Good friends are the best thing in the world. You know, the kind of friends that you can be separated from by years and great distance, but when you meet again there is no awkwardness, no embarassing lulls in the conversation. You just pick up where you left last time you were together. We are blessed with a few such friends, and last Friday we met with two couples of them.
The occasion – as if we needed one – was a concert by the fabulous Danish 80’ies funk big band Blast, a favourite back then, and active again since 2005. The exertions-to-be obviously required proper sustenance first, so we agreed to meet at our place for a bit of pre-dinner imbibition, and then proceed to have dinner at a restaurant right next to the concert venue.
The pre-dinner drinks had to be great to get us in the mood, but not so strong as to kill us. The cellar yielded the following:
BOLLINGER Champagne Brut RD 2002
Great stuff, broad and deep, with clear autolytic character (as you would expect of a wine having spent some 11 years on the lees). Intense and deep on the palate, with great length, an authoritative, dry and powerful character and a thousand little shadings of complexity.
PARKER Coonawarra Cabernet/Merlot Favourite Son 2007
Just a little something right before we left for the restaurant, the Bollinger having evaporated in no time flat. Juicy, fresh, cool-fruited nose with a bit of cassis and bell pepper, but importantly also with notes of autumn leaves, the beginnings of sweet tobacco and exotic wood. Medium-weight, good freshness and balance and good, fresh length mirroring the nose. Miles away from your run-of-the-mill jammy Aussie blockbuster, real elegance and character.
An auspicious start to the evening, in glorious spring sunshine, with geese feeding on the field across from our house and the deer standing at the edge of the woods behind them.
Onwards to the restaurant: MASH. This is short for Modern American Steak House and is an entirely Danish phenomenon started by a couple of friends, Jesper Boelskifte and Erik Gemal, among others. This is by now a chain of restaurants, and has even spread, with great success, to London. As you might imagine, the emphasis here is on steaks. The difference that sets MASH apart is that the steaks are exquisitely selected from the very best meat available, hailing from Uruguay, the US (Greater Omaha), Australia (Wagyu) and Denmark. The latter, in particular, is worth a detour, the meat being dry-aged for 90 days, by which time the natural enzymes have worked their magic, converting the vaguely sweet, meaty aromas of fresh meat into great, deep flavour full of umami.
We had agreed that we could bring a bit of wine along, against paying a corkage fee. The choice was easy, since our friends are Brunello-heads, and since the first wine Erik Gemal served for my then wife-to-be and myself in his earliest career as a sommelier in the early 90’ies was a Brunello (it was Il Poggione, the 1982 if I’m not mistaken). MASH’s wine list, highly commendable by the way, would have to supply the other wines required.
So, for the starters we had this one:
VINCENT GIRARDIN Meursault Vieilles Vignes 2010
A lovely wine, nose full of gunpowder and quince, still very young, but good breadth on the palate, with very accurate acidity providing great balance and intensity. Long and juicy. A chorus of contented voices greeted this wine around our table.
BIONDI-SANTI Brunello di Montalcino Il Greppo 1998
Fantastic nose, great nobility, purest sangiovese, with sour cherries, soot, rust, dried ceps, hydrocarbon minerality, autumn leaves and humus. Medium body, elegant and noble, slightly austere, with the acidity having rounded nicely and finely-grained tannins making their presence known without overpowering the wine. Very long, mirroring the nose, with emphasis on rust and hydrocarbons. A great, noble terroir wine, at peak, utter beauty.
POGGIO DI SOTTO Brunello di Montalcino 1996
Handsome, powerful nose, initially with plums, sweet cherries, walnuts, sweet hydrocarbons, dry soil and violets, with time in the glass developing lovely, complex notes of iron, sweet tobacco and autumn leaves. Medium to full body, dry, juicy, relaxed but good acidity, tannins soft and very finely-grained, with time actually tightens up a bit and delivers a bit of sangiovese austerity. Very long, repeating the aromatics from the nose, with minerality and added sweet meat. A great wine, and had it not been for the greatness of the Biondi-Santi, this would have been utterly breathtaking on its own.
These wines were perfection with the mushroomy umami character of the Danish dry-aged beef. Luckily, Erik Gemal was in the restaurant that night, and so I could close a loop started in the early 90’ies by having him taste both wines. What a pleasure to be able to see the span of time and some of the leitmotifs of one’s life come together in this way.
By this time, our little gathering was in full swing, happy conversation and outbursts of joy and pleasure at the food and wines taking place across the table. It stood to reason that we had to fuel the gladness a bit more, so for the cheeses and desserts we went for something fortified:
QUADY’S Amador County “Starboard” 1996
A Port-lookalike blend. Dark, berryish/plummy nose with a slight hint of alcohol. Lovely structure with a soft crunch, malty sweetness and good length, with raisins, bark, malt sugar and violets. Lovely way to finish a meal.
On over to the concert in the building next door. Blast – the band – has always first and foremost been a live band. It has great impact because of the large horn section, which really is its prime focus. It has also always had three female singers fronting the band. There is a special quality to many female Danish singers’ voices, a certain almost metallic coolness married to a light/high sweetness, that really came through with the line-up this evening. You can get a vague sense of how it all works here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjXvpC9y1zk, but beware! The sound on this recording is tinny and extremely poor, and the line-up is different on some points. The band was so much better last Friday. Or at least that’s how I remember it.
It’s a strange thing, but why does one always end up with a bottle of weakly malty Mexican beer at these events? It’s almost without fail. It’s not something I would consciously choose to drink, let alone buy, so there must be something subconscious at work here. Or friends…
At any rate, the concert was great, and – as always – too short. To avoid the DJ set afterwards, we fled back home to our place, where we proceeded to listen to funk music all night, talk happily and inhale a glass or two of some really nice wine:
DOMAINE DU PÉGAU Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Rèservée 2001 (magnum)
A gentle giant, huge nose of sweet red and dark fruits, barnyard, garrigue and grilled herbs. Full, round and soft in the mouth, yet with good supporting structure behind it, a bear hug of a wine.
QUINTA DO PASSODOURO Vintage Port 2011
The coup de grâce, just so we’d all sleep better. Wonderfully fresh and juicy nose of berries (blackberries, blueberries), violets, sweet liquorice and a hydrocarbon/shale minerality. Big, with fairly assertive tannins, but also great juiciness and fresh sweetness. Will easily keep for decades, but great drinking right now, too.
What a wonderful evening we had. We live for these moments of unrestrained good mood and happiness, together with good friends. The happiness lasts for days, and fuels a higher state of energy, positivity and optimism. Thank you so much for a perfect night out, Henrik, Tina, Henrik and Mette!