By Mark Gauert
City & Shore Magazine – The Luxury Issue
I’m sitting at one end of a long wooden table at the Restaurant at The Setai in Miami Beach. Maximilan Riedel is at the other end.
Don’t get me wrong, the 11th-generation head of Austria’s Riedel Crystal is a charming lunch companion. He’s telling me about his jet-setting life, how his family makes some of the world’s finest stemware and how the shape of my glass can make the wine in it taste better. He’s such a charming lunch companion he’s almost distracted me from the wine in my glass.
Don’t get me wrong, the chefs at the Restaurant are doing a fine job distracting me from the wine in my glass, too. They’re sending out little plates of specialties from Northern Asia to our long wooden table, truffle dumplings – steaming shrimp and scallops in a truffle cream emulsion – with enough flavor to distract an army of epicureans.
But none of this – not Maximilan Riedel’s crystal stemware or his Arabian-night-caliber stories or the Restaurant’s truffles and flourishes – can distract me from the wine in my glass.
Because it’s that good.
Sorry, Maximilan. I could be drinking this wine out of a water tumbler from a Motel 6 – or, gasp, a plastic cup – and it would still have my full, undivided attention.
“What is this wine?” I ask the sommelier, who’s passing by. “It’s delicious.”
He refills my Riedel stemware, smiles and turns the bottle so I can see the name.
“Truth?” I translate, assuming it’s French. Truth, as in, this tastes like a wine from one of the great chateaux of Bordeaux?
It is not.
“No, not France,” the sommelier says. “Sonoma.”
“Sonoma…” I say. “California?”
“Yes, but the winemaker’s from France,” he says. “Pierre Seillan.”
I’d never heard of him, nor his wine. Never seen it. Never tasted it.
And never forgot it.
Flash forward, approximately 10 years. Last January. Just before the pandemic took hold.
I’m sitting at a small wooden table at Casa D’Angelo in Fort Lauderdale. Pierre Seillan and his wife and business partner, Monique, are sitting with me.
Don’t get me wrong, the winemakers of Vérité are charming dinner companions. They’re telling me about their jet-setting life (which includes this stop in South Florida on their way from Sonoma to Tuscany), how their family makes some of the world’s finest wines and how the shape of my glass really isn’t as important as the wine in it. (Sorry, Maximilan).
The Seillans have brought three (3) bottles of Vérité for our dinner tonight – the mostly Cabernet “La Joie,” the mostly Cabernet Franc “Le Désir” and the wine I knew nothing about when I first tried it 10 years ago, the mostly Merlot “La Muse.” It’s hard to pick which one I like best – but I am trying.
Don’t get me wrong, Chef Angelo Elia is doing a fine job distracting me from the wine in my glass, too. It’s White Truffle Week at Casa D’Angelo, and the chef’s sending out steaming plates of specialties from Northern Italy with enough flavor to distract another army of epicureans.
“I hope you don’t like it,” the waiter says, placing a steaming bowl of Pappardelle with Porcini Mushrooms and Truffle in front of me, “because if you don’t, I’ll eat it.”
But none of this – not Pierre and Monique’s Arabian-night-caliber stories about their life in France and Sonoma and Tuscany or Casa D’Angelo’s truffles and flourishes or the waiter wanting to eat my food – can distract me again from the wine in my glass.
Because it’s still so good.
Some time had passed, and I didn’t need to ask the sommelier about the wine from Sonoma that tastes like it came from a château. I knew things about it I didn’t know the first time I tried it.
When he started making the wines of Vérité in 1998, for example, Pierre purposely set out to make La Muse a challenger to Château Pétrus – also a mostly Merlot wine. When Jess Jackson, of the Jackson Family Wines, asked Pierre if he thought he could really make a wine that good, Pierre said yes – or better – because he believed in the soils of Sonoma, and their terroir.
There’s much evidence that he has succeeded. No less a wine authority than Robert Parker has given La Muse a 100-point rating six times since the 2001 vintage – including the 2007, the first vintage I drank without knowing what it was.
“Wow!” wrote Lisa Perrotti-Brown in her most recent 100-point rating for Robert Parker, “[The 2016 vintage] comes strutting out of the glass with flamboyant crème de cassis, ripe plums and black cherries notes followed by nuances of aniseed, chocolate box, wild thyme, violets and chargrill plus a fragrant suggestion of potpourri.”
That sounds about right to me.
Sitting there with Pierre and Monique, all those flavors opening up began to make me think about big questions. About how rare it is to know we like something before it becomes “known.” I mean, I’m no Robert Parker, but I knew what I liked before he did.
That must be the ultimate luxury, I thought – not just about wine, but in most things – to find something special before anyone else. To have it all to yourself – whether it’s a great wine or a piece of music or a series on Netflix (hey, Queen’s Gambit was mine before anyone else’s!) – and then to share it, inevitably, with the rest of the world.
“Your question is a big question,” Pierre said as the waiter began to clear our dishes. “When I create a wine, I’m not thinking about creating ‘luxury.’ I’m trying to create maximum excellence on a technical level.
“The luxury comes after – and the luxury is not decided by me,” he said. “It’s decided by you.”
His answer at last distracted me from the wine in my glass. Maybe a fine wine’s just the way we watermark a special moment – a way to remember them best. That time we sat around a long wooden table, talking about the shape of our glasses over truffle dumplings and Vérité. Or a last bowl of Pappardelle with Porcini Mushrooms before the pandemic took hold, talking about big ideas and the Truth.
What a luxury. I can see it now.
It was getting late, and I had to make a pick-up at the airport before I headed home. Time for one more taste of the wine that got me here with the Seillans before I had to go.
“Why does the last drop of wine always taste the best?” I asked Pierre and Monique, swirling my glass with the last drop of La Muse.
“Ah, the last drop is always close to your memory,” Monique smiled. “And your memory wants you to have a second glass of wine.”
Pierre smiled, too, but he saw things a little differently.
“At the last drop, if you have a fantastic conclusion, then you have the best memory of that time,” he said. “And time is the luxury.”
We drank to that.