The North Wind
"Do you really think anyone's interested in a weather report?" she asked. "Booorrrring." It was our second or third date. She wasn't referring to our conversation, but to the wine writers she once edited at an erstwhile glossy luxury magazine.
Well, I might have responded, there are people who rely on the information. I might have taken it as a first sign that we lived in different worlds. But rather than stand up for wine writers worldwide and defend the importance of vintage reports, I took the easy way out and changed the subject.
The weather is what keeps me in business, its outcomes one reason I remain fascinated with wine. Recently, I found myself transcribing every word I could catch from Aubert de Villaine, who had come to New York for his annual presentation of the new Domaine de la Romanée-Conti vintage (though my erstwhile friend might find it boring, if you find such things as compelling as I do, we've posted the text at wineandspiritsmagazine.com). My interest had been piqued by our recent tasting of 2007 Burgundies, including an astonishing Chevalier-Montrachet from Domaine Leflaive that only could be explained by the weather, a year when chardonnay ripened much later than pinot noir, and benefited from the autumn sun and the return of the north wind. De Villaine described the shifting winds of the vintage, a character I could taste in the wines as their structures seemed to bend and twist, driving in a different direction with each taste. On the day we tasted them, the Romanée St-Vivant was the only wine that was sunny and bright. The others had the cool sensation of moonlight, beautiful, transparent wines with structures that seemed to be pulled by tidal forces. Lunar wines.
They held the same deep-rooted power as the Chevalier, expressed in completely different terms. Believe me, I like a sunny day as much as the next guy. But when the full moon lights up the hillside of old oaks and apple trees behind my house, it provides a different energy. Something I'd like to have stored in my cellar.
Our Annual Restaurant Poll is a weather report of sorts, in this case a look back on the storms of 2009. It was a year when some of our favorite old haunts closed (we're now the proud owners of the biggest stack of returned mail we can remember). Any number of diners needed a drink, but weren't about to pay more than $30 a bottle for it, even at places where the list runs deep. And new restaurants opened to a splash of publicity and crowds, but like the shifting winds, there was no way to predict where those crowds would land and how long they might stay. As Aldo Sohm at Le Bernardin in New York told me, "Some places are packed, others that are really good are empty. It's impossible to say why."
For those of you interested in the economic climate, this year's report on the most popular wines in restaurants makes fascinating reading. And for those interested in something new and delicious, we've accompanied that coverage with profiles of great wine and food destinations for 2010. Whichever way the wind blows, we'd be happy to land at any one of them.