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The Color of Wine
© by Linwood Slayton
Wine comes in many colors. There are many shades and nuances when it comes to the color of wine. One of the pleasures I find enjoyable is opening a bottle of wine and after the initial pour, examining the true color of the wine I am about to taste. Be it a deep and dark garnet, a ruby red, a tawny brown or even a pinkish hue, I love the color of wine. I love the subtle differences in the color of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio - from the golden brown to the pale straw-like variations. One thing I have come to learn though is that I have yet to come across wine that is black or white.

I had the pleasure of attending a Wine Dinner Nov. 5 at the Agave Restaurant in Atlanta. Agave, an "eclectic southwestern eatery," is located at 245 Boulevard Drive SE in the historic Cabbagetown district - an area that is witnessing major changes in its look and feel. The restaurant has a wonderful look and feel to it and the owner, Jack Sobel, is a gracious host who will make you feel welcome in his hacienda. Check out their web site at www.agaverestaurant.com. Thank you Jack!

The dinner featured the wines of Alexander Valley Vineyards, and the special combinations of wine and cuisine worked extremely well for all in attendance. My date and I arrived promptly at 7 p.m. and were greeted warmly by the staff and handed a glass of Cristolino Cava, a sparkling wine from Spain that had appropriately small bubbles and a soothing taste - not sweet, not tart - just smooth. We engaged in small talk with the arriving dinner patrons until all had arrived and we were seated at a long table stretching from one end of the main dining room to the other. I was expecting to be seated in a traditional manner at a table for 6 or 8. As the evening progressed, I developed an appreciation for this type of seating arrangement.

The dinner began with Canadian oysters on the half-shell accompanied by a jalepeno sesame seaweed salad with a wasabi cocktail sauce. The wine served with the initial appetizer was Alexander's Chardonnay Estate 2000 vintage that was not too oaky, light straw yellow in color and had hints of pear and apple to the taste. The wine worked well with the oysters and spicy jalepeno and wasabi flavorings as it was strong enough to complement the food without overpowering it.

By the time that the first course was history, I had met the couples on either side of me at the long table. Conversations were happening on both sides of me and I was enjoying the challenge of keeping up with those in my left and right ears as well as those happening directly across from me. This evening was shaping up to be fun - the couple next to me had just returned from Portugal and Spain and expressed their joy in discovering Porto. I learned that the couple on my right had a lot in common with me - the man and I were of the same vintage and we shared some common pleasures - computers and golf.

The second appetizer was a shrimp margarita salad with Grand Marnier, Triple Sec and lime over organic greens. It tasted quite good. We drank a delightful Alexander valley Estate Gewurztraminer 2000 that was my favorite of the evening. The wine was a "new Gewurz" which I learned was akin to Beaujolais Nouveau in that it was newly harvested and seemed particularly fresh and vibrant. It had a sparkling aspect (frizzante) to it that caught my attention as well as my new friends' at the table. At 13.6% alcohol content, the slightly sweet-sparkly combination worked very well with the spicy Asian touch of the food. The wine was light in color with a hint of lime that blended or fused well with the lime flavors in the salad. As this wine was allowed to warm, the taste became distinctively better.

By this time in the course of the meal, I had learned that both of the gentlemen on my left side were attorneys, as am I, and we studiously avoided any talk of briefs and matters of law. I noted that they looked upon me with a subtle but respectful eye when they discovered that I had been at the business of law for more years than they had been - combined. Also, by this time, they discovered that I do a little writing as a wine columnist for the Wine Lovers Page so I had to answer some initial probes and explain that I was not a wine expert - just that I knew what I liked and I enjoyed writing about the social aspects of enjoying wine. All of us were definitely well into the social aspects of this wine experience by this point in the evening and it was feeling "right."

The main course was now served - a sliced grilled black angus ribeye steak accompanied by pan-seared jumbo sea scallops over a homemade spicy arbol chile tomato puree with Yukon gold mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. My date and I had previously vowed to stop eating beef and like our New Year's resolutions, we broke it. The steak was delightful - cooked to perfection and presented artfully on the plate with the tasty sea scallops that created a nice "surf and turf" combination. The wine was Alexander Valley's pride and joy - a 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon (92% cab sauv; 4% merlot and 4% cab franc). Still young, this wine was a brilliant dark red hue and had a distinctive bouquet. To be so "young in the bottle," the wine was excellent.

My tablemates all developed a special appreciation for the color of the "Cab" as we swirled and viewed it against the background of the white tablecloth without spilling a drop - no mean feat for me if I do say so myself. This is a wine that will get better with aging but drinks well -I can testify to that! The Alexander Valley Vineyards rep suggested that we buy this wine now at a price of about $20 retail as it will certainly appreciate in value and quality. Of course it will and what else did we expect him to say? In truth, it was a quality quaff that I would not hesitate to serve my guests in my home and that, my friends, is the ultimate test of a wine.

By this time, I had engaged in a lively discussion with my neighbors on the right about computers and technogeek stuff. I was pleased to learn that the bearded gentleman with whom I was talking was a technical writer for the Atlanta Constitution and that I regularly read his Sunday column - he was truly a "Technobuddy" and we shared some special words throughout the remainder of the evening.

I had become a bit frustrated though by this time as I was no longer able to keep up with the conversations across the table from me and I had a lingering feeling and sensation that I was missing some nuggets - some pearls of wisdom. Perhaps it was the combination of the wine and food that all worked so well that caused the decibel level of the entire room to increase significantly. In short, all of us were close to the state of being "toasted" and by this time, opinions on every subject seemed to have more vibrancy.

The final course was the chef's masterpiece: a homemade peanut butter mousse with a vanilla wafer crust with a homemade caramel sauce. This was so good it "made you want to smack your momma" as we say in the 'hood. Yes, it was sweet, and yes, it was rich - that's the way I tend to prefer my desserts. The wine poured with it was Alexander Valley Vineyards "Sin Zin" Zinfandel. When I saw this on the menu, it piqued my interest as I would never have attempted to pair a Zinfandel with a sweet dish like this one. Yet, the peanut-butter taste worked well with the Zinfandel. Well, I might as well be totally and brutally honest- by this time, I could not tell you "jack" about the nuances of the wine and the dessert pairing. Everything tasted good and the evening was a smashing success for all involved.

My compliments to the Chef de Cuisine, Jeffrey Dean Pritchard, and Jack Sobel, the owner and our host for this event. The service was attentive but not distracting. The table was tight but presented well. The glassware was clean and had a wonderful sparkle. In all, this was a night to remember!

Indeed, wine comes in many shades and colors. Did I mention that my date and I happened to be the only African-Americans present that night? This, we noticed, was quite apparent at the start of the evening. However, as good wine, good food and good people combine, the color of Black and White became less and less a concern as the colors of red, garnet, yellow, straw - the colors of the wines we all enjoyed - took precedence for the night. By the end of the night, there was a distinctive rosy tint in the cheeks of my neighbors and I suspect that my epidermal tones had a shade of blackberry added - these are the colors of a good time and a wonderful evening of food and wine enjoyed by people who happen to have shared a passion - wine!

November 22, 2001

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