My dear friend Gary was clearing out his boss’ office and came across a bottle of wine. Would I, he wanted to know, be interested in trying it?
Not since my brother Lee gave me a ticket to the Beastie Boys Hello Nasty show at MSG (3 rows in front of Mike D’s parents, FYI) has so much awesomeness fallen in my lap. This is a 1997 La Landonne Côte Rôtie from Etienne Guigal, one of the greatest wines of the northern Rhône, my hands-down favorite wine region. It’s 100% Syrah and can stand up to many, many years in the cellar. It’s also far north of my usual price range, even when I’m feeling spendy: the going rate for this guy is about $400.
These wines are terrific with deep, earthy, gamey flavors, and in a perfect world I would have whipped up a salmis of squab or venison sausage, but this is not a perfect world and instead we threw some delicious rib eyes on the grill. We decanted the wine 90 minutes before drinking to separate it from its sediment and to open it up a bit. (Again, in a perfect world, this probably should have been closer to 2-3 hours, but the wine, and my guests, were forgiving.)
The wine. Well, it started off on a distinctly musty, grandmother’s basement/Miss Havisham note that was actually much more pleasant than it sounds. Slowly, more conventionally attractive aromas and flavors came to the fore: black cherry, coffee, mocha. The texture was seductive and velvety, the finish was almost sweet. Then, something funny happened. All of the wine’s distinct elements — tannins, alcohol, fruit, acidity — somehow became one, like old friends who have known each other so long they finish each other’s sentences. Without getting too Zen about it, the wine didn’t taste or smell like anything except…itself. It had its own unique scent, like the smell of your 6th grade homeroom or your first bad boyfriend.
Thankfully, the wine was much, much better than 6th grade or bad boyfriends. Unlike both of those destabilizing experiences, the La Landonne is deeply reassuring. Somewhere in the world, this wine will have you know, people still care about quality, longevity, and doing things correctly — without sacrificing excitement. Perfectly balanced and harmonious, the La Landonne still offered an intensity and richness that showier wines aspire to, but rarely attain.
At the end of the meal, Gary stuck his nose into the empty decanter. “I’m so sorry it’s gone!” Me too, Gary. Me too.