Saturday, May 5, 2007

1998 Rideau Syrah

Rideau Vineyards is one of my all-time favorite California wineries. Located in the heart of "Sideways" country (aka the Santa Ynez Valley) up the road from Kalyra, Rideau makes some absolutely spectacular Rhone-style wines. It was to the Rideau Vineyards cellar club that I bid the most tearful farewell when we moved from Santa Barbara to Maryland and thus fell under the jurisdiction of the Orwellian, asinine Montgomery County still profiting hand-over-fist from Prohibition-era liquor control laws.

But I digress.

Suffice it to say, their wine simply rocks. Most bottles are well outside my "everyday wines" price range, typically costing between $30-$50 a bottle. But if you're going to splurge, Rideau is the place to do it. Every single bottle of red I've ever tasted from them has been nothing short of stunning (a lot more stunning than my bottle photography skills - I clearly still have issues taking a decent pic at night!).

Since Rideau only sells their wines from the winery or via their website, my once hefty supply has been slowly dwindling since our California Exodus. With the consumption of this Syrah, I am down to but a single bottle - a 2000 Syrah/Mourvedre blend available only to Cellar Club members that the tasting room staff simply referred to as "liquid gold". It is *so* good in fact, they had a hard time holding my bottles for me at the winery for an extra month as I was unable to make it up there upon their release for pickup. Since the wine was completely sold out, they told me they were sorely tempted by my two bottles staring at them for a month, but they stoically resisted.

You're probably expecting tasting notes for this wine, but I didn't take any. I clearly love learning more about wine, trying new styles, finding new favorites, and telling people what I've discovered. But with wine this good, I just want to savor it. I want to turn off the analytical portion of my brain and just let the flavor sensations wash over me without applying any sensory filters. I don't want to think about it, I just want to experience it.

I think it is important to allow ourselves that luxury upon occasion, just like it is important to allow ourselves to enjoy beauty wherever we may find it during our regular routines. I just read an interesting article in the Washington Post about a musician playing his violin at a DC Metro station during rush hour. Metro stations have not traditionally allowed musicians to play in them, and hidden cameras were installed to record the reactions of commuters to the new addition. The thing is, this was no ordinary musician - this was Joshua Bell, a virtuoso violinist playing a 300-year old Stradivarius violin valued at over $3.5 million. The experiment was set up by the Washington Post to test public perception and priorities - "In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?"

The reaction? Of the 1,097 people who passed by during his 43-minute "performance", only 7 of them stopped for any length of time. Bell, used to playing sold-out concert halls where the "cheap seats" start off around $100, was almost completely ignored. I think this is a telling statement of American values. Obviously, context matters here - people were not expecting to hear beautiful music in a Metro station, so they weren't actively listening for it. But the fact that only 7 people even bothered to try really makes you question our cultural trajectory.

Most wine drinkers, I think, are hedonists to some degree. We find pleasure in the boundless variety of scents and tastes wrapped up in each bottle, obviously, but we also find as much or more pleasure in sharing that bottle amongst good company. We realize that our quest for good wine is actually only a part of a much larger quest for "the good life". Wine seems to grant us permission to slow down, relax, and let that right half of our brain run the show for a little while. This is something that is becoming increasingly more difficult to do, as evidenced by the Washington Post musician experiment.

So I say grab your significant other and/or friends, pull out one of those bottles you've been "saving for a special occasion", pop it open, and enjoy. I bet you'll find it was the perfect occasion, after all.

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