Last week, Serge Hochar (above right), proprietor of one of the world's most unusual wineries, was in town to do a vertical tasting. His winery is Chateau Musar, improbably located in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. About 7,000 years ago, this area was perhaps the world's first fine wine region, as its products were exported around the Mediterranean, even to Greece, which already bustling with wine. Hochar has managed to steer the winery out of trouble, miraculously guiding it through Lebanon's 15-year civil war of the 1970s and '80s while losing only one vintage (1976).
Few dining opportunities make me happier than the Japanese triple: a glass of sake, a Japanese beer and some fish. This photo was taken at Sebo in Hayes Valley. The beer, Orion, one of my favorites in the world, is brewed on Okinawa, in the south of Japan. The sake was Wakatake Onigoroshi (I believe . . . it was ordered for me), a Junmai Dai Ginjo. I had two. And the fish . . . it was the first of many bites.
Last night, for a birthday dinner for a friend, I was asked to bring some Champagne to go with the dessert course. Now, for any wine pairing with a dessert, you must know the simple rule that the wine should always be sweeter than the food. If you get it wrong, it makes both the wine and the dessert taste bad. The most common example of this understandable error is at weddings, when dry Champagne is served with wedding cake. No wedding that I have ever attended when this faulty pairing has occurred has ever resulted in a successful marriage. It is why, at my wedding, we avoided cake altogether.
I recently had the good fortune of taking my first trip to the famed Pisoni Vineyards of the Santa Lucia Highlands, above the Salinas Valley. Gary Pisoni was the visionary vineyard planter who put the region on the wine map. He's also a legendary wild man, part Dionysus, part Loki, Pan, you name it. Let's just the man knows how to have a good time.
Apropos of Earth Day (my wedding anniversary, BTW), let's talk about the growing movement toward organics and, especially, biodynamics in wine production. Many wine producers think biodynamics is a load of mystical hooey, but it's hard to argue with the satisfaction that so many producers have gained by converting all or some of their vineyard land to this kind of farming. It's also hard to argue against it when some of the most august estates in France--DRC, Domaine Leroy, M. Chapoutier--are doing it, not to mention top California producers like Araujo, Benziger and Robert Sinskey.
I rather like this idea of selling wine in ever-smaller packages. After all, I'm a huge fan of the half-bottle. But this is a great idea for self-education, allowing drinkers to sample, in 2- or 3.5-ounce doses, wines from many different regions. (Two ounces is about one large "shot," while 3.5 ounces is about 70 percent of a normal single-glass pour of wine.)
This question came up while I was lucky enough to be having dinner with Rajat Parr at his house. Rajat is the wine director for the metastasizing Michael Mina Group, which seems to have a new restaurant going up somewhere in the world about every 15 seconds. Known as a miraculous blind taster and to have a deeply knowledgeable mind about wine, Rajat--and this is unknown to many--is also a world-class chef who graduated from the CIA in Hyde Park before deciding to devote his life to pairing food with wine instead of cooking it.