Getting Ready for Ellen’s Birthday Dinner

Back in the heat of August, on Ellen’s birthday, Margaret promised to cook a dinner built around the Brunello di Montalcino we had recently brought home from Zachy’s. But first the weather had to turn.  Ellen was fine with that.  Time shifting birthdays must be commonplace for summer babies, otherwise when would they ever get to blow out the candles with their friends? Last night, a cool October evening, we sat down to Ellen’s birthday dinner.

Brunello di Montalcino is among Italy’s finest wines. When the 1963 Italian DOC (denominazione di origine controllata) laws went into effect, a more stringent designation, DOCG (“G” for garantita), was also enacted, but it took 17 years before the first one was named: Brunello di Montalcino from Tuscany. Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco were second and third.

Margaret and I first drank Brunello in San Gimignano in 1988, during our first trip to Europe with Emily. We drank a 1982 from Il Poggione. Later, Margaret introduced Ellen to Brunello, during their girls’ night out at Au Grenier. The now defunct Au Grenier was a second floor bistro on Broadway at 112th St., with a wine list more suited for a downtown clientele. Year after year, the Brunellos were offered at the same low price, until Margaret and Ellen scoped them out and drank them up, every one.

We bought last night’s Brunello, a 2004 Il Poggione, on futures. Buying futures is a transaction you conduct with a reputable wine merchant, whereby you pay today for future delivery. Our 4 bottles of Brunello arrived in about 6 months; we bought a case of 2009 Chateau Picque Caillou that won’t arrive until the fall of 2012.

Margaret planned a meal of roasted autumn vegetables, wild rice, tapenade pizza, salad, cheese, and, for the carnivores, a flank steak. For dessert she baked apple turnovers.

We needed a second wine, for which I had a fine candidate. Readers of this blog will recognize “September Wines, Red.” This wine, like Margaret’s invitation to dinner, had been hostage to the weather. It was a 2004 Chateau Redortier Beaumes-de-Venise, a Côtes du Rhône blend, from a maker also active in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Oh, and I also had a great choice for a dessert wine. On a different trip to Europe, in the fall of 2003, Margaret and I bought 3 half bottles of Eiswein in Rüdesheim on the Rhine, from a man who may have been the winemaker. They were quite expensive, about €20 per, but far less expensive than if purchased in the US. We had one left, and it was reaching the end of its shelf life in our closet. From Weingut Dorwagen, 2002 Scheurebe Eiswein.

Now all we needed was a starter. Martin Bros. provided the answer. In the back of the store are the champagnes. You will find a small number of household names, like Veuve Cliquot and Piper Heidseck, but mostly there are grower champagnes, those one-off, quirky bottles with the tiny “RM” on the label. Margaret read the reviews on the web, and selected a premier cru brut champagne from J. Lassalle.

On Saturday I put the eiswein and champagne in the fridge, lined up the reds on the dining room table. On Sunday we did our shopping and planned our meal prep attack. Yesterday we cooked, baked, cleaned, polished, bathed, set the table, arranged the flowers.

The anticipation is making me giddy.

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