ENTHUSIAST'S CORNER October 2000
Treasures in Hidden Haunts
Never judge a restaurant by its appearance or address. What's inside may surprise you.
If I told you the name of the restaurant we dined in last week I would have to kill you. To disclose the name and exact whereabouts of this establishment would mean that we might never be able to duplicate the rare experience that we had the pleasure to partake in. I must protect the anonymity of this wine treasure trove at all costs, for once you read about our vinous bonanza, you will no doubt want to hire a private investigator to uncover its identity.
And herein lies the story:
In August, to accommodate explosive growth at the Wine Enthusiast Companies—in both our publishing and catalog groups—we relocated to larger, more modern facilities in Westchester County, N.Y., just 25 miles north of Manhattan. When you move to a new neighborhood, the opportunity to sample a whole new set of local fare comes as part of the package.
We ventured out one evening after work, in search of nourishment and refreshment. And lo and behold, we found a perfectly nice restaurant/tavern. The bar scene was quite active, always a positive sign if it's a good time you are after. But what would the kitchen have in store? And would there be a real wine list? While not exactly Le Cirque 2000 (see our article on sommeliers, featuring Le Cirque's Ralph Hersom), we could tell this place was several cuts above a diner.
Soon the waiter came over, and along with the simple but adequate menu he brought a large hardbound wine list. I must say, a book half the size of Webster's had not been what I was expecting, and I opened it with trepidation. Much to my amazement, I quickly realized that, under the rather generic category of "French Red Wines," we had struck the mother lode. Here I found 1978 Château Lynch-Bages for a mere $90. Further down was 1975 Ducru-Beaucaillou for $80, and there were also the '82 and '83 Cos d'Estournel for $85 and $75, respectively. I called for the proprietor and asked, "Do you really have these wines?"
"Oh yes," he said. "My father collected these wines years ago and we've been trying to sell them for quite a while. But our clientele doesn't seem too keen on them."
At that moment laughter from the bar pervaded the dining room, and I could smell the hops from the flowing tap. As a lark, I asked, "Do you have any more wines like these?"
"Oh yeah," our host replied, "would you like to see our 'special' wine list?"
Naturally I answered in the affirmative. Seconds later he came back with a ketchup-stained sheet of paper with the following selections: 1959 Château Latour for $120; 1961 and '66 Lafite-Rothschild for $120 and $110, respectively; and 1970 Margaux for $99, priced as if it were some marked-down electronics device being sold in a discount shop.
My wife and I enjoyed the ethereal experience of the '59 Latour and '61 Lafite with stuffed fillet of sole and roast duck, and I thanked our host profusely, vowing to return as soon as possible. Part of me couldn't help but feel as though we were taking advantage of this fellow. But hey, he himself said that he had been trying to get rid of the bottles for years. In the end I was able to rationalize our incredible good fortune.
Finding great wines at yesterday's prices is becoming more and more of a rarity these days. I'm sure that many of you have special stories like mine, tales of out-of-the-way restaurants and precious finds in forgotten wine shops. As always, we'd like to hear from you. Please drop us a note and share your personal "mother lode" wine experience, and if you insist, we promise not to publish the name of your favorite store or restaurant.
· · ·
We were lucky the owner of this restaurant did not have a sommelier on staff; otherwise I think things would have been different that night. To learn the many secrets of the sommelier, see page 30. Also this month, contributing editor Paul Gregutt gives us the story on all that is new in Washington state (page 36), while editor at large Roger Voss offers an overview of affordable Burgundies that deliver the goods.
Enjoy the issue, and cheers!