip, after the meal we gave them the VIP tour of the kitchen, the meat locker – where all the beef is aged – and the wine cellar. Then upstairs into the desert room and for a 1906 Congac, 1861 Armagnac, 1910 Boal Madeira, and a 1983 Port in recognition of my nephew’s wife’s birth year. Because of the tour and dessert room we got home after 4:30 A.M. So much for a toned down night.


Searching for lost treasure: Bern’s and me.

Old Wine Bottles
Resolve to check your wine cellar for older vintages!

Okay, so one of the sommeliers cleaning up the endless cellars at Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa spies a large rather bottle behind the wine racks.  Voila, a double mag of 1947 Latour. Those of you who think a 3-liter bottle would be hard to overlook have never taken the tour of Bern’s cellar (it’s one of Tampa’s greatest tourist attractions, don’t miss it). In any case, rare stuff and worth $30,000 or so.

Big deal. My long-suffering wife was trying to clear out my unknown treasures from the fridge and turned up two (2!) bottles of  Sam Adams Celebration Ale, vintage 2009.

Hoo boy! Have to say it still had remarkable head, thick and holding, good aromas still. Balance in the mouth seemed disappointingly off, sourness overtaking the fading malt.

Too bad, I was  about to put the other bottle on E-Bay.

In any case, January’s the time to review your cellar. Rediscover the treasures ready to drink and resolve to open them.

And restock! Go for 2006 Italians, 2007 Californians, the new Germans and your choice of great Bordeaux and Rhone vintages. No room? Buy 2009 futures.

Shipwrecked Champagne still sparkling after all those years

1982 Salon Blanc de Blanc
1982 Salon Blanc de Blanc

The panel of lucky experts who got to taste from the bottles brought up from the Baltic bottom says most of the wine still sparkles after 200 years in the deep. Details aren’t clear but it’s s likely the bottles are Clicquot, which makes sense as the Grande Dame was an early marketing whiz, who put an anchor on her wine and sent her sales staff to court the Russian czars (while Charles “Champagne Charlie” Heidsieck was pitching to the young U.S.)

We can’t imagine the taste of bubbly from the 1790 or 1825 vintage but we know that great vintage Champagnes are lovely and lively for a long time.

Exhibit A from our cellar is the 1982 Salon Blanc des blancs (95 pts, $1100) should convince you after almost 30 years.  Our presiding palate, Bob  Sprentall, is still in reverie from the bottle he tasted a few years ago.

Hope the cork-haters are listening. Humble cork has passed a major stress test.

Vintage giving: Don’t try this at home.

I violated a cardinal caution of wine retailing this month: Never plan to give wines from a vintage in a year someone wants to celebrate. The why-not’s are endless, starting with the fact that your intended recipient and the wine gods do not agree on which wines are special. 

I tell everyone this is not a good idea, yet it worked for me, just this once. 

1990 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
1990 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

Still my wine-loving California in laws, Jeff and Kenzie, were celebrating their 20th anniversary and I knew that 1990 was a fine year in Napa, Bordeaux and elsewhere. Finding a match on a vintage chart is not the same as finding a bottle, but a check of the B-21 database, search by vintages (way cool it’s ownself) turned up a 1990 in stock, the Beringer Private Reserve. Fine stuff — and still fine stuff. With the assistance of B-21’s little brown elves, off it went. 

Along with the thanks, came Jeff’s query: As this should be the center of a meal, what would fill out the menu? 

A wine of this age and calibre is elegant so a monster standing rib roast or a steak florentine off the grill seems too robust. I suggested a more delicate meat, either a veal chop or a beef filet mignon, trimmed with wild mushrooms and a side of Yorkshire pudding, mild, lush and a salute to Kenzie’s birthplace in Britain. And because the old Beringer’s had bright fruit, I suggest tossing some raspberries or sour cherries in with mushrooms (a weird trick of mine) or as a garnish on the pudding.

Eco-bubbly: Champagne slims down

1999 Saint-Chamant Brut Cuvee de Chardonnay
1999 Saint-Chamant Brut Cuvee de Chardonnay

That big sigh of relief you heard was the Big Blue Marble expressing relief that the Champagne houses are planning to reduce the glass in their bottles to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. Call me a curmudgeon. Making luxury products environmentally sensitive is exactly where limousine liberals got the names.

The bottle will be slimmer at the shoulder, have a deeper punt and thinner glass throughout. Voila, 2.3 ounces are gone. The chief advantage that I can see beyond fashionable PR is that the big houses can save money on shipping by truck or boat. Perhaps the energy savings will make up for all that carbon dioxide released when the corks pop.

Of course that is why champers bottles are such heavy weights. Actually the biggest danger that new-bottle Champagne could face is the resistance from customers who have always paid extra for fancy glass and measured it in heft. A few years from now, they may be saying “I can tell this is one of those ‘light’ bottles”, with a bigger sneer than they give screw caps.

We still think what’s in the bottle is more important and would be happier if Champagnes dropped a few dollars instead of pounds.

Right now, purists can rest easy — all B-21 Champagne is in old-school bottles. Collect them now.

PS. For old vintage as well as old, class, try the 1999 Saint-Chamant Cuvee de Chardonnay, only $49.99,

Or if you truly care about saving the planet, buy magnums. The Terroir Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc from our favorite small grower Agrapart, is $99.99. More bubbles, less glass.

And drink a toast to celebrate new-fangled ideas.

1973 Inglenook stumps the chumps; Bono & Char win a blind tasting

I take undue liberty with “chumps”. The tasters were in fact extremely sharp palates of significant experience, from the quais of Bordeaux to the aisles of Tarpon, save me, all merited a seat in the clubby paneled room at Bern’s dedicated to Andrei Tschellistcheff, the outsized Russian genius of the California wine revolution.

The images of Andrei and Bern Laxer himself should have been a clue as we faced a dozen beautiful reds and debated whether they might be Bordeaux, Burgundy, Brunello or old Australians.

Wrong, wrong, wrong almost all the way through, especially any thoughts of Oz. The right answers drawn from Bern’s endless cellar by sommelier Brad Dixon, were three flights of Californians, mid-range Bordeaux, then more Californias, all at least 20 years old, when we could barely say shiraz.

In my guessing, I forgot the prime attraction of Bern’s, that it has such wines, thousands of dusty bottles from forgotten decades. These are wines that don’t often exist anywhere else;  here they are stored perfectly.

One California cab had faded, but the rest were in remarkable health, from delicate to thick with raisins. But who among us was thinking of an ‘83 St-Julien?

1990 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa) $84.99
1990 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa) $84.99

Or the real stumper, a 1973  Inglenook charbono. Many wine drinkers today cannot imagine when Inglenook was one of Napa‘s greats (along with BV, Krug and the upstart Mondavi); Bern’s wine list remembers and has the delicious proof on hand. (B-21 does too; you can get a take-home taste of Napa’s golden age, the 1990 Berigner Private Reserve, a 94-pointer, for $84.99).

Even those who remember the ’70s may not know charbono. Like zinfandel it was an old workhorse grape in California vineyards, of unknown ancestry and rare anywhere else.  It was like dolcetto or barbera but probably closer kin to the corbeau of France or the douce noire of Savoie. Inglenook championed it as a fine wine grape but it was since lost.

The ‘73 is was a plum lovely thing. I would have placed it as a still vigorous old Burgundy, smooth with earthy tones of mushrooms, white pepper and blackberries.

If you missed charbono first time round, your second chance is coming. A small-scale charbono revival has quietly begun. A dozen or more  labels, both Italian old-timers and the wise modernists fond of endangered varietals: Summers, Parducci, Turley, Shypoke,  Pacific Star and Fife among them.

Two lessons:

  1. Charbono is still hard to come by, so look for some on your next trip to the wine country, especially in Calistoga.
  2. When at Bern’s, forget the likes of Silver Oak. Make that phonebook of a wine list your friend and dig deep… Pick a region from Napa to the Piemonte or the Rhone and look back 20 years; you’ll find remarkable treats well below $100.

- Chris Sherman, The Blogging Nibbler

Vintage update: Raiding Peter’s cellar

In my neighborhood it’s a holiday tradition that late on Dec. 24, when Father Christmas is in full Yuletide (or in his cups) he gets loose with the cellar keys.  This year our wine Santa (aka Peter Vagg)  reached into his bag and pulled out some real sugar plums.

1989 Penfold’s Grange Hermitage:   True figgy pudding and the champ of the night, plummy, berry fruits and lots of spice at 20, easy and smooth drinking.  Long finish.

1985 Echezeaux:  This took time, perhaps a full hour in a decanter,   and revealed itself to s joy in prefect condition, cherries wrapped in dark cocoa and coffee. Earthy and strong enough to last another ten.

1998 Moccagatta Barbaresco Bric Balin ($37.99)
1998 Moccagatta Barbaresco Bric Balin ($37.99)

1972 Barbaresco:  Producer unknown, but it had a B-21 price tag of $19.99.  Near its limit, but a remarkable show for a theoretically light Nebbiolo, still clean, distinct berry brightness surrounded by cedar, tobacco and earth tones.

 I report on these oldies in case you’re looking at some in your closet and wondering “Should I…”

The answer is YES.  Make it a New Year’s resolution.  Open those old bottles and make room to re-stock.  B-21 has Barbarescos from 1998 at $37.99 and Echezeaux from the great 2006 for $99.99.  It’s much more fun than cleaning out the garage.

– Chris Sherman, The Nibbler

Older wines from Bobby’s Bistro on Clearwater Beach

Robert Parker’s forum says December is the month to “Open an old bottle and post a note”. 
From one Bob to another, here are 3 bottles I’ve opened recently at Bobby’s Bistro on Clearwater Beach:

Joseph Drouhin Latricieres-Chambertin 1990:
This bottle was not correct, the unfortunate reality of older bottles sometimes.  I came back to it as notes in my Blackberry reminded me I had tasted within the last year – stunning wine.  All the animal one expects in a Grand Cru Gevrey just not this time. Bobby stashed away a lot of 85’s and 90’s years ago and the prices have not really moved much… I have had some great Drouhin wines here over the last 10 years.  Wine well stored.

Bouchard Beaune L’Enfant Jesus 1993:
Superb.  I was a fan of many 1993’s on release and this is why.  This is what a great Beaune should be and at 89 bucks on the wine list; a steal!

Haut Batailley (Pauillac) 1996:
Good earthy/mushroom overtones initially, and with time really dominated the wines profile.  Not clear that this was Pauillac to me, but for the price I could not pass, but will for next visit.