The Wine Cellar

Libations, Northeast Magazine, The Hartford Courant - 17th June 2001


My first experience of a bonafide wine cellar was not pretty.

Way back in my youth, (Britain allows imbibing at 18, and I admit partaking of a wee tipple a few years before that) my drink of choice was the legendary Warm English Beer. Coming from a working class background I had little experience of wine let alone fine wine. A highlight for me was the sickly sweet Ruby Port served at Christmas with Christmas Pudding.

But then I was invited to my friend Sebastian’s birthday party. Sebastian was from the ‘Other Side Of Town.’ And his parents were away. We had free run of the small mansion and, as it later turned out, The Wine Cellar. As the party wore on, the keg of warm beer eventually ran out and led by Sebastian, a small intrepid group decided to make a foray into the dark dank cellar.  By the light of a 40-watt bulb the cellar revealed row upon row of dark, dusty, cobwebbed bottles in moldy wooden racks.

We were not discerning. Four likely bottles were brutally and unceremoniously grabbed and removed to where the revelers were in the kitchen. There wasn't a corkscrew in sight, so corks were pushed in and the dark red liquid, which we presumed to be alcoholic, was poured into any available container.

It was my first encounter with a tannic monster. The experience was ten times more powerful than the most stalwart and robust cup of tea my mother had ever brewed for breakfast. Bitter and puckery, the contents of my plastic cup was quickly evacuated into the sink. The co-conspirators followed suit.

Sebastian's parents arrived back later that night. Amidst the ensuing furor my friends and me slunk out the back door. Needless to say, I was never invited back.

Sometimes in contemplation, I wonder what wines we had opened. Remembering the shape of the bottle, I think they were probably Bordeaux. Was it a young Chateau Lafite destined, before our rude intervention, to lie quietly maturing for twenty or thirty years? Or even worse, was it a dark brooding Pomerol destined for greatness after an even longer sojourn in the dark awaiting the Right Moment to be opened.

Whatever those wines were, they were prematurely and rudely awakened. Perhaps now as a writer about wine, in some mysterious vinous retribution, I am trying to expunge and efface that dark night of unsanctity and paying for that terrible evening of desecration.

The wine file

Murphy-Goode has some of the best vineyards in the northern section of Sonoma in California called Alexander Valley. Their range of Sauvignon Blancs are exceptionally monstrous and sinewy. The Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons are classic examples of American wines. They are also very affordable. The other evening I tried Murphy-Goode's red wines with an equally classic American meal of rib-eye steak cooked on the barbecue with grilled garlic ramps mixed with A1 sauce. We also taste-tested some barbecue sauces to see which ones complemented the wines. Melinda's Original Habanero Spicy Mesquite Flavored Barbecue Sauce paired well with the jazzy mouthful of spicy raspberry jam of the 1999 'Liar's Dice' Zinfandel at $19. The All Natural Newman's Own Steak Sauce was OK with the cedary black olive flavors of the 1999 Goode -Ready Cabernet Sauvignon at $18. The tannins are delicate and the addition of a hefty dollop of Merlot makes this wine soft and very drinkable now.

But the Texas Best Original Barbecue Sauce was the winner and was dynamite with both these wines. It also made the 1999 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at $22 a bottle sing. With rich dark fruit and rounded tannins it was grand complement to this substantial and fruity sauce.