Where do you get advice on what wine to buy? There was a time, not long ago, when many people embraced a simple answer: “This got a 97!” Then numbers became so ubiquitous that they became meaningless, but, regardless, can wine really be reduced to ...
Dorothy J. Gaiter & John Brecher
MFEO isn’t an acronym we toss around lightly. To be perfectly honest, we’d never even heard of MFEO until we watched one of Dottie’s all-time favorite movies, “Sleepless in Seattle,” which was, to his ever-lasting regret, brought to her attention by John. She could watch it every night. The right people end up together because they were: Made For Each Other.
Jill Klein Matthiasson and Steve Matthiasson, of Matthiasson Wines in Napa, were MFEO.
We created OTBN in 1999 (a quarter-century ago) because readers kept asking us the same question: I have this one very special bottle of wine that has great memories for me; when should I open it? We realized everybody has that bottle and the only way we were ever going to pop the cork was to take a deep breath and do it together.
Some of the best wine experiences are waiting for you at restaurants, and not just fancy ones with ginormous wine lists. We know that markups at too many places are outrageous. But if you are willing to take a little bit of a risk and seek the unknown, you could find a memorable bottle in that neighborhood joint where you don’t expect it, something you might never buy or even see at a store. This just happened to us.
When John started college, a very long time ago, the first restaurant he went to was a Greek spot called Symposium, near the campus of Columbia University. His friend Lou suggested it. John’s family didn’t often go out to eat and, in any case, Jacksonville, Fla., was not a hotspot for Greek cuisine. Lou spoke Greek, so when they walked down a couple of steps to this informal, friendly place, they were treated like family.
When we were dating in the 1970s, John took Dottie to Symposium during our first visit to New York. There’s artwork all over the walls and ceilings, sturdy wooden tables and reasonably priced Greek comfort food. We have been visiting Symposium ever since and it has not changed much.
We went a couple of weeks ago. The wine list, as always, was all-Greek. In the past, we’ve often had a carafe of the pleasant house wine because, really, how often do neighborhood places offer carafes of house wine anymore? But we looked at the short wine list this time and it seemed particularly interesting. One wine caught our eye: a rosé called APLA from Oenops Wines. Since we’d never seen it before, we decided to take the leap. It was $37, which is reasonable for a bottle of wine in a Manhattan restaurant.
When the clear bottle came, the wine looked very inviting, a light watermelon color. On the label’s side, in English and Greek, was a quotation attributed to Charlie Chaplin: “Simplicity is not a simple thing.” The label said the wine was made from Xinomavro, a well-known Greek grape; and two lesser-known others, Limniona and Mavroudi. It was 2022.
(Dottie with Greek rosé)
The waiter opened the bottle, gave us each a taste and then left it for us to pour. We were immediately taken. The wine was dry with a clarity and a fresh juiciness to it. The blend of unfamiliar grapes appealed to us as authentic, a different, mouth-watering experience. There was nothing obvious about it. It was almost ephemeral, certainly unusual in our experience with rosé. We both wondered if this would fit into today’s category of “natural” wines, though the label said nothing about that.
After a few sips, Dottie, who has always had the better palate and nose, looked at John quizzically and said, “Tomato?” John said, “Oh my Gosh. Yes! Tomato! Thomas Keller!”
That might seem a leap, but that’s how we talk about wine. Some years ago, we had a light tomato dish at the French Laundry in Napa – we can’t remember if it was a consommé or maybe even a sorbet. But it expanded our appreciation of how tomatoes could taste and smell, with an earthy elegance that seemed impossible to touch.
You don’t want to be around us when we have a wine we consider exciting. We mean it. Over our half century together, we’ve tasted tens of thousands of wines. We still sample, or consume, many hundreds each year and we find something to like about many of them. But exciting? That’s different. That’s a wine we talk about with each sip in a way that no one else could understand, not just because we have our own language of wine but we have our own history.
We reached out to Randall Grahm the other day because we thought of him when we had a charming Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare at a seafood restaurant in East Williamsburg. Though Grahm in 2020 sold his Bonny Doon Vineyard, which helped put Rhône varietals, fine wines with screwcaps and labels listing ingredients in Americans’ wine glasses, we had not tried his latest creations, wines from his experimental Popelouchum Estate in San Juan Bautista, Calif.
We understand how difficult it is to choose a gift for your wine-loving friend or relative who already seems to have everything and likely knows and cares much more about wine than you do. That’s probably why catalogues, stores and online marketplaces are filled with, say, a 16-ounce insulated tumbler made to look like a prescription bottle for Pinot Grigio.
Here are some ideas that should not leave your giftees rolling their eyes, many based on our own wine moments this year. In most cases, we start with something specific, but each is meant to be a starting point for your search. Some of these will require a bit of work, and possibly shipping, but that’s often true of great presents.
“Time waits for no one,” some wise guys once sang. Or if you prefer, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” It’s time for Beaujolais Nouveau, a day that, if you’re so inclined, you can try to suss out hope, some drops of what the future might hold for those who work hard to coax the fruit of the vine from the ground.
Thanksgiving is an occasion to be grateful for what you already have: like the people you care about and who care about you; about having another day here with them. So we think your wine choice ought to complement the celebratory mood even more than the food, and the perfect wine or wines to do that are those enriched by your personal stories.
Tasting-room fees – sometimes high, sometimes complex, often controversial -- might convince you to stay away from winery tasting rooms altogether. Don’t. But it is time to starting shopping for tasting rooms just the way you shop for anything of value. What size fits you? What accessories do you want? To help us explain, come with us to the North Fork of Long Island.