In sports, there’s nothing I enjoy more than watching a rookie do well. Especially in the pressure positions like quarterback or starting pitcher, or even in an individual sport like tennis—to see a young man or woman succeed, exhibit poise, demonstrate leadership, or rise to the occasion and beat an opponent of greater experience and reputation. It’s a thrill.
I have that same experience when I go to one of the restaurants affiliated with a culinary school. These are unheralded gems of the American restaurant scene. Culinary students will greet you at the door, seat you, serve you, cook for you and recommend wines. Some will do this with a professional’s confidence, others will quake in their boots, but that’s part of the charm. And in my experience, the food is always wonderful—no need to worry about a rookie mistake in the kitchen, because all procedures are strictly supervised.
The icing on the cake is that these restaurants are great values. The diner has a four-star experience at two-star prices. Many of these restaurants are located on lush college campuses, worth a visit just for the stroll. Others you’ll find in the heart of the world’s most exciting cities. I have been to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, a number of times for meals, and am always impressed by the food, the service, the ambiance and especially the level of wine knowledge exhibited by the youthful staff. The wine education program at the CIA is superb, as we have reported on in the past. It shows in the restaurant’s wine list as well.
Also in this issue, West Coast Editor Steve Heimoff reports on the state of Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. This has long been an important winegrowing area of California, producing ageable and complex Cabernet Sauvignons.
In his article, Heimoff updates us on that great region, offering a progress report on Cabs, Zins, Syrahs and other reds. He also explored why Chardonnay and other whites do so well there, when by most laws of soil and climate, they should not. You will find some great recommendations for wines to drink today or lay down for years to come. And you’ll meet some of the veterans as well as newcomers who make it happen. It’s a great region to visit, too, with a growing number of restaurants, a wider variety of tasting rooms, shopping and cultural activities.
American wine lovers are paying more and more attention to the Rieslings, Grüner Veltliners and other great wines of Austria. The quality is unquestioned; what Americans grapple with is the inscrutability of Austrian wine labels. It’s difficult to make a wise buying decision when you’re faced with a blur of type. In his article, Roger Voss offers some assistance by focusing on the Austrian vineyards that consistently produce the best fruit and are sourced by the top winemakers. By looking for the vineyard names on the bottle labels, consumers should be able to zero in on quality.
Our Pairings article in this issue focuses on Chilean cuisine. Its culinary traditions are as rich and varied as any in the world, a melting pot contributed by native Indians, Spanish settlers and the many immigrants that followed. And with 3,000 miles of coastline, as Contributing Editor Michael Schachner points out, their traditions point the way to refined and delectable fish preparations.
F. Paul Pacult delves deeply into the subject of single-malt Scotch. Many of the top bottlings are associated with the isle of Islay, but there are many great bottles—and some true bargains—to be found in the distilled spirits crafted elsewhere in Scotland.
Exploring little-known Scotch distillers, Austrian wines or restaurants run by students: It’s all in a day’s work for a true wine enthusiast. An appreciation of, and determination to explore, the sheer variety of wine is what sets us apart.