When seasoned Templars of the Table meet for dinner, a very special thing happens. In psychiatric jargon, we regress in the service of the ego. Translated into plain English, we deliberately and consciously think, feel and behave like happy pre-schoolers. We chatter, joke, and talk about wine and food like little kids discussing their Pokémon characters. We share, and indulge our senses without guilt or shame. Beyond a great deal of convivial fun, the result of this jump back into childhood is a strengthening of the ego—not the grandiose false self to which the term is incorrectly applied, but the “I”, the inner self that experiences and interacts with internal and external realities. Moral puritans (who live in dread that someone somewhere is having a good time) and the chronically cranky are inclined to see this as the snobbery of a closed arcane oenophile society. They’d know differently if they just asked to join us.
I recently participated in a dinner with two of my favourite brothers in the Temple of the Table: veteran wine writer Tony Aspler and Spanish Wine Society founder and President Barry Brown. (If you’re interested in joining his club you can reach him at email@example.com.) All three of us have serious careers, but we can get seriously hilarious under appropriate circumstances. We met at Toronto’s Grano Ristorante whose proprietor Roberto Martella is a beloved senior cleric in the Temple.
Our meal was typically Italian, comprising a platter of salumeria and cheese, rigatone in tomato sauce (which Roberto calls Italian soul food), grilled and deep-fried calamari, second cut lamb chops, braised short ribs and two kinds of tart.
Each of us brought “good” bottles from our cellar, the kind we tend to save for folks who, with no trace of wine snobbery but broad tasting experience, will really appreciate without getting put off by unusual aromas and flavours. We started with Barry’s Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino 35, a Fino passada Sherry that was almost an Amontillado. It was deep gold with an intense elegant nose of sweet pungent yeast nuanced with sweet almond, olive and smoky notes. It was fresh, complex, rich and long in the mouth. I gave it a score of 91.
Next we moved on to Tony’s Bouchard Père et Fils Pommard Combes 1er Cru 1999. This lovely Burgundy didn’t show its age at all, with a dark plum colour and a nose of focused cherry and plum fruit, aromas of pungent crushed wet stones, and sweet spice and sandalwood notes. On the palate it was sweetly ripe and fresh with very fine tannins persisting through a long finish. It earned a 92.
With the lamb and short ribs we poured Barry’s Finca Garbet Castillo Parellada DO Ampurdan Costa Brava 2004. From Spain’s northeast corner just across the line from France, this opaque purple blend of 40% Syrah and 60% Cabernet Franc aged for 14 months in Troncais oak was more French than Spanish with black currant, cherry and plum fruit, dusty oak, an earthy nuance and lilac/violet floral aromas. Fine firm ripe tannins and fresh acidity supported the sweet ripe mixed black fruit through a long finish. This wine rang up a 90.
With dessert we opened my Trimbach Gewurtztraminer Selection de Grains Nobles 1989. This botrytised Alsace beauty was a gold-tinged amber colour with rich ripe grapefruit, lychee fruit and sweet honeyed spice on the nose. It was medium sweet, creamy and fresh with rich ripe fruit through a long finish. I gave it 93 points.
While we brothers were at worship, we made sure that Roberto had a glass of each of our wines. (If you’re not sharing, you’re not doing it right.) Long-time wine agent and friend Philip Mirabelli, his charming wife and his Portuguese distributor happened by during dinner and joined us for hugs, kisses, stories and a glass or three.
All told, it was a very successful event. I could tell because in the office the next day my interpretations and psychopharmacological decisions seemed a little bit better. Also, I couldn’t stop smiling.