Valentine’s…Eve?

Well we enjoy Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, so this year, as Valentine’s Day was falling on Sunday, we opted to have our amorous outing on the “eve”.

Many pooh pooh this holiday calling it commercially contrived, historically dubious (as if our other holidays aren’t?) and more.

It’s irrelevant. It’s a day to focus on love, and you don’t have to succumb to an orgy of candy purchases, to focus on expressing one of our deepest sentiments. And you can be as extravagant, or as imaginative, or as corny as you like. You have license. We are “excused”.  After all, there’s an “official” day to blame!

Well we went back to our favorite spot for Valentine’s and much else, the Italian Wine Merchants, pioneers in Italian wine appreciation in the United States, and one of the primary conduits and channels for extraordinary wine of irreproachable provenance overall.

We had the lovely space to ourselves. We were surrounded by masterful chefs putting their show kitchen to the best possible use, and were “serenaded” (oenophilically) by Italian Wine Merchant Vice-President and a masterful commentator on the joys of the grape, Chris Deas.

Together he and Chef Kevin Sippel (a true culinary innovator), formerly of Alto , took us “Around the World in Eleven Courses”. Not quite around the world perhaps, but the circumnavigation was quite extensive. This could as easily have been called, “Around the World in Eleven Wines.” But why quibble? Both are implied, both were experienced.

Menu highlights included the palate puckering Paccheri Verdi, Braised Snails and Gorgonzola. One of the last orchestrations of Didier Dagueneau via his masterful Pouilly Fume Silex 2006 enhanced and enchanted this remarkable dish.

Another menu highlight was the crispy sweetbread, manchego and toasted allioli, married exquisitely and tantalizingly with Descendientes de Jose Palacios Corullon La Faraona 2006. From one of the best vineyard sites in Bierzo Spain, La Faraona is the gem of Alvaro Palacios’ (of Priorat fame) art in this region. Only 65 cases are produced annually, and other than the Italian Wine Merchants, this exceptional wine isn’t available anywhere else in the United States.

Hot on the heels of this…another winner! Fried Egg, hen egg, cooked slowly for two hours, lightly fried, with Serrano ham and baked sardine! Extraordinary!

The number of amazing wines, from Gaja Sperss 1998 to La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 1995 all could, in a lesser dinner, have been the centerpieces.

But for us the 1977 Bodega Malbec from Mendoza Argentina showed us a style of Malbec we almost can’t experience any more with the unsetttling “globalization” of wine tastes. The two “birth year” wines for my wife and I, the Leoville Las Cases (one of fifteen second growths in Bordeaux and one of our favorites) 1966 (a vintage that seems among the better Bordeaux to be drinking quite beautifully now) and the beyond rare 1966 Chateau Musar from Lebanon (slightly sweet herb-like aromas, elegant, a bit more Burgundian) were luscious, fitting and on their merits, truly memorable.

We went home with a lovely Pinot to accompany artisanal chocolates, a dozen red roses (a “classic” rather than a “cliche”, though many people can’t tell the two apart), and memories we will savor and which will reverberate happily for years to come.

James Thurber once opined, “Love is what you’ve been through with someone.” Most people take that to mean what you’ve survived together. Well, partially that’s so. But it’s as much what you’ve experienced together, exulted in together, and celebrated together! Salute!

AROUND THE WORLD IN ELEVEN COURSES

CHAMPAGNE — FRANCE

Selection of Raw Fish, Oysters and Caviar with Jacques Selosse Champagne Brut Initial NV

LOIRE VALLEY — FRANCE

Paccheri Verdi, Braised Snails and Gorgonzola with Didier Dagnueneau Pouilly Fume Silex 2006

BRDA — SLOVENIA

Grilled Sepia with Sea Urchin with Movia Lunar 2007

BIERZO — SPAIN

Crispy Sweetbread, Tomato, Manchego and Toasted Allioli with Descendientes de Jose Palacios Corrullon La Faraona 2006

PIEMONTE — ITALY

Frog Leg Risotto with Veal Reduction and Leeks with Gaja Sperss 1998

RIOJA — SPAIN

Fried Egg, Serrano Ham and Poached Sardine with La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Riserva ‘890’ 1995

TOSCANA — ITALY

Crudo of Veal with Hot Bone Marrow, Pancetta and Pecorino Fondue with Fontodi Flaccianello 1995

MENDOZA — ARGENTINA

Smoked Venison with White Polenta, Chorizo and Porcini Mushrooms with Bodega y Cavas de Weinert Malbec Estrella 1977

BORDEAUX — FRANCE

Foie Gras Tortellini in Black Truffle Consomme with Offal with Chateau Leoville-Las Cases Bordeaux 2nd Growth 1966

BEKAA VALLEY — LEBANON

Rack of Lamb with Controne Bean, Pickled Eggplant and Lamb’s Tongue with Chateau Musar Rouge 1966

ITALY

Chocolate Cake and Bombolini with Antonio Ferrari Solaria Jonica 1959