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At the End of the Year, Venue Counts

On their first visits to faraway places, many people fall in love with a particular food or wine and are disappointed when they try it back at home.  It doesn’t taste the same.  And many will fervently protest that the wine they guzzled it Italy without a care now gives them headaches if consumed at their own dinner tables.  Don’t try to convince them that, in almost all cases, it’s the same wine made the same way. 

Venue counts.  Restaurants know this – that, for many customers, the “experience” is almost as important as the food.  So do people who run top-notch winery tasting rooms.

Venue shouldn’t affect our evaluation of a wine, but it can enhance our enjoyment of it.  And even though I make a living drinking wine and spirits and eating fine meals, where I am eating and drinking and my companions make more of a lasting impression on me than such visual ephemerals as the color of a wine or how small the Champagne bubbles are.

Here are some of the venues – in no particular order - that made the drinking and eating experience so much more pleasurable for me during 2011:

1.  Just after I arrived in Champagne from America, having a glass or three of Krug Clos du Mesnil with the Krug wnemaking team in the small enclosed vineyard where the grapes were grown; 2.  Drinking Cheval des Andes on a rooftop in Soho with winemaker Nicolas Audebert while winery chef Marcos Zabaleta prepared asado on the adjacent roof; 3.  Having winemaker Anthony Vietri explain to me how he made his iconic “Mahogany” red blend on a drizzly winter day in the Va La tasting room 10 minutes from where I live in southern Pennsylvania.

4.  Drinking Ron Abuelo Centuria rum over a great lunch at Ego y Narciso in Panama City with the two Varela brothers, one who runs the company, one who is vice president of Panama; 5. Enjoying dinner and a bottle of Hunter’s Marlboro Pinot Noir with my two brothers and two women from Germany – an actress and a surgeon – the first night at sea on an Atlantic crossing aboard the Queen Mary 2; 6.  Having tapas and wines from Cariñena at El Tubo 33 in Madrid with street foodie David Rosengarten;

7.  Walking from my room at Clos des Garands into Fleurie to taste Louis Tête wines at the Restaurant des Sports with negociant Jean Tête; 8.  Drinking a 1904 Cognac with Bénédictine Hardy in the Hardy paradis; 9.  Learning about wines from the Côteaux d’Ensérune, glass by glass, on deck of the barge hotel Caroline traveling along the Canal du Midi; 10.  Having a pastis with water under the plane trees at Café de la Poste after shopping the market in Olonzac; 11.  Tasting some wonderful Mendocino Pinot Noirs under a big festival tent during a fall rainstorm in a coastal redwood forest;

12.  Drinking lovely Madiran wines over dinner at the isolated Château Montus with Alain Brumont and friends; 13. Chatting with View from the Cellar’s John Gilmore about rare wines while drinking a nice everyday Bourgeil over dinner at Le Repaire de Cartouche in a Paris neighborhood; being schooled on sake by Henry Sidel at Joto Sake’s HQ in lower Manhattan; Sipping “Scion,” Taylor Fladgate’s 155-year-old Port, in at 11 Madison in upper Manhattan at a press  briefing hosted by CEO Adrian Bridge, and

15.  Enjoying amazingly lively petit châteaux Bordeaux from the 1980s over candlelight dinners with my wife, Ella, on those evenings when I’m drinking in the best venue possible – home.

 

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